I think I've been a victim of hype. I never got a chance to play the first Supreme Commander, knowing that my aging rig would have been brought to its knees by the punishing system requirements. But the reviews certainly looked like something I would very much enjoy--a grand, sweeping RTS, with a deep build progression and engrossing strategic decisions. Knowing this, and having acquired a newer rig with a bit more oomph, I was happy to try out the successor to this intriguing title. And I can honestly say I don't know what my excitement was all about.
Don't get me wrong, Supreme Commander 2 is a decent RTS. It's a fair amount of fun, it controls well, and it's certainly not a bad way to chew away a few hours. But it's just not the grad opus I was imagining it would be. In fact, with all the RTS titles I've played over the past few years, there's really nothing to make this title stand out over the rest. There's just a bit too much "been there, done that" for me, and not enough flavor or style to make up for it.
Take the factions themselves, for instance. Here you have the now-standard 3-way sci-fi battle going on, between the basic human forces (UEF), the quasi-spiritualistic Illuminate, and the ultra-technological Cybran. At first blush, all three factions seem fairly well balanced against each other. And the second and third blushes, one begins to realize that the reason for this is that they are, at the core, quite similar. Sure, there are some differences, such as the Illuminate land forces being mostly amphibious and the Cyrbran naval forces ability to wander onto land, but for the most part each factions' basic units play much the same. At the upper reaches of the tech trees, where the Experimental units live, one finds some more differences, but even these don't have the emotional impact I was expecting.
In the original Supreme Commander, the Experimentals were game-changers, units that required a dedicated tech path and direction of many resources to achieve. And once they hit the ground, they could quickly turn the tide of battle if the other sides weren't prepared with their answers to these awesome behemoths. In the sequel, however, the Experimentals just aren't that impressive. Sure, they require a fair amount of research to achieve, but they just don't feel like a well-fought reward. And they're not exactly the fearsome forces that I was hoping, either. But for a few of my favorites, I was actually unimpressed with the effectiveness and durability of these "ultimate" units. On the flip side, these units are actually not that expensive to build, only requiring about 10 to 15 times more resources than a basic unit of the same type.
Units aside, the gameplay is quite familiar RTS ground. Harkening back to its spiritual successor, Supreme Commander 2 employs the same resource system found in the brilliant Total Annihilation series. There are only two physical resources, Mass and Energy. Mass is pulled from unending supplies at specific locations on the board, or recycled from fallen units. Energy is generated through various buildings and a few select units. This simplistic take on resource gathering allows for more concentration on building up infrastructure and armies. Again, all three factions have very similar buildings and units, each fielding a decent selection of seemingly-interchangeable basic units. I did find the air units to be a bit more powerful than their land- or sea-based counterparts, although this didn't really give any one faction a decided advantage that I could see.
The most powerful units, the Commanders, also goes all the way back to Total Annihilation. The Commander is the player's avatar in Supreme Commander 2, being the primary building unit, a formidable combatant with the right technologies, and the ultimate target of enemy aggression. Should the Commander fall, it's game over (often with quite explosive results). I quite enjoy the Commander idea, and the decision to send this vital and powerful unit to the frontlines is a difficult one.
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