If one is to be honest, compared to it’s desktop-based big brother, the Xbox 360 version of Supreme Commander is but a shadow of its former self
You should all know the story of Supreme Commander by now. Developed by Chris Taylor, this large-scale RTS title was heralded as the spiritual successor of one of Taylor's previous games – Total Annihilation (a cult classic). It received an average metacritic score of 86, and was praised for its scope, gameplay and other features that made the game flow. It wasn't perfect, many critics pointed out the game's various flaws, but generally speaking it was considered a decent RTS title. Now it is back and this time the 'Infinite War' has been taken to the Xbox 360 Console, courtesy of Hellbent Games.
Generally speaking, PC-to-console ports, especially of the RTS variety, are generally considered sub-par by both the press and gamers. If one is to be honest, compared to it’s desktop-based big brother, the Xbox 360 version of Supreme Commander is but a shadow of its former self. Nevertheless, this shadow is solid, and it is a worthwhile experience in its own right. One of Supreme Commander's biggest criticisms was that the spec requirements were a little on the demanding side, so Hellbent has had to fit a lot in to such a limited space. It is with this fact in mind that one can more fully appreciate the work that has been put into this title.
The first thing you may notice about the 360 version is that the graphics have been scaled down completely. Smooth visuals and highly detailed battle sequences have gone, and slightly more low-detailed and 'pixelated' unit models have taken their place. This is to be expected however with a game like this, so as long as you are expecting it, the reality isn't that harsh. Units still glide more or less gracefully over the battlefields, and whilst some of the battle effects can leave something to be desired at times, when it comes to all out armageddon you somehow don't seem to care. Even the bigger units are handled quite well, although not quite up to this generation's standard.
The controls have been re-worked quite well to compensate for the lack of mouse and a keyboard. The various command functions have been separated into 3 main hubs – Groups, Commands, and Construction. Simply tap the corresponding button to access the hub, and then use the left thumbstick to navigate the circular menu until you find the option you want. The right thumbstick can be used to access any sub menus within that hub. You won't be hitting a high 'click-per-second' count or anything, but the controls help keep the process flowing. This system actually works really well with some of the core gameplay elements such as the automated bases. The fact that you can set rally and ferry points, whilst queuing up units and also getting other factories to assist with that queue, means that that a lot less valuable time is spent micro-managing. Once you have a set plan in motion, everything pretty much manages itself. Strategy is just as important in this game as it was in the PC version, and all of the options are in place, including the 'strategic zoom'. Still, if you own the PC version, it is not recommended that you get this one, as you will just end up missing your mouse, and find that navigation can be considerably slower then to what you may be used to.
Other elements of the game have also been scaled down. The unit cap for each player has been lowered to 500, and you can only play with up to 4 players at a time – although co-op is still available. This is not a hindrance though, as 500 units per player has proven adequate so far, and a console player would be slightly overwhelmed with anything larger than that. A lot of the larger maps have been left out of the game, again because of the 4 player limit. There is a healthy choice of maps to chose from anyway mind.
The campaign is unchanged from that of the PC version. You still get to play through a decent sized single-player game as either, the UEF, Aeon Illuminate or the Cybran Nation. Along with the tutorial, it still proves to be an adequate method of getting into the game. The tutorial will teach you the basics, which you can then put into practice in the first few levels of each of campaign. As the game progresses, more and more options become available to you, and you then have to you use your own abilities to figure out how best to utilise all of your tactical options. It's not the most forgiving of systems, but the game's motto is “There Is No Compromise, There Is No Mercy” after all.
For anyone who has not played the PC version, gameplay revolves around several key concepts: Resources, Technology, and Strategy. There are only two types of resources in the game, Mass and Energy. Building the appropriate building on the appropriate location will generate these resources. Things are slightly different then in conventional RTS games, as you can theoretically generate an infinite amount of the resources, but the amount of buildings you have determine the rate you generate mass or energy. Processes such as construction and upgrades count negatively towards that rate, which will keep you constantly building more and more generators.
There are the tiers of technology in Supreme Commander, including an 'experimental tier'. Players need to balance technological advancement with military planning, and it can sometimes be a tricky task. Getting in an early upgrade might give you an advantage for long enough in order to sort everything else out. You also have to make sure you don't try and do much at once, as low resources slow down production across the board – although it never actually 'stops'.
Strategy has been mentioned several times before, and is the key to playing this game. Players need to figure out what units to use and when, make sure they constantly maintain a frontline, and utilise all three areas – Land, Sea and Air. Fast paced action is encouraged, as if you sit tight for too long, your opponent will simply build some artillery and pick you off from afar.
The multiplayer mode takes full advantage of Xbox Live with an implemented leaderboard, featuring both ranked and unranked matches. All of the various single-player game modes are available, and you can team up against your opponents. There's nothing particular new or unique, but then the gameplay itself doesn't really call for it. Whilst the units don't vary much between factions, there are enough of them to allow for a wide variety of strategies, and it's in how you deal with them where the fun resides.
Unfortunately, like its predecessor the 360 version of Supreme Commander has its own flaws and hitches. These are slightly different though as it contains all of the updates up to the latest patch of the PC version before they brought out the stand-alone expansion. Nevertheless, the game is prone to pausing slightly after saving, the camera keeps switching back to a default position, and the 'magnetise' cursor option can be very frustrating at times, especially when it gets stuck. This is probably to do with a hardware issue, which sounds odd considering it's the Xbox. (The whole reason developers like consoles like the Xbox is because there aren't supposed to be any 'hardware issues'.) But again, Supreme Commander is a very demanding game, maybe there was just too much to fit in?
SUPREME COMMANDER VERDICT
But despite it’s problems, Supreme Commander makes a respectable effort. Even the PC game was considered a little ambitious, and bringing it to the more restrictive home console even more so. Perhaps if the PC version wasn’t so demanding to begin with, the 360 version would have had an easier time. Still, RTS titles as a whole have still yet to find a comfortable formula on the consoles, so all a developer can do is do his best and hope it is received well.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Crushing an enemy base with an army, backed up by huge experimental units.