The sequel to Chris Taylor's Supreme Commander is here, but does it live up to its precursor?
Not so long ago you read our preview on Chris Taylor's sequel to his epic strategy game Supreme Commander. Supreme Commander 2, whilst it showed promise, was clearly going to be but a shadow of its former self. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it's more of a case of targeted audience more than anything, but just so we're clear from the off - we weren't wrong.
Whether this was a result of Gas Powered Games new partnership with Square (who have had a bit of a rocky start in the western strategy market in our opinion) or because Chris Taylor genuinely wanted to alter the fundamentals of his game is anyone's guess. The end result is the same however: As we mentioned last time, two key concepts were at the forefront of SC2's development, and are quite noticeable whilst playing the game: Accessibility and Narrative. The latter is the tamer of the two ideologies, and simply manifested itself into a more intricate story line filled with stronger themes such as family and loyalty.
The ACU remains the key to your operations, and the only 'manned' entity.
Believe it or not, this is a 'minor' experimental.
This sounds reasonable on paper, however the reality is a little less impressive than Taylor probably intended. Whether it's the shortness of the three campaigns (one for each faction as usual, but only 6 missions a piece) or the rather quick progression of the plot, the emotional undercurrent associated with the situations you find yourself in get glossed over. Obviously, the Strategy genre doesn't really lend itself to an 'involved' story and Taylor gets points for trying, but it doesn't change the outcome. Set many years after the last game, Supreme Commander 2 deals with the fall of the alliance, and the start of a new war between the three factions. Each faction has a protagonist that you play as and follow through their story, and in typical RTS fashion the game's various elements are slowly unlocked for you.
As for accessibility, many feared (or accused) Supreme Commander 2 would be 'dumbed down' - well in a pinch it has, although the more appropriate phrase would be toned down. There's been cuts across the board in this game, with less units, less buildings, less experimentals and less micro-management. It's a shame, as Supreme Commander was one of those games where its biggest flaw was also the one thing that made it unique. Requiring a degree of drive and concentration (not to mention a hefty machine to play it on) rarely seen in strategy games, the original game was literal homage to the 'war machine' concept. It took a lot of getting used to, but there was still a certain addictiveness to it.
Now THIS is more like it...
If you don't keep up with the pace of battle, you will easily be overrun.
In attempting to appeal to a wider audience, Supreme Commander 2 is in danger of being yet another run of the mill strategy game. Thankfully, this is not quite the case, as despite slimming down SC2 still requires a bit of getting used to, and has a lot going on at once in the more advanced games. More emphasis has been put on the experimental units, even if there are less of them, and Taylor has done all he can to 'slow' the pace of battle. Resources are slightly harder to generate, and instead of tech levels there is a tech tree that can do everything from unlocking advanced units to improving the stats of common ones. You use the tech tree by generating research points, itself a resource that takes time to accumulate.
Because of this, matches still retain their fluidity and energy, whilst also being more drawn out and balanced. Gameplay also depends on the map you choose and the skill of your opponent. A plus point actually is the fact that there are many diverse map types, each that require their own strategy and way of thinking. The only downside to this is that mod support has taken a slight hit, as players are no longer allowed to create custom maps. According to Taylor himself, industrial sized tools were used to create the current ones, tools that apparently just can't be released to the public. Me and you both know however that if you build it, they will mod. It will be interesting to see how the community deals with the engine.
Those of you who lamented the fact that Supreme Commander required a God-machine just to run will be relieved to know that a complete re-write of the main engine, as well as code optimisation has considerably lowered the technical specifications. Graphically, it's hard to make a comparison as the two games ran on different engines... all that can be said is the sequel does seem much 'brighter' than the first game.
Base building has lost many of its advanced features, which is a shame.
Yeah, that shield won't last long.
Despite retaining some of the complexity that made it unique, Supreme Commander 2 doesn't really possess anything that makes it stand out, and so whilst it's done well in reviews so far, it probably won't go down in the annals of history like some games do. This review was based off the PC version, and so no comparison to the 360 release can be given at this time.
Supreme Commander 2 probably won't appeal to the hardcore audience of the first game. Still, it tries to make itself more appealing to more people, and in this regard we like to think it succeeds. The story isn't great, but it still serves its purpose in trying to make the player more involved in the universe, and these things usually do prove to be an excellent tutorial to all of the game's features. As with the first game, the real charm of this title will be found in the multiplayer, which is as hectic and rush-fuelled as ever - and now fully integrated into Steam to boot.