Ratings: Gameplay: 22/25, Graphics amp; Audio: 21/25, Creativity 20/25, Fun 23/25
THQ and Gas Powered Games team up to put you in command of hordes of robots to defeat other hordes of robots commanded by two other factions. Sounds like an over simplified explanation but it works and is very literally the truth. Supreme Commander is a real time simulation with a science fiction twist and an interesting story line but the biggest thing that this real time sim has going for it is the sheer size.
Most of the story gets lost in the gameplay and action as you battle for domination on a wide variety of map terrains and sizes. That is not to say that there is no story here or that it is not a good one, it’s just that it is not really required in this excellent real time sim game. But the story does add nicely to this overall very well made and exciting real time strategy and tactical simulation.
In all the real time simulations I have played Supreme Commander has to be the largest playing field possible. Many of the maps in the campaign start you out with a smaller map about 5 kilometers square only to have the map increase every time you complete a major goal. By the end of each campaign section your playing on a large 81 KM square map with a large peninsula, a few islands and open sea.
The gameplay is simple in theory but anything but to carry out; you command all the forces on your team of robots to win the battles and carry out mission objectives. Many of the goals of the missions will change according to an introduction of new elements during gameplay but basically you build your forces to defeat your opponents. You’ll get not only land but sea and air units such as tanks, ships and planes very reminiscent of modern vehicles but with a futuristic slant to them. There is a very good variety to the units but each of the three factions has basically the same kinds to keep the playing field even.
The storyline is basically a familiar one of a distant future and some different paths that humans have taken to get to the three distinct factions in the year 3844. The three factions have been battling for a thousand years and you have to leap into your command suit to defend your side of this galactic wide fight. Which ever side you do take in the campaign there is a good six missions per faction for a total of eighteen missions in the entire campaign.
The campaign is basically the same storyline told from three perspectives with missions and goals to match which ever side you take. The main story revolves around the building of a new super weapon that the United Earth Federation or humans are developing to wipe out the other two factions. This super weapon or Black Sun as it is dubbed is a major step forward for the humans but a definite leap backward for the other two factions who must prevent it’s completion.
While the story is not all that important to the game it does add a unique flavor and style that shows just how far humans will take a fight. The story of a thousands years of fighting is not the only part of the story but most of what I get out of story lines in most games is who I need to fight and what they want the most from my side. I found the story to add something unique to Supreme Commander but not all that much as the gameplay and graphics were more than enough to keep the game going on its own.
The gameplay is easy and pretty straight forward for a real time sim but this game does have a steep learning curve. You have a command suit and you need to start out by building your army and defense. To build you need to either build your factories or engineers as well as being able to build from your command suit. The economy will be familiar from most any real time simulation but boiling it down to very simple terms of mass and energy. You will produce mass and energy to build everything else in the game and you need to carefully balance this the entire time your playing. Some of the mission will start you off with already built factories, production facilities and units but many times you start with nothing.
Building is easy and it will soon be a matter of dividing your attention to so many things you have going on that the time you need to spend on one thing is very limited, even with a speed up and slow down time option. For the most part you start by deciding what you think you’ll need and pacing things for the best defense of your bases and mission objectives. Some of the missions will be traveling ones like moving parts of a base or the final Black Sun parts but usually you have some definite areas of concentration you will work on for that part of the mission.
When you complete objectives though, nothing can be more frustrating than to have built up defenses along one line only to have the next attack come from your rear. That’s the variations that war plays and you learn to live with it. The hardest part of Supreme Commander is the economy, building mass and energy production units to be able to build your army is tricky. The game has some very picky sets of factors when it comes to building and placing units that create your mass and energy. You need both mass and energy to create whatever units your building in a Star Trek kind of replication.
There are some nice tutorials that help you but trial and error is an even better and more understandable way to learn the basics in the early missions. Just building sets of units to see how it affects your production gets a better understanding than plopping things down and hoping they work according to what the game or some help on forums will give you.
