We are not retreating, we are advancing in another direction…
Supreme Commander 1 was an overcomplex affair – a good game, definitely, but it had a lot of fiddly bits going on for a game happening at a gigantic scale. It was not until the expansion that they smoothed out the gameplay. Supreme Commander 2 is now on the scene – and has continued sanding down the gameplay, presumably hoping to create a perfectly smooth gameplay surface. It doesn’t work out very well.
[image1]Supreme Commander 2 replicates much of the same gameplay of the first game, and like Forged Alliance, focuses each unit into specific roles, so you can easily make force composition decisions. Distinctly, however, SC2 introduces a research tree to the game and gets rid of the higher tech manufacturing facilities.
It’s an interesting decision, but I’m not clear it makes a tangible difference to the gameplay on average. Your bases are a little tighter, as you no longer need nine factories just to have access to all unit types, and likewise you don’t have to worry about distinguishing between level 1 and level 3 engineers and whatnot, but in practice, the gameplay hasn’t really changed significantly. You grind up resources, invest along the tech tree, and boom, you have access to new units. In essence, SC2 has just decided to do what RTS games have been doing for years – including its own predecessor.
SC2 does reduce the number of things you have to concentrate on by a small amount. However, it’s hard to say if this is relevant to the game or not. I can’t say I missed SC:FA’s set-up specifically, but I did miss the intrinsic sense of scale that set-up implied. Supreme Commander was a game about doing things en masse; you didn’t send out a tank brigade, you sent out ten tank brigades. You didn’t launch a single nuke, you launched five nukes while simultaneously barraging the enemy base with artillery. Supreme Commander 2 still allows for this gameplay, but it no longer feels like the point.
[image2]The scale has shrunk across the board – where Supreme Commander 1 and Forged Alliance focused on giant-scale battles, galactic conflict, and enough firepower to level a continent, Supreme Commander 2 gives you moderate battles in merely a planetary conflict. It feels like a small step backward given that the epic scale of play was what the franchise was originally built for. Supreme Commander 2 is a vast departure from the ideas Chris Taylor sold us on for this franchise only a few short years ago.
Oddly, it’s harder than ever to zoom in on the action – even all the way in, most of your units are tiny little boxes meandering around, and your experimental units are the only distinguishable ones. This is annoying in a heated firefight as it can be hard to pick out non-experimentals, and this places the emphasis on force mixture over momentary tactical decision-making. Supreme Commander was not exactly a micro-management game, but when you elected to take advantage of it, some light micro paid real dividends; SC2 makes that extremely difficult.
The single-player campaign is fairly story-driven, centrally featuring the commanders the player controls and a surprisingly fun villain. Though you will recognize many names and characters from the first Supreme Commander, the nature of the storytelling is quite different. Supreme Commander was very straightforward – there weren’t really grand reveals or surprises. It was a game about three major galactic powers blowing each other up one planet at a time.
[image3]SC2 tells a convoluted tale of a hidden alien vessel/device older than the Seraphim and with unimaginable power. The predictable moral dilemma arises of course – who are we primitive humans to meddle with such unimaginable power and blah blah blah? Suffice it to say, I wasn’t particularly impressed, but it was an interesting direction for the series. Practice makes perfect, Gas Powered Games – make an expansion with a more nuanced story in the same style.
The biggest disappointment, though, is the damage done to the multiplayer game. There’s no real ranked matchmaking service or ladders, no lobby chat, or any of the other multiplayer amenities that have become standard in PC RTS games. Add to that some distinct changes that make the game feel less tactical and more high-strategy, and you have a game that just has no value to the hardcore RTS community.
Graphically and aurally, the game suffers as well. Textures are generally poor, even at maxed settings, with very plastic-toy-looking units and buildings with dull color schemes and appearances. At the smaller visual scale, it only becomes harder to pick out details. Voice acting is mostly mediocre – not truly bad, but generally not great either. Music is repetitive, and curiously persistent at times, looping on and on despite action subsiding.
All of this is not to say that Supreme Commander 2 is an awful game. But the things that have changed simply won’t win over new fans; if you didn’t like Supreme Commander, then you won’t like Supreme Commander 2. That’s really all there is to it. Supreme Commander wasn’t broken, so SC2’s efforts to fix it just seem irrelevant in the best case and a dilution of a good game in the worst.