When I was playing the original Supreme Commander, I was frequently reminded of the old frat boy aphorism, “Picking a girl’s g-string out of her butt with your teeth sounds sexier than it actually is.” The principle design scheme behind Supreme Commander was to take what just about every other RTS was doing, and put it on a bigger scale: Hundreds of tanks! Huge bases! Dozens of aircraft swarming the enemy base like wasps!
[image1]It sounded sexy, and the screenshots certainly sold it as such, but I ultimately found that playing the game didn’t quite live up to the image. Enter Forged Alliance, the stand-alone expansion for Supreme Commander.
My main complaint with the original Supreme Commander stemmed from the sensation of control; the user interface was cluttered and unintuitive, and a lot of the different elements of the unit design didn’t feel right for the main thrust of the gameplay. Complex units don’t actually handle well on large scale, or more accurately, as well as you wish they should. Forged Alliance corrects most of these problems elegantly without actually changing your understanding of the game too wildly.
Forged Alliance has recreated its new minimalist user interface with most of the really important data presented clearly and plainly without any of the old clutter; no more nonsense with percentages or showing weighted gain/loss values for resource collection. Instead of wasting screen space with mostly unused junk, the UI has been scaled back to be much more context sensitive; select a builder unit, and the building panel will pop up. De-select him, and it will vanish, leaving you more viewing space for the battle.
[image2]A lot of the complex oddities of specific units in the first game have been smoothed over or outright removed from Forged Alliance, remaking a lot of the units into specific role-filling machines. Many of the interesting multi-purpose units that cluttered efficient tactical decision making have been hammered back down.
Graphically, it’s is quite similar to the original; if any improvements were made, I couldn’t really tell. Forged Alliance runs much worse, however, so presumably something changed – though not necessarily for the better. While my system is not outstanding, it can run Crysis on medium settings in DirectX 10 with little slowdown, but Forged Alliance dives it problems.
Sound and music retain the old Supreme Commander bombast. Orchestral sweeps and thunderous explosions will fill the air as you conquer worlds. The voice acting of Forged Alliance is in the same vein as well – good, a little campy with the Aeon and Cybrans, and extremely campy with the new race, the Seraphim. Who are, by the way, total cocks.
[image3]The whole ‘opponents taunt you like jerks’ thing that went on in Supreme Commander remains in Forged Alliance, and the Seraphim keep up the tradition. Only you can’t understand them, so they’re just mouthing off in irritating alien gibberish at you. They could be telling the most vile jokes imaginable featuring your mother, and you wouldn’t know.
Despite being huge assholes, the Seraphim play very similarly to the human factions, right down to general capabilities. In fact, for a dimension hopping race, their equipment is surprisingly weak. You’d think a race with the ability to rip open holes in the fabric of reality could build some interesting weaponry, but instead you get tanks, tanks, and just for a twist, some more tanks. It’s a little disappointing that the great alien menace fights so conventionally.
Each race has gained a couple new experimental units, which comprise some of the strongest differences between races in Forged Alliance. Most of them are appropriately ridiculous, doing things like providing infinite resources, firing artillery shells across the entire map, and summoning satellite bombardment against which there is no defense. It’s hilarious, and mostly pointless; they take so long to build that you really should have beaten the map by the time they’re done.
[image4]On that note, Forged Alliance does not fix the classic problem with Supreme Commander: games take too damned long. I don’t think I’ve played a single match in Supreme Commander that’s taken less than 100 minutes. In multiplayer it gets even worse, as competence in the game takes a backseat to good old fashioned attrition – seeing who can pump out the most units may be amusing for a while, but when you’ve rolled past the three hour mark, it starts to get laborious.
Forged Alliance’s AI is improved and now more aggressive. It also tends to attack with a stronger mix of units than previously, exposing fewer weaknesses. It’s become quite clever about setting up regular patrol routes that make secreting an alternate attack force somewhere on the map much more difficult. Most of the changes are really just simple processes, nothing tactically inspired, but they’re the kind of additions that make an AI opponent satisfying to play against.
Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance has come much closer to what Supreme Commander was supposed to be, and as a stand-alone title that you don’t need the original to play for only $29.99, it’s a bargain and a half. I look forward to more expansions; with luck, Gas Powered Games will nail it perfectly on the next one. For now, though, they’ve done players a great service by getting us away from that faint flavor of cotton.
I think I need to go brush my teeth.