After you get the idea of how to place your units for your economy you get to settle down to some nice tactics and work at achieving the goals of each mission. The first missions of each campaign section is just more for getting the basics of the game and they get a lot tougher the farther you go. The game does have a very nice and tough AI that can really punish you for small mistakes, thank god for the save. But an automatic save would have been nice so when you do forget you could have a point to jump back into. Most of the time it is not necessary but for the last mission it is a definite help to save at several points to be able to try different strategies and tactics against the AI.
The campaign is very good and will take a while to get through, each mission has several parts and each time you finish one part the map increases in size as well as the game getting more difficult. The end mission is very tough and having the right mix of units at the three levels will be a necessary part of your tactics. Each unit can be built by either you or a robot engineer and each unit can have three levels of technology. The lowest or level one is the fastest to build and the least powerful while the level three items take more time, mass and energy to build but are better weapons or units. Even the robot engineers are at different levels so the lower ones will only be able to build up to their level of technology.
You find a balance to the levels of technology and building things for your particular needs when playing and trial and error become your friend when trying to accomplish your missions. Several times I went to a prior save when completing a part of a mission so I could concentrate my tactics in a different way or area.
There is also a nice skirmish section that allows you to jump into a battle that you start on one of several maps that is a simple build and survive against other commanders. The start of the skirmish missions will plop you down on the map of your choosing and you need to build your base and defend it against the others that where placed on the same map. You also need to attack them as they will certainly be going after you sooner or later, usually sooner. You can play on maps from 5 KM up to 81 KM square and against one other AI player up to the total of 8 commanders in the fight.
Supreme Commander plays very well in the gameplay with the graphics adding a lot to the overall gaming experience.
The visuals are nice but at a cost considering the gameplay area involved and the number units on any particular screen. The AI and game engine does a nice job of accomplishing its goals and tasks but you will need a good PC to play this game on anything above medium settings. The final mission of any of the three factions allows you to have up to 500 units on the map and the other sides will have something less. That’s a lot for the engine to keep track of and I found my very good computer to slow down some on the larger maps when things got busy.
The graphics look very good on any of the settings with a good assortment of futuristic shields and laser weapons as well as the conventional types like artillery and of course nuclear weapons. Supreme Commander’s sound was a bit of a disappointment but I have not found any real time simulation to have much in the way of great sound effects when you are zooming in and out and moving all over a battlefield at any one time. The best thing to be able to say about the sound during the gameplay is it worked well without any problems and did add to the game overall.
The multiplayer portion of Supreme Commander is much like the skirmish battles available with the game but with a real live and thinking opponent to battle against. This is where many have looked forward to the release of Supreme Commander and find the most fun and enjoyment. Multiplayer is better than the single player campaign and skirmish mission as far as realism and difficulty but it does get very difficult playing against a real person. There is no set patterns that often happen with the AI and having to continually try to out think the person on the other side of the Internet is a constant challenge. But again Supreme Commander plays very well here and shines as a real time simulation game with multiplayer.
Joining a game over the Internet is easy with the included GPGNET program that sets up games and rankings on their website. You can also watch replays of games on your computer that are downloaded from the site to try to hone your skills as well as just figure out the game and how to play. This is another nice way to find out more about the game and how to build your economy by watching the experts who play often and really well. You can play against other players in free for all fights for survival from one on one games up to eight players against each other or there are also coop multiplayer settings available. During setup of multiplayer games you can allow players to team up with each other to cooperatively play against the others on the map for team based multiplayer action.
Over all Supreme Commander is an excellent game and gets high marks from me as a real time simulation. Graphics and map size were excellent and the game does not stick to a simple pattern of attack or defend when trying to accomplish the goals of the AI side of any particular fight. Often times you do find out the general way to beat the game as it were but Supreme Commander has done a very nice job with the games overall feel and is extremely fun.