The original Supreme Commander made waves on the PC, but on the Xbox 360, it barely managed a ripple. Bad bugs and abysmal engine performance overshadowed the satisfying and complex strategizing and made the game excruciating to play. If you were cautiously considering picking up the sequel, rest assured that Supreme Commander 2 suffers from few of its predecessor's visual problems. This is an inviting package for both veterans and newcomers--intricate enough to keep your mind nimble but welcoming to those daunted by the original's magnitude. Most importantly, it's good fun, letting you play with a variety of interesting units and giving you lots of room to experiment with all the tactical possibilities. The strategic joy doesn't go unhindered, however; pathfinding headaches, sound bugs, and predictable AI keep Supreme Commander 2 from reaching its potential. Yet while it isn't likely to challenge experienced armchair commanders, it still stands out for its fluid gameplay, excellent multiplayer maps, and the thrill of emerging victorious from a long battle of wits.
6254137An awesome campaign battle. Not so awesome sound issues.None
If you played the original Supreme Commander on the Xbox 360, you'll notice right away that Supreme Commander 2 performs far, far better than its predecessor. The original suffered from massive frame rate drops that greatly damaged the experience. Apart from a few hiccups here and there, SupCom 2 maintains a solid frame rate, even during one of the game's signature nuclear explosions. The sequel isn't visually remarkable; textures are bland, colors look a bit washed out, and units lack the crisp detail you'd hope to see in a game featuring big robots. Yet while your first impression might be one of surprise at how dull SupCom 2 looks, you'll soon grow to appreciate how pleasantly smooth it feels to move about the battlefield, even when you zoom all the way out to get a godlike view of the proceedings. One area in which the sequel has not improved over the original, however, is in its sound design. Like its precursor, Supreme Commander 2 does a terrible job of scaling its audio and often sounds as if it's trying to stuff more sound effects through your speakers than it's capable of delivering. Battles often sound uncomfortably abrasive, and sometimes the noise will cut out completely for a few moments after a particularly harsh explosion.
The game may not push many polygons or provide pitch-perfect audio, but it does sport plenty of personality and verve. You battle in misty mountaintops connected by a series of bridges and fend off hulking robots within towering industrial complexes. The environments benefit from a distinct sense of place, though the art design won't floor you and a general lack of crispness muffles the overall look. Still, Supreme Commander 2 has more style than its predecessor, which took a more matter-of-fact approach to its visual flourishes. The story also boasts a distinct personality, following three military commanders that met during training after three warring factions--the United Earth Federation (or UEF), the Cybran Nation, and the Illuminate (formerly the Aeon Illuminate)--formed a coalition to destroy the invading Seraphim. The character models that appear in cutscenes and within talking-head story updates have a stylized, almost cartoonish look that sometimes seems at odds with the dignity and drama of the main story. (Some campy dialogue and hammy acting don't help matters, either.) Nonetheless, these characters provide an intimate view of the conflict that puts an end to the tenuous treaty, and they're appealingly scrappy, which makes it easy to root for them.
You get to know them as you make your way through Supreme Commander 2's single-player story, which features 18 missions--six for each faction. There's a nice sense of forward momentum to the campaign, which opens up features and units to you over time, but it does so without holding your hand every step of the way. The first couple of missions for each faction might take you 15 minutes or so, but the biggest ones might last close to an hour and keep you occupied on multiple fronts. It's an excellent campaign, getting you into the fray quickly and letting you focus on strategy rather than on the "take these few units over here" objectives that all too often invade real-time strategy games. If you play on normal difficulty, don't expect much of a challenge: Supreme Commander 2 is rather easy, so if you've played a strategy game before, you may want to turn the difficulty up a notch. However, there is usually a lot going on, with some missions throwing enemies at you from the get-go and others forcing you to build a base from scratch. Fortunately, Supreme Commander 2 utilizes a simple control scheme that makes it easy to manage everything at once. Some additional options and tweaks would have been welcome. It can be cumbersome to search for idle engineers, for example, and there is no way to create custom control groups. While a traditional strategy game like this one invariably feels better on the PC, the console controls are as comfortable as you'd hope for and better than those of the original Supreme Commander on the Xbox 360.
The interface is easy to get used to.
One of Supreme Commander 2's best assets is that gives you room to play with the units at your disposal. Each faction's units are similar, but they aren't exact mirrors. For example, while the UEF boasts multiple land vehicles that meet specific needs, the catch-all antimissile/antiair Cybran adaptor fulfills multiple roles at once. The UEF and Cybran factions possess capable naval units--but Illuminate players do not get a navy at all, though their hovering ground units won't leave them landlocked. The differences are sometimes subtle, but they're palpable enough to make each faction feel unique. You won't find the factional variety of a game like Universe at War or even StarCraft, but the upside is that factions are beautifully balanced and don't require a complete shift of gears when moving from one faction to the next.
As before, each faction uses similar methods to accumulate resources: by collecting mass from predetermined nodes using mass extractors and by building generators to produce energy. There are some notable changes to the formula here. In Supreme Commander, your available resources didn't limit your build queue; you could essentially order up new units and structures "on credit." Now, you can only spend the funds if you have them, which is a change that may disappoint some SupCom loyalists. The other major difference is the complete removal of unit tiers. Units are upgraded via research points that you accumulate by building research centers; the more you build, the faster you earn those valuable points. Your research trees are divided into multiple categories (air, ground, structure, and so on) and follow multiple paths that let you unlock new units and structures, as well as improve existing ones. For example, you can add an extra barrel to your tanks and a personal shield to your gunships. Most significantly, you can also gain access to the all-important experimental units and, yes, the nukes that caused you so much joy and heartache in the first game.