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.Sending anything to the front lines can be a bit of a tricky decision, however, as pathfinding was often sub-par. I many times found my units wandering almost aimlessly, often tripping over one another as they meandered their way toward the enemy. Then I would return my view to my home base, where my engineers and even Commander were doing a spinning little dance, trying to disentangle themselves from the various units and buildings, when they should have been patrolling and repairing my defenses.
Speaking of views, the Supreme Commander series touted its ability to sweep the view high into the heavens to oversee vast amounts of battle lines and combats. That's all well and good, but in Supreme Commander 2 I hardly ever found it necessary to "go epic" in my control scheme. The maps weren't that large, the armies didn't number all that great, and there was just no reason to pull the camera back for that sweeping birds-eye view. This was one of my biggest disappointments, as I was really hoping to orchestrate brilliant, multi-faceted assaults and repulsions on a global scale.
As for the nuts and bolts, Supreme Commander 2 looks good, but it's not certainly not a graphical wonderland. After a few hours, I hardly noticed the looks of the units anymore, other than the occasional Experimental, and even those quickly became uninteresting to see. I often complain about not being able to tell my units apart, and while this is the case in Supreme Commander 2, it's not all that important. Since I'm often fielding blobs of units at a time, there was really no need to tease apart individual units for specific tasks. It was often a case of "get 'em" , with a tweak here and there for the Experimental units. The game's sound was solid, the voice acting in the single-player campaign was tolerable. The campaign itself was a nice introduction to the various units, but not much more. And, of course, the skirmish modes against the almost passable AI or much-better human opponents are always an option for those who want a bit more.
Overall, while I had some fun with Supreme Commander 2, I don't think I would go out of my way to play this over any of the other RTS titles available to me right now. I cannot speak for fans of the original, but I have a feeling that this is not the game they were expecting. Supreme Commander 2 is a solid, if uninspired, title that hints at something that could have been much better.