UEF – UNITE!
I’m going to say this once again – Supreme Commander is one of my favourite RTS games. The only RTS game I’ve logged more hours on is TA. You’d think that I’d be pretty hyped up for Supreme Commander 2, right? Well, you’d be somewhat wrong. I didn’t pay any attention to it. Granted, it kind of snuck up on me, but even then I tried to stay in the dark about it. After all, when I consider Supreme Commander to be the greatest strategic RTS game ever, I’m probably not going to be extremely pleased with its sequel. SC’s massive scale and reasonably clean interface (at least with the expansion) makes it one of the few games that do massive scale battles with any kind of ease. Throwing hundreds of units at each other was massive, and if both sides were willing to fight a bitter war instead of rushing like all hell, you’d see massive armies clashing, sometimes on multiple fronts. That’s war.
Supreme Commander 2 makes quite a few changes to the classic forumla, which has existed since TA was born. In some cases, this is a good thing. In other cases, it makes SC2 a bit too generic. For those unfamiliar with how SC/TA’s resource system worked, here’s a brief rundown: you collecter mass and energy (or metal and energy in TA’s case) by building resource buildings. They’d accumulate at a particular rate. When you built something, you didn’t pay everything up front; instead the resources were drained at a rate that was based on how long it was taking to construct. So if a unit cost 2000 Mass and 1000 Energy, you might pay that much over 2 minutes. If you put more builders on it so that it took only 1 minute, you’d pay that amount in 1 minute. This was great because you could tweak your economy to no end, making your war machine the centrepiece of the entire game.
SC2 does away with this and instead you pay the whole amount up front, like every other game. However you still have only the two resources, and the way you obtain them hasn’t changed. The new payment system does make things a lot easier to understand, but the economy was what set SC apart from other RTS games, so I’m disappointed that it’s gone. It makes the game a lot more accessible though, which is probably a good thing in the long run, but still ripping out a unique economy management feature doesn’t seem like such a fantastic idea. The rest of the economy still mostly applies; engineers and your ACU can help finish building projects, and controlling mass points (so that your opponent can’t have them) is still critical to success.
Units have been completely changed. SC had a bit of an escalating conflict thing going on; you’d start at Tier 1, and then progress up to Tier 2 and Tier 3 before finally getting Experimental units. T3 had the strongest units, T1 had the basic weakest units, and Experimentals were hero units and incredibly expensive. Buildings, too, came in tiers, and each tier was more or less an upgraded version of something from a previous tier. That said, only two tiers really got used; T1 for rushing, and T3 for later. T2 was usually skipped entirely because while they were just good enough to hit early point defences, by that time people were getting T2 point defences making the entire thing pointless… heh, pointless. GPG have opted for a new system that stops units from becoming obselete. Basically your unit list is all you ever get; the UEF for example get one basic tank, one assault bot, one rocket tank and so on. This is different from SC where you’d get a T1 tank, a T2 tank, and then no T3 tank for whatever reason… or a T1, T2 and T3 assault bot. Instead, SC2 makes you research upgrades for your units which improves their combat effectiveness. Like it’ll give them shields, or an extra gun barrel, or anti-air abilities or something. On one hand this means that units don’t become pointless; you’ll keep using the same units and what you’ve got doesn’t suddenly become obselete. On the other hand, it’s pretty disheartening to suddenly see a basic force suddenly appear with upgrades out of nowhere. In general though I think it’s a great move. I hated building up a force only to find that they’re now completely useless and pointless, but now I can build them up and keep them.
Buildings are in this new system too. You no longer have T1, T2 or T3 engineers; everybody can build everything, but advanced structures need to be researched. Factories don’t need to be upgraded to build newer units, they only need to be researched. That said, factories can now be upgraded to have additional abilities. You can turn them into radar installations, anti-air platforms, or give them their own shields. This makes setting up a forward base quite a bit easier, (one building does a hell of a lot!) but when you’ve got a factory that can shoot a swarm of missiles, you have to wonder why you’re bothering. Things like nuclear missile launchers, mass to energy converters, or artillery need to be researched before they can be built. Also experimental units are now built from their own little factories; there’s a factory for each category of experimental unit; land, sea and air. This research method means that buildings don’t become quite so easily obselete (ie there aren’t several tiers of defensive platforms) but at the same time this makes bases quite a bit smaller in size. In SC bases were frequently massive complexes, but not so in SC2.
