Supreme Commander 2 hits the Xbox 360 and PC as the continuation of the series known as the 'spiritual successor' to the massively entertaining and fun strategy game, Total Annhilation (from way back in the stone ages of gaming in 1997). Like the game they are based on, these games see you in charge of a single, powerful unit, that is able to command swarms and swarms of smaller robotic minions to do your bidding, which usually involves heavily raiding somebody's base and blowing everything up. Gas Powered Games seem intent on letting the player take full control of a large battlefield, with squillions of units battling each other, but does this make for a compelling or interesting game?
The story struck us as a little too complex, but we'll do our best to explain it without throwing too many made-up names and words out there. Set years after the first game and its expansion pack, Forged Alliance, the game portrays the breakdown of relations between the United Earth Federation, the Cybran Nation and the Aeon Illuminate, who go to war after the president is assassinated. Played through these three different perspectives, the player helps three heroes acheive their individual goals, which range from family matters to obtaining planetary superweapons. Unfortunately, the story isn't really a selling point, feeling quite bland, dull, and relying on complicated terms and techno-sounding names to make it seem like something interesting is going on when it usually isn't.
We played Supreme Commander 2 on the Xbox 360, and by this stage in the console's lifecycle it is no stranger to real-time-strategy games. Compared to its PC counterpart, there are definitely some deficiencies, the main one being a predictably-inferior control setup (albeit one still competent enough to be workable). However, due to the nature of some of the game's features, it actually feels right at home on the console, and for casual gamers looking to get started on a strategy game on the 360, they'll be able to learn its mechanics fairly swifty (thanks to a dull yet useful tutorial). Indeed, the learning curve in Supreme Commander 2 is very smooth.
As mentioned, you take control of a large robotic unit known as an 'ACU' (Armoured Command Unit), which towers over the smaller, more common ground units and is also capable of constructing buildings at your own base. There are two main resources to collect in Supreme Commander 2, known as 'mass' and 'energy', which are both needed to expand your army and base of operations. Energy collectors can be built at any location, however mass extractors must be placed on specific points, which forces the player to branch out of their starting point to claim more of these locations, which is especially important in the multiplayer mode as it becomes a very effective means of bringing everyone into conflict. In addition to these two resources, there are also 'research points' produced by reesarch facilities, which are arguably of equal value as these unlock more advanced units and can enhance your units' abilities with upgrades.
Speaking of upgrades, Supreme Commander 2 differs from its predecessor by doing away with the more complicated method of upgrading (involving tiers of units and so forth), choosing instead to include a single tech tree that allows players to upgrade units on the fly and make the game much more friendly to genre newcomers through its ease of use and intuitiveness. It's immensely satisfying to see fully upgraded, mass-produced units literally flooding through enemy forces, which may have normally been equally matched, but are wiped out in the blink of an eye thanks to your advancement through the tech tree. Experimental units are once again very fun to use, but due to the ease of their creation and the faster pace of gameplay, they kind of feel less valuable and less vital to your victory.
Probably our favourite feature of the game is the 'strategic zoom', which as the name implies allows you to zoom out - way, way out. The game changes from an up-close-and-personal view to a strategic map, with all units represented as coloured dots, in a very fluid and cool manner. It's a vital feature as you produce more and more units and your forces spread out, requiring you to divide your attention as the battle expands. In addition, while we had some problems with pathfinding AI in our units, they were at least intelligent enough to identify enemies and threats rather than just sitting around like stunned mullets as they are want to do in other entries in the genre.
Inevitably though, there are some downsides to the game as well. As you may have expected, the campaign mode is very scripted, often requiring you to attack an enemy's entrenched position or destroy a specific unit. This serves as an adequate training exercise for online play, but the fact is that it devolves into repetition early on. While the gameplay is smooth and fun, the mission objectives and challenges just aren't that interesting, and it settles into a mood of mediocrity where you're neither truly invested nor bored by the proceedings. This isn't helped either by the average story. But Supreme Commander 2 is not a boring game, and truly shines in online play where you're up against equally, or far more, experienced players who can present a real challenge.
Visually, the game is smooth and colourful, albeit not as much as the original, and performs very well, especially during the grandiose battles which can and do occur often. The design of the machines and robots is something of a mixed bag, with nothing in particular really standing out as iconic or remarkably different, but you can still separate what's what fairly easily which is all that's really important for a strategy title. The game's sound design is actually quite good, with a great score and some above average voicework. Nolan North appears as possibly the only somewhat interesting and identifiable character in the game. Good work, Nolan - we look forward to seeing you in even more games as your quest to become the ubiquitous voice talent of the current generation continues. Plus, we can now imagine that Nathan Drake is fighting in robot wars.
Supreme Commander 2 is an enjoyable strategy game that is actually worth checking out on the Xbox 360 for casual players eager for a taste of the genre. There's a grand scale, a simplified upgrade scheme and plenty of opportunity for intriguing and engaging encounters online. However, the campaign mode simply does not capitalise on its enjoyable gameplay and both Xbox 360 and PC players alike will find themselves forced to turn to Skirmish and Multiplayer modes for their thrills. If you enjoyed the first game, you may be turned off by the simplified structure and appearance of the sequel, but if you can forgive these changes and appreciate the benefits of the new system, then you'll find plenty to enjoy as well.