April 01, 2010
Supreme Commander 2 takes on not just the story of the Infinite War, but the story of a failed port to the Xbox 360. The first SupCom was amazing on the PC but was generally considered one of the worst ports to the Xbox in the life of the system. SupCom froze, had very poor frame rates, corrupted your data, and was an exercise in patience to play. SupCom 2 comes in with a new publisher who has a solid history of quality console titles and the short story is that yes, the game is fixed. Mostly.
Taking place a few decades after the end of the Infinite War, the campaign leads you through the personal travels of three commanders who were classmates years ago and now have to fight corruption and deceit by constructing and destroying robotic armies. The story is much more fleshed out in the sequel, the cutscene visuals are definitely a huge step up for an RTS game, and the teaser at the end actually makes sense this time. Instead of focusing on the construction, capture, or destruction of a planet killing weapon (Black Sun from the first game), SupCom 2 leads you quite far down the story arc before revealing the actual point of the struggle, and it isn’t until the final Cybran mission that you realize the full potential of the device.
In each mission you start with your classic base building exercise, often with incoming enemies to keep it interesting. You have a variety of goals to accomplish, some of which are optional and at least one secret goal in each mission, but the ultimate goal is always to destroy one or more enemy commanders (with one exception that is something of an espionage mission). The three sides (UEF, Illuminate and Cybran) all use slightly different units, but generally they can be considered land, air and naval forces. All of the resources in the game come from mass points or energy plants (and the manual amusingly references Albert Einstein for why this makes sense) and you produce your buildings with engineers and your armed forces from factories. The only downside is that if you put a building somewhere and change your mind, you can't deconstruct it or blow it up. The enemy can, but you can't, which seems to be a small step backwards.
The technology tree is limited in each mission, generally revealing more of each faction’s unique tree as you progress through their part of the story. The only mission in which you get complete access is the last mission of the campaign, so the higher tech only applies to multiplayer… and frankly, if you last long enough to fully tech up everything in a multiplayer game, your opponent isn’t trying.
The multiplayer is fast, no lag, and no weird combat modes invented just to be able to say that the experience is completely unique. You have two competitive modes: Assassination, where the goal is to kill the enemy commander(s), and Supremacy, where the goal is to destroy every unit and structure. There is also an Infinite War mode, which is essentially a sandbox since there are no victory conditions and you can play with no opponents. You can also play skirmish against the AI solo or co-op with a friend over Live.
The control system is mostly easy and straight forward, and the training mode is much improved from the first game where you were almost better off not going through it. There were a few oversights that are covered in the manual, albeit near the end, but for the most part it does a solid job. The commands are fast, consistent, and easy, definitely one of the best control schemes available for an RTS on the console. The one failing seems to be the lack of defining groups, but the system tends to do that for you when you zoom out to the full map view, making this failing pretty minimal in the long run. The loading times are reasonable, although most of the cutscenes are not able to be skipped and the one option I would have added to the menus is the ability to load a saved game from within the pause menu rather than have to exit to the main menu before loading.
The in-game graphics are solid while not being eye-popping, but since so much of the game is played from the strategic view most of what you are looking at is iconic representations anyway. The strategic zoom is still one of the best innovations the RTS genre has seen, and SupCom 2 is clearly built from the ground up to accommodate it. Smooth, seamless, and so very handy… you can be looking at a small isolated battle, zoom out to see the entire battlefield, zoom in to have an engineer place turrets at a choke point, and then zoom back out to check for incoming aircraft, all in a couple of seconds. Unfortunately, if you do zoom in to a large battle where a hundred or so units are shooting at once, the frame rate noticeably slows down, and the audio cuts in and out in quite an annoying fashion.
The achievements are almost all tied to the single player campaign, although there are a few for ranked multiplayer wins, two for co-op wins, and a variety of skirmish wins. The secret achievements are for completing each campaign mission, and there is no reason they should have been secret since they give nothing away. I admit to a bit of confusion on their logic here. There are three secret achievements tied to three hidden goals, but the achievement for completing all 20 hidden goals is NOT secret. Regardless, the achievements are easy enough to get and the entire game is quite possible in 15-20 hours. Then you just have to sit around (or play with friends for fun) until you get the last achievement for having played it for 24 hours.
Overall, the game is decent but not particularly challenging. Clearly aiming at the Halo Wars market, the developers have hit the mark pretty well. The hard difficulty is significantly easier than Legendary on Halo Wars, and the ranked achievements can be earned much faster than General. The balance of power, as in the first game, remains heavily weighted towards offense and air power, but nobody likes a turtle anyway.
Understated martial music, decent dialogue but not too much of it. Still, get 100 units on screen and the sound cuts in and out.
The graphics are well done, with detailed terrain, a good variety of units and structures, but much of it you won’t see because of the lure of strategic zoom. Frame rate drops during large battles can be annoying as well.
The control scheme is top-notch and setting up games is incredibly easy. The tutorial misses two small items, but this game is fun and easy to play.
Supreme Commander 2 does a great job of fixing pretty much everything that was wrong with the last game, and focusing on core RTS gameplay. Unfortunately, heavily overpowered air and offense combined with the lack of a challenging AI keeps this from being a great game.
This is pretty close to a perfect list, although I would remove the ranked game achievements for that one. Also, I have to take points off for the 24 hour achievement considering it took me around 20 hours to do everything else. Still, good list overall.
A good game for beginners in the strategy genre, but for a title from someone of Chris Taylor's background, you can't help but feel a little underwhelmed. Supreme Commander 2 should have been the game that really offered us a challenge, however, we never found it.