The research system is brand new and it works quite well. You build research buildings to build up research points, which you spend in a tech tree. There’s a tree for land, sea, air, buildings and your armoured command unit. It’s pretty simple; you invest points and follow the trees to the end, eventually gaining powerful new units, buildings or whatever. The ACU path is particularly important because it grants lots of abilities to your ACU, including preventing it from exploding in a massive core meltdown that wipes out your base, and allowing you to eject from it so that your ACU’s death doesn’t end the game. I like this new system primarily beacuse it stops the inbuilt obselesence from SC, which got annoying after a while. Experimental units sit at the end of the tech trees, and in general they’re pretty damn good, but they’re not really the fearsome monsters they were in SC. In SC, experimentals were expensive and took a while to build unless you had your economy squared away. In SC2, where everything is faster, they’re not quite so painful to build, so they lose a bit of their potency.
Unit veterancy and diversity has been retooled. Veterancy is now useful for a change, and since units no longer become needlessly obselete, you’ll usually be able to keep them around long enough to see them make a difference. Veterancy gives a noticable boost to attack power and health, and veterans can easily take on an equal greenhorn force without taking anywhere near as much damage. Still units are fairly expendable so they’re not usually worth keeping alive. Unit balance has been tweaked a bit; the sides still more or less get similar kinds of units (except for the Illuminate, the new Aeon faction, who don’t get a navy but have lots of hovering units) but they work in different ways. The UEF have lots of units but each of them only tends to do a particular thing well, while the Cybrans have fewer units but they can all do multiple things at once. The UEF have their typically strong airforce, while the Cybrans are fairly decent at stealth, and the Illuminate have a highly mobile army that can hit fairly hard. The differences aren’t blindingly obvious so similar tactics will work for each army, and while it seems to lake in diversity, it does at least make it very easy to pick up another faction and start playing away.
The single player campaign is decent and has a good length. It focuses on the alliance formed after the Seraphim were defeated in Forged Alliance. The UEF, Cybrans and Illuminate are allied, but it all goes to shit and the alliance is disbanded. Each faction has 6 missions each, but those missions can go on for an hour at times. Don’t expect much of a challenge from the AI though. Skirmish mode is also included but the AI isn’t particularly strong there, either. The Easy AI is far too easy and does practically nothing, but it at least lets you come to grips with the game so that you can waste time checking out the tech tree and building all the units. The size of the gameworld has been scaled down a bit too; Seton’s Clutch, running in a 4 player configuration, is the largest map available, but even then it’s not quite as large as in SC. The game’s also a bit faster in pace too, and you can make it even faster if you want. This faster pace makes games move along quite a bit quicker and prevents boredom from settling in, which was common in SC. In SC unless you were rushing, you’d typically spend a lot of time building up your economy and forces, and there’d be periods of nothing before a relentless assault took place. SC2 is a lot busier, but with the increased speed comes a decrease in strategy. This game is a fair bit more tactical than SC, but there’s still enough of a strategic aspect for it to be a successor to SC.
Graphically SC2 is a bit more cartoony than SC; bright, bold colours are used as opposed to SC’s muted colour pallette, but at least it runs smooth. The engine is vastly improved and works extremely well, maybe due to the smaller size, who can really say? I like the new engine and I don’t really mind the look but the colours are a bit too bold. The UI is fantastic and it’s an improvement on the previous UI. I particularly like how groups of units have their own markers on the strategic map zoom, so I can quickly grab that group of fighters or whatever. Sounds are great, as you’d expect, as are the environments.
I don’t exactly agree with the new art style but I’ll give them top marks for creating a smooth engine. The graphics are at least on par with SC before it.
The voice acting can be a bit off at times, but apart from that the sounds are great. No complaints here, but that voice acting can be a pain sometimes.
Despite the change in the economy and increased speed, SC2 at least delivers on the similar SC gameplay. It’s just on a slightly smaller scale. With that said, it’s now far more accessible and less boring.
The AI needs work, but otherwise it’s got the goods to carry it as a multiplayer favourite.
Yeah, I’m cheating. I can’t give this one an “Excellent” rating because there are a few things I don’t like. I don’t like the new economy, and I’m not a fan of the art direction, and I’m a bit concerned that SC2 feels a bit more generic and too close to other RTS games now to stand out on its own. It feels like there should be more… but there isn’t. With that said, the changes to the unit lineup, the inclusion of the tech tree, and unit veterancy changes means that SC2 is extremely fun to play. You still get your large battles and little forward bases along with combined arms assaults, but it’s a bit faster. There’s less waiting around and less tedium, which was a problem in SC; battles could last 3 hours without much effort, but in SC2 they’re unlikely to go that long. In all I’m actually pleasantly surprised with Supreme Commander 2, and although it lacks a few things that its predecessor had, it’s still a fun game with good mechanics. UEF, UNITE!