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Supreme Commander 2 Review

March 22nd, 2010 by Troy Goodfellow · 12 Comments · Gameshark, Gas Powered Games, RTS

I like Supreme Commander 2, but I totally understand why a lot of people will not.

I often think about what concepts are core to a series. What makes a Europa Universalis game a Europa Universalis game? What makes Civ Civ? How much or how gradually can you change a game before it is not really true to what people expect of the franchise?

Supreme Commander 2 is not much like Total Annihilation (its earliest ancestor) in some very significant ways. It’s not even a lot like Supreme Commander 1. It is leaner. It is undoubtedly smaller. And it is a lot more manageable.

Take the research tree. Research is centralized on one screen and as you move from faction to faction it becomes readily apparent how the three armies differ. Everything is laid out for you, so you know what you can build towards and decide which trade offs are worth the investment. The distinctions are subtle in some ways; in fact the differences are a lot like those in Sins of a Solar Empire – they seem small or negligible but do give you some insight into how these groups are conceived. The Illuminate, to give one example, can research greater Mass collection along two tracks where the UEF is stuck with it on only one. This means that if the Illuminate can get both of those things researched it will become an economic juggernaut. Because they are space elves. Or something.

In some ways, it’s a sequel that is a microcosm of the tension that Soren Johnson explored in his GDC talk about theme and mechanics. Is the Supreme Commander series about robots (constant theme) or is it a game about micromanaging resource spikes (old mechanics)? If you think that Chris Taylor’s RTSes are really about showing how well you can develop and protect the most complicated economy you can have with only two resources, then this is not a SupCom/TA game. If you think that the important thing is the construction of different sized and shaped killing machines, then it is clearly in that line.

The simplicity and smaller scale of the game (if you can call a unit cap of a few hundred small) means that some people will feel a little bit betrayed by the change. It’s not that the super hardcore TA people feel entitled to be super hardcore – it’s that this was a game and series that they supported and championed for a long time and they may feel like Gas Powered Games is “dumbing things down”.

Make no mistake, Supreme Commander 2 is a much more user friendly game. The user interface is near perfect in many ways, the strategic zoom is useful without making you feel divorced from the action, the maps (clearly inspired by Demigod arenas) have a clarity of design and focus, the campaign missions don’t give you one giant task and then zoom out to give you ten more, etc. In every way, Supreme Commander 2 is more accessible.

And maybe something is lost in that accessibility. You can’t get more old school huge than Total Annihilation, but Supreme Commander 2 is almost old school small. As a result, it is more focused in important ways, but the sprawl of the original SupCom meant that you do some pretty cool things. And the complexity of the economy had a certain perverse beauty to it – designing templates of energy reactors, finding a way to keep your collection rate climbing just as your big ass units were about to come online. As someone who loves deep and complex (but not complicated) game design, I completely understand this feeling.

Supreme Commander 2, though, won me over in ways that the original SupCom and TA did not and a lot of that is because of the streamlining and intimacy. If, as they promise, Gas Powered Games can fix the AI issues then we’ve got a game that I can unequivocally endorse. This is not a game that I expected to like as much as I did, and it’s a game that I really was not enjoying until all of a sudden things clicked.

I like it a lot. I accept that you may not.

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12 Comments so far ↓

  • James Allen

    I feel that they did to SupCom2 the same thing they did for C&C4: removed features to make it more streamlined. In both cases, I do not like the changes, although C&C4 turns out much worse than SupCom2 because of a variety of other reasons. I guess I am of the thinking that if you significantly change the gameplay, you should change the name and not make it a sequel; then it seems like you are cashing in on a name that reflects nothing of the original title.

  • Troy

    C&C 4 is a different case altogether, which I’ll speak about when that review is finished. In that case, I think that the changes have made the user experience many times worse – they are not changes for the better by any measure whatsoever.

  • James Allen

    My impressions of SupCom2 are admittedly from the demo only, while I am also working on a review of C&C4 and can speak of those terrible changes more accurately.

    I thought that SupCom2 oversimplified the economy: while it’s a lot easier to maintain full production, you can’t deficit spend, meaning you can’t infinite queue build orders (a necessity in a large-scale game); that was what killed it for me.

