Reviews July 1, 2010

Supreme Commander

Kenneth Seward Jr

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Supreme Commander
Reviewed by: Zack Crenshaw
System: PC
Genre: RTS
Rated: T
Players: 1-8(online)
Cost: $49.99
Release Date: 02/20/2007
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Gas Powered Games

Realizing that one could travel interstellar distances in an instant, the Supreme Commander stepped into the Quantum Leap Accelerator and vanished. He awakened to find that Kansas was now no longer close at hand, trapped light years away. Facing foes that seemed like mirror images of his own people, yet driven by an unknown force to change the future/history for the better. His only guides on this journey are companions from his home that appear in the form of holograms that only he can see and hear. And so, our hero finds himself leaping from system to system. Striving to put right where is only wrong, hoping that his next leap will be the leap home.

Eighties nostalgia aside, before Supreme Commander’s story gets going you are first tasked in deciding to be one of three factions: the United Earth Force (UEF), the Cybran Nation, or the Aeon. Each side has their own compelling reasons to bring a long-overdue end to the thousand-years war. Conceptually the story gives you background information on the factions along with their campaigns (meaning making the hour-long missions run without making objectives into chores by giving the allusion of a bigger picture). This is mainly because, like other games in this genre, the story doesn't really pull you in. The story feels more like small commentary interludes. This isn’t so bad. After all, RTS is all about the gameplay.

Speaking of which, Supreme Commander is one of a small breed of true strategy scale rather than tactical. Generally when playing in the RTS genre, one is stuck with only needing a base to spawn units from (using secondary bases as mere feints to fool competition) and rushing the competition. The distances in Supreme Commander on medium maps and up become staggeringly large, forcing the player to build multiple bases. Without prior planning on these massive maps moving would be relegated to 15+ minutes of travel even by air. As any player knows, that's more than enough time for an opponent to raze a base to the ground without reinforcement on the defenders part. This matter of scale is not limited to merely map sizes, as it flows over into the military caps that allow up to 1000 units per player. Which brings us to a critical point about Supreme's unit interplay, as there are three tech trees and one experimental. Each of these tiers are vast improvements over the previous one. In practice, this makes waves upon waves of tech one units worthless against just a few tech twos. This same daunting truth can be found in static defenses. Normally in a RTS, a few units can easily take out a defensive building. Supreme Commander changes the formula by making static defenses utter juggernauts, wiping out entire armies that are foolish enough to come into range of its weapons. Whereas in most of RTS games where unit combinations are everything, Supreme Commander puts efficient resource use (economy budgeting) as top priority. A bad use of time, mass, or energy will almost ensure a quick and final defeat. The end result, with this concept at play, is that classic "rush" methods only work on smaller maps. On large maps, rushers are beaten by players utilizing longer term building and planning methods. The interface, while buggy before patches were made (especially on high-resolution settings), is now clear cut, simple, and easy to see. Something that irked me is that nowhere did I find the instruction that CTRL+Click would make unit groups stay in formation, being that it's a CRITICAL thing to know. Normally something like that would be in bold three times in the manual or drilled into your head during the tutorials.
Another area of concern is the learning curve. This really isn't a game for a person to jump in and learn RTS firsthand, unless they have a lot of time and will go through the obscure tutorial then the campaign.

It’s a good thing, with all the planning involved with this game, that when you finally do wage war with your opponent you’re treated to great visuals. When the graphics are pumped up to the max Supreme Commander looks the part. The difference between graphical levels is clear, especially with textures. I will accede that without the nice texturing of the environment and units, Supreme Commander looks a lot like last generation's RTS games like Warcraft 3. With them on it's like a magic makeover, every unit now has depth and detail (the experimental units are stunning). Another bonus is the streamlining of movement between the battlefield and the theatre of war; mere third button scrolls on the mouse zoom in and out, making the shift between areas of the map seamless in comparison to the classical mini-map click jumps.

Sound... is another matter. The music is unmemorable. You’re better off replacing the in-game music with mp3s from your own collection. The shots fired and the nuclear explosions are acceptable but surround sound really doesn't feel fine-tuned enough to pull you into Supreme Commander’s world (it's mostly the graphics doing the heavy lifting there). The one audio section that doesn't make many, if any, faux pas is the voice acting that was done appreciably.

All and all Supreme Commander is a good game. I just don't see a reason to go through the campaign after finishing it once. Unless you played like a savant of strategy, you'll be replaying the levels quite often. There is a benefit in that the difficulty settings differ greatly from one to the other. Honestly though, you will have used up all of Supreme Commanders replayability just trying to complete the campaigns. Skirmish on the other hand is the core of Supreme Commander. It's full of customizing goodness. There are a multitude of maps that can support up to eight players...if your PC can handle it. This adds replay galore; enjoy it.

Gameplay: 7
I would hold the gameplay value personally higher, but to the general public it's probably closer to the seven. The interface, while simple, is built for hardcore RTS gamers. Otherwise it's great.

Graphics: 8
At the time of its release the graphics were wonderful but the requirements to make it happen, were and still are daunting. You'll have to spend a lot of dough in order to see the beauty in this game. Without the high end graphic output, it looks just like every other RTS in 3D...that and the red "Cybran Maps" even with textures on are very, very dark making everything hard to see.

Sound: 5
With or without the sound Supreme Commander is the same.

What's New: 6
While it's revolutionary in some parts, it's still an RTS. It builds upon concepts originally in Total Annihilation making it a big step above the normal RTS, but originality is not a massive strong point.

Replay Value: 7
I'll go back to it more than C&C or War/Starcraft so that's a big point for the multiplayer. Campaign is a one-ride pony. There's no depth in the story due to the linear nature. Like a lot of games released lately, Supreme Commander is multiplayer centric.

Final Score: