An army of hundreds of heavily armed robots advance on your position. Your shields are up, perimeter defenses are guarding your resource generators, and production facilities pump out a steady stream of units. Under your energy shields, artillery, anti-air vehicles, and tanks wait to push back the attack, but your radar intel indicates the encroaching combined forces of the enemy may sweep you right out of existence. Then from your experimental production facility emerges a towering assault robot capable of absorbing enemy fire while pulverizing the opposition with devastating cannons. As the enemy struggles with this new weapon, your air force bombards their artillery. You cheer at having averted the threat, but then your throat clenches as a ‘strategic launch detected’ warning chirps up. A missile is headed to the heart of your base. Because you forgot to build a defense silo, your hopes of victory fizzle in a nuclear haze.
That’s the way of battle in Gas Powered Games’ Supreme Commander 2. The thrill of the game is building gigantic armies and moving them across land, sea, and air to annihilate the opposition in a brilliant fireworks display of explosive carnage. The sheer number of options to consider when building your forces can be overwhelming at times. To make things a little easier to digest in the sequel, Gas Powered Games made a number of adjustments to speed up the pace of play and simplify the upgrade process. It makes for a more digestible, though slightly less rewarding, real-time strategy experience. And, thankfully, the console version of the sequel actually runs at an acceptable framerate, and looks pretty good in the process.
The Xbox 360 version does come with a few drawbacks, specifically a smaller scale and sometimes awkward control setup, but this is a much stronger game than the console version of the original. This is a game that definitely feels more natural to manage with a mouse and keyboard than a controller, but if you’re willing to put in the time and learn the system this version is still quite playable. When compared to the original game, the sequel has a milder learning curve. The mechanics of upgrading and building are more intuitive. Specifically, the Tier levels from the first game have been entirely done away with. Instead, all upgrading now takes place on a tech tree. In practice this means you no longer have to fiddle around with useless Tech 1 units and be forced to rebuild engineering squads every time you tech up a building. Instead, you just have one engineer that’s the same from beginning to end. It also means the tanks and point defenses you build at the start of the game are useful right up until the finale, because you can upgrade them through the tech tree with increased health, regenerative abilities, and bolstered veterancy rates to make them more effective in battle as they continue to survive.
Conveniently, all upgrades are placed on the tech tree.The economy has also been adjusted to a more traditional style, trading flexibility for ease of management and maintenance. Building all your structures requires two primary resources: mass and energy. While energy production structures can be built anywhere, the mass extractors can only be set up on specific points. In order to reap the highest amount of resources possible, you have to branch out from your starting position on a map to claim more extractor spots, which eventually brings you into contact with your enemy.
Research points serve as a type of third resource in Supreme Commander 2, which are gained over time as you add research structures to your base as well as through success in battle. With these points, you invest in branches of the tech tree to boost the effectiveness of existing units, augment your armored command unit, or improve the durability of your structures. As you learn the layout of the research trees for each of the three factions, you find ways to unlock new units, from more basic shield generators and assault bots to gigantic experimental units like laser-blasting flying saucers and plodding dinosaur cyborgs that breathe fire.
Numerous ways to manage your army.While it’s great to be able to save up points and quickly unlock your favorite units, it also lessens the degree of reward you feel once they’re finally on the field. In the original, it was such an effort to even create one of these experimental units – fine tuning your economy and appropriately assigning squads of engineers to assist – that just getting them up and running felt like an accomplishment. You felt more personally invested in their success, cheering them on as they tore through enemy forces, or crying out in dismay if your opponent managed to wipe them out. In the sequel, the speed of the gameplay lessens the satisfaction of getting one of these machines onto the field, but on the upside it makes the flow of competitive gameplay more prone to rapid swings of momentum.
When getting used to the changes, you’ll notice there’s more diversity this time around between UEF, Cybran, and Illuminate armies. For example, Illuminate forces don’t get a navy at all. To make up for that, their units can traverse water, and you can eventually unlock a special experimental unit specifically designed to tangle with Cybran and UEF sea faring vessels. When you get down to the experimental units and structures available to each faction, you find more diversity. The UEF Noah Unit Cannon, for example, launches units into far off places. The Illuminate have teleporting abilities while the Cybrans use jump jets. The more you play the more wrinkles you’ll find, making for an entertaining real-time strategy experience infused with an impressive amount of depth. It’s a game for those who like to manage both large-scale strategy and smaller-scale tactical conflicts between units while adapting to a constantly changing environment.
If it all seems a little overwhelming, that’s because it is. Even with the changes, this is still a hardcore game that requires a lot of thought and planning to be successful. To those coming into Supreme Commander 2 without any previous knowledge, you should be happy to hear you can skirmish against the AI to familiarize yourself with how the gameplay works, or dive into the single-player campaign, which gives you access to portions of the tech tree at a measured pace as you progress from mission to mission, pointing out the strengths of each army along the way.
Unfortunately, like the original, the campaign isn’t particularly interesting. It’s great as a learning tool, but otherwise it’s just plain boring. It’s broken up into UEF, Illuminate, and Cybran six-mission chunks. The first few missions for each campaign tend to be short and serve as introductions to the mechanics and abilities of the army, building to the final faction missions where everything’s unlocked and you can go all out against your AI opponents. Even though each mission is framed differently and offers various objectives, the entertainment value stagnates as you predictably move through a series of checkpoints in assembly line fashion. The mission structure itself is more forgiving and a step up from the campaigns Gas Powered Games created in the original and the Forged Alliance expansion, but it fails to drum up any real excitement.
A lack of personality is another of the campaign’s issues. The ridiculous sci-fi tale is so dull and meandering that you’d expect Tom Servo and Crow from Mystery Science Theatre 3000 to show up at some point to lob insults. The characters are unlikeable and shallow, making it difficult to care about anyone in the game at all. If you regard the campaign as nothing more than an extensive tutorial then you likely won’t mind, but if you’re looking for an interesting tale to fuel your motivation, you’re not going to find it here.
The story and characters are forgettable.To get the most out of Supreme Commander 2, you should play online, as the mechanics work best when freed from the shackles of pre-programmed challenges. The scope of these conflicts has been reduced for consoles, with the largest maps only accommodating four players. Still, battles can get pretty big, and it’s possible to be fighting on multiple fronts with hundreds of units. The game’s strategic zoom and build-queuing commands really help out in these cases to build and fight simultaneously. With the right thumbstick you can push forward to zoom right up close to the ground, then pull back to zoom all the way out to see the entirety of the map. Zooming out is necessary as battles grow in size, as you’ll need to select and issue move orders from there in order to ensure units are deployed most effectively.
Automation is your friend in Supreme Commander; you can set units to patrol your base perimeter, gather the husks of the fallen to boost resource reserves, and issue a string of build commands to engineers. As these orders are carried out, that frees you up to tend to your tech tree, observe enemy behavior, manage army positions and auto-grouping as you adjust to the ever-changing conditions of battle. When compared to the original game, the command ring has been broken up into more digestible portions, making ordering units built and swapping between unit producing factories fairly easy once you’ve familiarized yourself with the gameplay. When a large army is out in the field, selection is handled in a few ways. Double tapping A selects all units of a type, the right bumper selects all within your field of view, and if you press and hold A it bring up a draggable selection circle that highlights any units it comes across. To better manage more varied armies, the RB can be held and selection of air, sea, and land units can be specified. The individual unit abilities mapped to the D-pad can be a little awkward, but overall it’s an admirable system considering the number of things you can do.
With the kind of scale Supreme Commander 2 offers, the sequel is much more smooth and stable than the original. The character designs in the campaign are generic and forgettable, but the units themselves are a pleasure to behold when you get right down close. From the workmanlike UEF units to the spidery Cybran army, there’s plenty of detail, though you may have a tough time admiring it if you’re spending more time zoomed out and staring at your units’ icons swarming around the screen. Still, if you zoom in, it’s an impressive sight to witness the gleeful chaos of battle as explosions light up the screen and strings of weapons fire zip through the air as the rumble of a nuclear blast reverberates in the distance.
If the learning curve of the original Supreme Commander proved a little too steep for you, then you’ll find a lot to like about the sequel. Gas Powered Games streamlined its resource and upgrade systems to make a game that’s easier to play, and thanks to a revamped interface much easier to control with a gamepad. The pace is faster, the factions more diverse, and it’s a whole lot easier to get the impressively large and powerful experimental units out onto the field, delivering an experience that’s more inviting and immediately rewarding. It’s a real-time strategy game with a huge amount of depth and a relatively friendly interface that lets you stay in control of large-scale battles between warring robotic factions. The single-player campaign doesn’t offer much in the way of entertainment, but if you’re looking at this for the online play, you won’t be disappointed, as it’s a big step up from the Xbox 360 version of the original.