    As for C&C4…where do I begin? Constant Internet connection requirement? Only 5 units and one ability to start, with rest locked? Everyone always at pop cap? Units constantly shuffle position and don’t fire? So many complaints, so little time.

  • Javier-de-Ass

    I don’t like that you like it

  • Troy

    I am sure that many people will not like that I like it. We talk about SupCom 2 on this week’s podcast, by the way.

  • Gary Kearney

    Well, I bought SupCom from the bargain bin a year ago on a whim, but never really played it because I got the impression that it would require a big investment of time in order to come to grips with it. I’m inclined to think that I should just leave it on the shelf now and try SupCom2 instead. It’s only money, after all.

  • Otagan

    I had a rather lengthy post I had composed on another site regarding my SupCom 2 demo experience that I failed to save, which is unfortunate since it perfectly captured my feelings about what they did to the game.

    I’ll be one of the first to admit that SupCom 2 is infinitely more accessible than its predecessor. Just about anyone with a modicum of RTS experience can sit down, deploy their mass extractors and power generators to collect an income, and start spending away in typical RTS fashion. I can appreciate what GPG tried (and arguably succeeded) to do there.

    However, in their quest for user accessibility, they have carved out the very heart of the TA/SupCom franchise, which was the unique resource system. There are countless RTS games that feature robotic armies duking it out. There are plenty with a hero unit on the map which must be kept alive in order to remain in the game. There are very, very few that have a resource collection and unit construction mechanic like that of TA or SupCom 1. As soon as this unique aspect is removed and a once beloved franchise of mine becomes just another cookie-cutter RTS, my money is already out of my hand and back in my pocket.

    The soul of entirely too many RTS franchises have been ripped out in recent months/years, in my opinion. The two most recent and glaring ones are the major releases of the month: SupCom 2 and C&C 4. Series that I have loved since they (and their spiritual predecessor, in the former case) were released, now stripped down into completely different games and released under the name of a beloved franchise in order to cash in on a name. Were these games named anything else, and set up with different themes and stories, I would consider them. As is, however unfair it may be to the developers, I cast them aside.

    Basically, what I am trying to say in a rather long-winded fashion, is that I accept that what you have said with regards to the changes making the game more accessible. I disagree, however, with your assertion that these changes have made the game inherently better.

  • Punning Pundit

    I remember when Sup Com 1 came out and the devs spent a lot of time bragging about how big your machine needed to be in order to run it. They were taking about dual core, 2 monitor setups back when those processors were way out of my budget.

    I wonder if developers realize how much damage they do to their sales by creating games that require high-end machines…

  • Nodrownboy

    As a huge fan of Total Annihilation and Supreme Commander 1, I think I should chime in on the positive of this. It took me a few days to come to grips with the changes of this game, but once I did, I started to really enjoy it. This is the kind of game that I feel I can be much more competitive in multiplayer. You get your TA/SC experience in 30-45 minutes rather than twice that. The fact that they went over the top with the experimentals only helps make the end game feel that much better.

    It has been said, and I’ll agree, that these two games can coexist. SupCom the first for the grand base building multi-hour triumphs, and the new one for times you feel like throwing armies at each other right away and generally having a great time.

    Part of me knows that SC2 means I won’t see another game in the true style of TA/SC1 for another long span of time, but I don’t think this game can actually be blamed for that.

  • Rythe

    As a long time Total Annihilation fan, Supreme Commander 2 severely disappointed me – in none of the ways you mentioned.

    First the good changes -
    -Tech tree did a lot of things right.
    -Flattening the unit tiers was a very good move.
    -Fixed the balance between experimentals and normal units, even if experimentals were nerfed to the point where they’re more like Hero units than something awe inspiring.
    -Smaller maps for tighter game play.
    -Factories gaining experience and levels was genius

    I’m ambivalent towards the economy changes. Yeah, I’ll miss being able to queue up half my base, set a forever build order, and then go play with my massive army, but I can get over it. Surprise, surprise, the economy model isn’t always what makes or breaks a strategy game for people. Still, the complexity is missed and there’s this idea in the back of my head that salvage became way more important that it should be but eh.

