Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance is an expansion to Supreme Commander that was released less than a year ago. This expansion, thankfully, doesn’t require the original game, which seems to be the new trend with game expansions. A great deal of effort clearly went into tweaking the graphics and gameplay from the first game, but the problem is that it might not have been enough to entice anyone other than diehard fans over into the Supreme Commander camp.
The first massive fault of Supreme Commander is the complete lack of any form of a useful tutorial. The game does make the effort to go through the motions of giving the player an explanation of how the game works, but it is totally worthless as it contains no real information on how the game is played at all. Instead the game decides moving a small set of units around a map in such a way that seems insulting to anyone who has played any strategy game since the original Warcraft.
The second giant fault is that while the game boasts a vast assortment of different units with individual designs only small handfuls are useful. This problem is easily compounded in the game’s first play because it is never explained that all factories need to be built up to production level three before any units worth using, meaning the entire first play of any person who hasn’t played the first game is a giant waste of time. Even after this realization has taken place the additional layer of different units not being able to attack other units is so poorly explained even when you know what to look for that it can be enough to drive any new player away from the game.
After the main intimidation factor has worn off, there are several things that are very good about the game as well. The main benefit of the game is that it looks unbelievably amazing. When the camera is zoomed all the way in on a unit, various details can be made out. Conversely when the camera is zoomed out as far as it can go, the entire map is displayed and the units are replaced with small colored shapes to represent which faction they are aligned with. The zoom in and out between the two views can be done rather smoothly and is a great deal of help during some of the larger battles (campaign battles are normally around a 40 km square and online battles can be twice that size).
To support the camera being pulled out to cover a 40 plus km map, as well as several other graphical feats, Supreme Commander became known as one of the first games to utilize dual and quad core processors, as well as dual monitors. What seems odd about the innovations is that even running on an over-clocked Pentium dual core (Pentium D 805 over-clocked to 3.88) with 2 gigs of ram the game took several minutes to load any level.
The interface of the game is simple and promising. Instead of listing every unit all at once they are broken into grades or levels based on performance (this isn’t really needed as only the highest level is ever useful). The top left of the screen displays the current “economy” of the faction being played with the amount of money and resources that can be used as well as the amount coming in per second. This is rather useful as when a unit is built the cost is taken out as it is being built as opposed to all at once. This design is clever and feels streamlined, even though it does seem to take forever to build any unit that is useful an in any way.
While the game ran rather smoothly the review system it ended up feeling like more of a requirement than a mid to high end system. Strangely the dual monitor display does not support SLI at all, which seems rather odd. The games requirements seem rather reasonable for any system that was bought within the last two years but noting how it worked on the review machine it seems like it would be a rather bad idea to use one of those systems for the game.
Since the game gives no tutorial, there is also little room for back story as events start to unfold throughout, but this does not stop the plot from soldiering on with or without the understanding of the gamer. During the opening of the game a brief timeline is given to show returning fans from the first game what has happened since the conclusion of that game, but without any events or importance to assign to any of the names or faces all of the information that streams across the screen feels confusing and overly complex. At no time during play was this feel ever really lost as to not really knowing what was happening, and was only solved after finding several articles on Wikipedia explaining everything.
Supreme Commander manages to excel on so many fronts that other strategy games fell short of, with giant maps and a monetary system that makes sense and simplifies making an army. Its large maps and high troop count allow some of the bigger battles to feel truly epic. The only downfall from all of the advancements is that most missions take place in parts that follow one after another making missions take a rather long time to clear. While long missions are not a complaint, a lack of any auto-save system I could find and the inability to jump in at certain points of a longer mission were disappointing.
Supreme Commander manages to do a lot of things right, but it also manages to do many things wrong as well. From the moment the game starts to the point that it ends the feeling of being lost is very hard to shake, even when it comes down to issuing commands to units. There is a certain depth to the game that is hard to ignore, certain units being the most useful against other types of units. The problem is that while the game does not require the first game to play, it is almost needed to figure out what is going on at any point. For those who played through the first game, the second one is a must have.