THQ/Gas Powered Games, 2007
Video game review
Supreme Commander
Terrifyingly massive maps. RTS that's strategic for once. Intuitive control system. Above average graphics. Nukes that work.
Bit of a resource hog. Games can drag on in large maps. Some balancing issues. Uneven AI. Boring missions.
All hype and no show.

Excellent graphicsExcellent graphics:

Who says there's nothing to be said for eye candy? Although the standards of graphic excellence are always moving forward, something about this game's graphical presentation really stands out. At the time this review was written, the graphics were top-notch, either in their class or in gaming altogether.
Astronomical scopeAstronomical scope:

Nobody was thinking small when they designed this game. The attention to detail or the vast range of possibilities afforded when you're playing it will cause you at least once to step back and utter a Keanu-inspired "whoa". Somebody shot for the moon here, and more importantly they hit it.

Some parts of this game are ridiculously awesome, while others are just ridiculous. This note is for games that lack consistency--typically for games that are otherwise extremely good, but have weak points that mar the overall presentation. It might still be worth playing, but the range between the high points and the low ones is vast.
Completely outdatedCompletely outdated:

Can anyone tell me why anybody even bothered to make this game? It brings nothing new to the table at all, and in all aspects looks like it could've come out last year. Or five years ago. It may be functional enough to keep puttering along, but it isn't worth the effort to pick up something that was obsolete the moment it hit the shelves.

George Lucas must've gotten too close, because this game is just a clone of something else (frequently, many other things) in the genre. Real-time strategy and first-person shooter games suffer from this inordinately: they may call it Vietnam War Battle Simulator 2000, but you and I both know it's just Red Alert with the Soviet troops given inexplicably yellow skin.

The long-awaited successor to RTS giant Total Annihilation, Supreme Commander burst onto the scene last year with the premise that yes, in fact, size does matter. Lest you think collies are not on the cutting edge (or something), I bought SC on release day. Why has it taken me a year to write it up? Because I am lazy, that is why.

Like most real-time strategy games (Command and Conquer, Starcraft, Earth 21x0) Supreme Commander is framed by a storyline that is silly, inconsequential, and easily-ignored. The premise, from what I can remember: it is the future, and of course we are still fighting over things. Now, though, commanders do it from the perspective of giant mecha, which as we know make everything better. Said mecha are able to build things anywhere they want--things like base defences, power plants, resource mines, and factories to produce weapons of war.

"Oh," you say. "Right! I've heard about that! You're describing the basic gameplay mechanic of every real time strategy game ever in the history of the world."

Erm. Well, yes. Truth be told the SC kernel, as it were, is nothing revolutionary. You have a base. Your opponent has a base. At the end of the match, one of you will not have a base. In order to achive this end, you build tanks and flying machines with bombs and rocket launchers and things like that. You need to build power plants to generate power. You need to construct mines to extract "mass". Because this is the future, Einstein's ghost is satisfied with the ability to convert power to "mass" in case there was insufficient "mass" from your "ore mi--mass extractors".

There are some points at which SC deviates from its RTS kin. Among the unimportant ones:

1. Ballistics: No more are hits simply calculated based on abstract percentage values. No, in the Supreme Commander world bullets are tracked from the gun they issue from to whichever loving father of three you have selected for termination. Practical upside: zilch. In theory, it means that you can use the terrain to your advantage. In practise, SC maps are flat enough that it, uh, doesn't matter.

2. Superweapons: Gamespot, I think, says something monumentally stupid about these superweapons being able to change the course of a battle. Something like "you think your victory is a shoe-in, but then an enemy spider-ish strider thing appears and you know you are proper fucked". Right. Every side (there are three, I think, though there is so little difference between them that it can be hard to tell) gets three superweapons.

One side gets a tall, Iron Giant-like robot, a flying Independence Day style saucer with a death beam, and something else so memorable I have no idea what it might be. Another gets a massive turd-shaped gunship, a big death-ray equipped spider inexplicably called a "Monkeylord", and an artillery piece that fires as long as you have surplus energy. The third gets a mobile war factory, a submersible aircraft carrier, and an infinitely-ranged artillery piece that takes about as long to complete as Duke Nukem Forever. Practical upside: none, really.