    And now to the issues that got me.

    It plays generic. Yeah, part of that is all the accessibility, the tighter maps, and less unit variance. But will I really have any reason to play this game once StarCraft II comes out? Probably not. The crazy unit cap is nice, but hardly the selling point.

    The campaign story is like they copy and pasted the plot from every generic war saga and forgot to rip off the good parts.

    Your navy is no longer comprised of metal behemoths that rule the seas. Now it’s more like they got stuck somewhere between normal units and experimentals.

    Bases no longer have teeth. Welcome to generi-RTS base, where our defenses are mediocre and unimaginative and the only offensive capability we have is the occasional nuke. Total Annihilation let you build crazy powerful bases that could reach out and crush damn near anything until you got to large map sizes. I’m talking fortifications, multiple defensive structures with their own strengths and weaknesses, nukes and *real* artillery.

    Units no longer have variety. Generi tank, Generi Artillery, Generi Anti-Air, and Special is the name of the game. In Total Annihilation, weapon types meant something. Laser was different from missile was different from rocket was different from cannon was different from indirect fire cannon, etc. The tiers were excessive, but having real differences between the myriad units is sorely missed.

    Wreckage actually meant something in combat. Yeah, it was a resource, but those massive corpses littering the battlefield could also became walls you had to fight through, over, or around.

    Information means so much less. Radar and Anti-Radar were huge in Total Annihilation. In SupCom 2, a radar and sonar are something I build for my base and whatever fog of war is left hardly even registers.

    They promised weapon simulation in SupCom 2, and even though the missiles do track and veer around, I’m still watching cannon shells curve to their targets. Yeah, shells in SupCom 2 world probably have guidance, but it’s not the simulation that Total Annihilation had. Everything in TA could try (and usually fail) to hit aircraft. *That’s* true simulation. I dearly miss watching aircraft fly through a stream of Vulcan Artillery fire and randomly blow up when they clip one of those massive shells.

    I’m a tactics guy. It’s not the robots. It’s not the actually interesting and deep economy. It’s all the tactical wizardry that was lost in the transition from Total Annihilation to Supreme Commander 2 that makes me love the former and immediately find the latter forgettable. Hell, I found C&C 4′s gameplay much more enjoyable than SupCom 2 because your unit choices mean just that little bit more in C&C 4 as compared to SupCom 2.

    C&C 4 works in the way that board games and miniature games work. SupCom 2 will be forgotten between Dawn of War and StarCraft II.

  • Troy

    The wreckage point is a good one, Rythe, though IIRC the original SupCom didn’t have that either.

    I disagree that the units are generic, at least in any way more generic than they were in the first SupCom. Have fighter-bombers is very different from having a fighter and a bomber, for example.

    Total Annihilation was a unique animal, and a glory in many ways.

  • Rythe

    I’m not comparing SupCom 2 to SupCom 1 for just that reason, that a lot was lost from a tactical standpoint just going from TA to SupCom 1.

    Also, your choice of fighter-bomber was poor, because if I remember right, Aeon only have a fighter-bomber and a gunship to start with. It’d be an interesting distinction in a pure fighter/pure bomber/ gunship/fighter-bomber setup, but when the choice is already made, you’re stuck with what you got and your opponent knows what’s coming.

    Same with the Aeon amphibious ground units. It’s interesting until you realize that the Aeon don’t have a navy otherwise. It’s not an either/or option, it’s just what you’re stuck with the moment you choose to play Aeon. Cybran, on the other hand, have the ‘Legz’ tech, which is an interesting option. They can try the land route with normal land units or charge up the coast and walk their navy through your base. That’s a real tactical decision players have to make.

    As for unit variety in general, eh. If you condensed everything down by ignoring minor variations on very similar units, you’d have to combine all three SupCom 2 factions into one to get a similar level of variety that a single faction in C&C 4 has. Ignoring the whole other faction bit, you can access all those different options in C&C 4 just by changing your MCV mid-battle. In SupCom 2, you’d have to start a new game to get another set of options. That’s why I’m disappointed in SupCom 2. To reference the podcast, the box of toys really isn’t that big compared to the games I like.