Supreme Commander 2

Supreme Commander 2, which was developed by Gas Powered Games and released in 2010 by Square Enix, follows in the footsteps of the highly successful real-time strategy game Supreme Commander as a spiritual sequel to the combined arms, free-range style of combat pioneered by Total Annihilation.  The single player campaign continues the story of the three competing human factions, the UEF, Aeon, and Cybrans, and is set several years after the events of Supreme Commander.  Unlike the first game, Supreme Commander 2 did not receive a full fledged expansion, but a large DLC featuring many new units titled the Infinite War Battle Pack was released later in 2010.

At its core Supreme Commander held true to the overall conventions and mechanics of its series.  A centrally important command unit begins the construction of a base with static resource-generating structures and unit-producing factories.  Naval, air, and land units could be produced and conduct operations in their respective terrain types across the battle map.  The super-powered experimental units return from the first game with a greatly expanded role and are now divided into two tiers based on their level of power and the effect they could have on the overall battle.  These experimental units are produced from dedicated factories instead of engineers in the field.

Supreme Commander 2 begins to diverge from its predecessor immediately after the basic mechanics were established.  Tiers of units and buildings were removed and replaced by a research tech tree divided into five parts for air, land, sea, structures, and the command unit.  A third resource, research, was added to the game and is generated by the command unit as well as research stations.  Once enough research was accumulated a research point was unlocked, allowing the player to spend the point(s) on technology in one of the five trees.  Each technology had a point cost, with higher level technologies requiring more points.

Research points, and how fast a player could generate them, defined the pace of the game as only basic units and structures are available at the start of a battle.  Researching upgrades also gives units an edge over their equivalents in other factions.  This carries even more weight in Supreme Commander 2 than it did in the previous game, as many of the units were removed for a slimmed-down, standardized battle array featuring only the essential combat types such as tanks, anti-aircraft, fighters, bombers, and the like.  Instead of producing more advanced units as the game progressed, players simply upgraded their basic units with stronger technologies.

It is certainly possible to win a battle with standard units and structures, but the experimental units represent the definitive part of Supreme Commander 2’s endgame.  Follow-on units from Supreme Commander’s original experimental roster make an appearance alongside many new units and structures that cover all theaters of the battlefield.  They range from offensive units like the UEF’s Fatboy II to support structures like the Cybran’s Proto-Brain Complex.  A bit of humor is added to some units and structures like the UEF Unit Cannon, which produces ground units that it can launch across the map to land like paratroopers.

The campaign takes a lot more from Supreme Commander’s vanilla campaign style.  It features three separate arcs with one for each faction and follows new characters struggling to stay true to their morals and their faction as the fragile alliance from the first game begins to fall apart at the hands of power hungry and xenophobic military leaders and terrorists.  Missions start with minor skirmishes and challenges that grow along with the battle map into fully fledged battles.  Supreme Commander 2 takes a more restrictive approach to the battlefields; terrain now plays a greater role at restricting movement and enemy assets are often collected into a single sprawling base rather than spreading across the map at convenient or strategic locations.

The campaign allows the player to thoroughly explore and enjoy the unit rosters of the different factions, but fails to inspire any investment in the story.  The restrictive terrain serves to make the enemy AI predictable and many of the map types remove the naval aspect of the game, an element which the first Supreme Commander made sure to include in its climatic battles.  The campaign’s story is heavily generic and predictable; the player also takes the role of each campaign’s protagonist, which is a risky design move that in this case falls flat due to limited character development and stock personalities.

Supreme Commander 2 functions much better in skirmish and multiplayer where players have greater control over their strategic options.  A wide variety of maps are included in the base game and DLC, although some suffer from presumptuous design restricting maps to symmetrical team matches or free-for-all types of games.  Yet Supreme Commander 2’s matches are streamlined and do not suffer from performance issues as a battle progresses.  They also function on lower bandwidth connections and include a grace period for user lag.

Supreme Commander was not without its flaws, but these were usually a side-effect of design intent rather than a developmental failure.  Supreme Commander 2 fixed many of those flaws with faster gameplay, the removal of little-used units, and a greater emphasis on end-game combat, but it did so at the cost of many things that made its predecessor unique in the RTS market.  Units are generic and uninspiring in their battlefield roles and a lack of offensive and defensive structures leads to most matches turning into a grind-fest until one side amasses enough high-tier experimental units to overwhelm their opponents.  Much of the early and mid-tier aspects are rapidly rendered obsolete in favor of an experimental focus as the high tier units are much easier to produce en mass than their predecessors.

On its own, Supreme Commander 2 is an enjoyable game for multiplayer matches and some light RTS adventure in the single player.  Its battles are large and heavily destructive and its faster gameplay allows multiple matches to fit into a single game play session.  Yet it features nothing that truly sets it apart from other RTS titles or even to elevate it above its predecessors.  Fans of the Supreme Commander series will appreciate its battles and experimental units, and casual gamers will find it easy to learn and enjoyable to explore.  Yet anyone looking for a highly detailed or enduring RTS experience may find the first Supreme Commander to hold an edge over its sequel.


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