On a slightly-related note, however: unlike in every other RTS game ever, nuclear weapons actually do damage. For those unfamiliar with strategic weaponry, "nuclear bombs" are generally measured in things like "kilotons" or "megatons", which does not describe how heavy they are but rather how many tons of fucking TNT they equal. For instance, the atomic bomb that blew the shit out of Hiroshima was somewhere around 15-20 thousand tons of TNT. In strategy games, "nuclear bomb" generally means "lose ten units". In Supreme Commander it means "lose everything on the screen and then some while a massive pillar of flame rises from what used to be your home". So that's cool.

3. Your upgradeable robot buddy: You can outfit your commander with different things, including a teleporter, more robot building things, a cannon, kjrnkjjjjjjjj... oh, fuck. I was writing that sentence and fell asleep at the keyboard. Actually, I may go back to doing that. Wake me up when anybody gives a fuck about upgrading your commander.

On the other hand, there are two points at which SC excels and should be commended:

1. Scale: despite being "strategy" games, most RTS games take place on a battlefield the size of a small town, tops. Supreme Commander sets players up on battlefields of up to eighty square kilometres. This means multi-front wars being waged with individual skirmishes that zoom out to Verdun-esque levels of destruction. This, needless to say, is fucking awesome. The idea of having to wrap your mind around a battlefield fifty miles on a side is magnificent enough that if future RTS games don't operate on such a level they need to have a damned good reason for it.

2. Strategy: not quite oxymoronic, "RTS" is nonetheless a genre with a lie built right into the name. RTS games typically put players in control of a battle space with maybe a hundred units. This is not strategic; indeed, most control players execute is tactical in scope. Real-time-tactics, as a genre, has come to mean "games where you can't build things" or, I suppose, "games where you don't have to think about resources". This has the unfortunate advantage of boiling "strategy" down to "watching the books and ordering things when you need them". The problem with this is that, of course, the English language already has a phrase for this and it is not "military strategist". It's "administrative assistant", or possibly just "secretary". (On the other hand, is this why Gates is the "secretary of defense"? Hmm)

Supreme Commander does strategy right and it is so refreshing that I cannot lavish enough words on it. If you want, you can fight the entire war from a completely zoomed-out perspective, ordering units around based on little symbols rather than their explosion-happy tiny sprites. Organising multi-pronged assaults and amphibious actions is deceptively simple. Not planning, mind you, but organising. This makes sense; it's hard to imagine Eisenhower frantically right-clicking the beach at Normandy, trying to get everyone synchronised.

Suppose you want to reinforce a distant battle. You take a transport aircraft, click on the distant battle, and create a "ferry point". You can now order additional units to the ferry point, and the transport will airlift them to their doom without your thinking about it. You can tell factories to build to ferry points, and the units they produce will queue up for departure. You can add more transports to the ferry point to make things go faster, or--for more of that good-time "American Airlines" feel, leave one transport to handle things all by his lonesome.

In its purest implementation this ought to remove a lot of the icky micromanagement that defines strategy games. SC does not, which is kind of a black mark on an otherwise spectacularly-realised concept.

SC is kind of full of black marks. Here's the reality of things: it's a very, very average strategy game. It's not great, but on the other hand it's definitely not bad. It works, which has a lot going for it--the only times I crashed it were when I was trying to do crazy-stupid things like fighting Total War style battles with thousands of units, and I guess I can forgive it for that. At times, like with its scale and with its commander abstraction, it can even display brief flashes of computer-game genius.

But most of the time, it does nothing of the sort. A year after release, it's down heavily in price, which makes it a fairly easy pill to swallow. Unfortunately SC--and the new C&C expansion, judging from the reviews--is taking us RTS fans to a rather dismal place. The reality is that the genre is old, and perhaps even a bit stale. SC has tried to shake things up, and it's clear at this point that something more than just "it's RTS, but big" is needed to get folks' attention. At its core, the "SC" that refers here to "Supreme Commander" could just as easily refer to "Starcraft," and that's sad.

So get cracking, game designers. Let's see something new for a change, what?
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