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Supreme Commander Review

Duke_Ferris By:
GENRE Strategy 
DEVELOPER Gas Powered Games 
E10+ Contains Comic Mischief, Fantasy Violence, Mild Language

What do these ratings mean?

He's got the whole his sights.

I have very little patience for stupidity. For that reason I was never really able to get into The Sims. I grew frustrated by how constantly idiotic they were, and I always wanted the game to operate more like a fishtank. I wanted to be able to wander away and let my Sims have their heads just to see what they’d be up to when I got back. Would Steve get a promotion and buy a fancy new computer? Would he cheat on his wife? What’s up with their slacker kid?

Unfortunately, if you leave your Sims alone for the day, invariably you’ll find they’ve all lost their jobs and are just standing in the corner peeing their pants. Your average Sim neighborhood makes the Special Olympics look like a Mensa Convention.
click to enlargeReal time strategy games generally fare little better. I find it infuriating in Warcraft III that my peasants just stand there, watching their own hut burn and not doing anything about it unless I smack them upside the head and order them to fix the hut, dammit!
Which is part of the reason I love Supreme Commander. Your army of robots can actually do smart things - repair each other when injured, support other units in combat, stage coordinated attacks, automatically airlift whole groups one by one, and even fix the damn robo-hut without waiting to be told. Which, true to the title, leaves you free to focus on being the Commander without having to run around making sure everyone is wiping their metal butts.
The distant future, it seems, is smart. It’s also an unfortunately fractured intergalactic civilization. The UEF rose from the remains of the Earth government, and seeks to reunite all of mankind…by any means necessary. The Cybrans are cybernetically enhanced humans that were originally programmed to be mindlessly loyal to the UEF. Now, their creator and his android army seek to free their still enslaved brothers. Finally, the Aeon see themselves as the disciples of an extinct alien race and fanatically seek to spread their religion of peace, or “The Way”, across the galaxy like armed Scientologists.
click to enlargeThere are three separate campaigns, one for each faction, and interestingly, each one paints themselves as the good guy. There is no “good” or “evil” side. Each campaign consists of about a half-dozen missions, but don’t let that fool you. Each map doubles in size when you reach certain goals, exposing new enemies and new objectives. Then it doubles a second time. So a single map will actually take you several hours to complete. Don’t forget to save your game because restarting can be a bitch.
Managing your resources is easy however, as long as you keep an eye on the supply and demand. Thanks to nanotechnology, mass and energy can build anything you need. Energy is easy enough with power plants, but mass must be harvested from the planet’s core which can only be done from specific locations, leading to some local power struggles among the three races.
All three sides are well balanced because, other than graphically speaking, there aren’t very many differences. Every unit essentially has a near-identical analog for every race. There are, however, a huge number of land, air and sea robots and structures in three “tech levels”. It can take a long time to upgrade and produce those more powerful units which lends another strategic element – deciding where to focus. Leaving your base more loosely defended can get you to tech 3 more quickly, but at what risk? Alternatively, you could spend massive resources to build just one experimental behemoth. These giant robots, flying saucers and others have special abilities more unique to each race, but they all share one thing in common – they are juggernauts of destruction.
click to enlargeYou can also upgrade your own personal giant robot ACU with more powerful weapons, teleporting abilities and other bling, but this is so inordinately expensive it seems like more of an endgame gambit, and not particularly useful even then.
The huge scope of the battles, as well as the ability to pull out the camera to take in the entire eighty kilometer square battlefield, is the other hallmark of Supreme Commander. You need that tactical view to really hone your strategy, because on maps this huge you might need fully twenty minutes just to move troops into position. This makes the intelligence provided by radar or sonar much more important than in most strategy games.
In spite of this, the path to defeating the A.I. is fairly straightforward. You build a self-repairing (remember those smart units?) porcupine base for the computer to suicide itself on, then build up a monster army in safety and unleash it at your leisure. Skirmish mode features some much more interesting Commander A.I. and you won’t find yourself winning so easily. But as usual, it’s the eight-player online play where you’ll get the most challenging and interesting opponents.
click to enlargeThat’s if they don’t lag out. With enormous maps and colossal battles featuring hundreds of combatants, flying debris, explosions, missiles, and other robot detritus, Supreme Commander can defeat just about any PC you play it on. I was lucky enough to have just built a monster rig for this very purpose, and thanks to all that raw power, the chaotic battles are simply beautiful. However, most people are going to find themselves with plenty of slowdown when the hot robot-on-robot action gets intense.
The sound, on the other hand, seems strangely muted until you realize that’s because you’re normally surveying the scene from a kilometer high in the sky. If you zoom down into a less helpful, but more intense altitude, the sounds of gunfire, missiles, rumbling motors and clanking metal feet come to life. The music is pretty smart and actually changes tempo when exciting events are unfolding. Smart yet again.
While heavy on the system requirements, Supreme Commander is simply a terrific, well designed game, and no wonder. Chris Taylor, the lead designer also made the awesome predecessor to this game years ago when it was called Total Annihilation. It may have a different name under a different publisher, but make no mistake fans, this is the T.A. sequel you’ve been waiting for. If you’ve got the horsepower to run it, you’d be stupid not to go pick it up.
A- Revolution report card
  • Huge, huge maps
  • Strategic zoom
  • Huge, huge robots
  • Smart A.I.
  • Beautiful destruction
  • Huge, huge system requirements

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