Supreme Commander

Our team preview the game.

Wil Meloche: The demo for Supreme Commander (measuring in at a hefty 1G download) has put to rest any doubts I have had about the game. After quite a speedy install I decided to sit though the opening cinematic expecting some brief piece of eye-candy with little relevance to the actual game. What was it I got? Nothing I could have expected – a several minute feature explaining the entire situation, the factions, their positions, and how they all came to be and their reasons for warring. It’s beautifully cinematic and made me instantly want to know what would happen next. It actually brought forth my first disappointment – having to play the game to reveal the rest of the story. Even worse – I have to wait for the actual game to release.

Enough space-wasting on my part, however, let’s talk about the actual game. People who have been following the game will know that the maps are enormous compared to many others in the RTS genre. As expected, you’ll have to travel here there and everywhere to manage your units (of which we can actually build a plentiful supply). My initial worry of units taking forever to cross these gargantuan maps was put to rest as they move quickly. However what begins as a virtue develops into a minor niggle – units are harder to select. No, not impossible, and granted your own units can be hot-keyed, but want to attack a single enemy unit? Good luck catching it when you’re zoomed in. Granted it may take a couple tries to succeed at first, but I found that just over the course of half an hour or so I was able to knock most of them off within a single click.

Supreme Commander also features a fairly interesting zoom system. While you might drag your mouse around as you usually do in other RTS games, due to the enormous maps this method is rendered useless yet is still preserved by click-dragging the scroll for short-range movements. For longer movements you zoom out with the scroll, point your mouse over the location you want to zoom in on, and scroll in to go to it. In fact it’s pretty much like playing an RTS on Google Earth. Now, there is a mini-map, but I can see why no big priority on the UI – in Supreme Commander it will not be used quite as much as in games like Command and Conquer. At first that was a major disappointment, but in my frustration I stumbled upon a couple of very interesting hotkeys. The first couple rotate the map clockwise and counter clockwise. No biggy, but it’s nice to know the function is there. The second is something I have never encountered before – two maps. In what I can only imagine is a kick up the behind to have multiple battles at once, pressing the home key will split the screen into two separate yet fully functional maps (seen in a shot on the left). While on the subject of the screen, it’s been reported that the UI is very large and out of place. I can only imagine this is exclusive to widescreen monitors, however, as my 19″ full screen at 1280×1024 resolution has no proportion issues.

In my own personal opinion, Supreme Commander is a necessity for any serious RTS gamer. While there is still a lot to take in about the game, even the demo is an impressive and enthralling experience. Only a month and a half into 2007 and we’re being faced with a title of such magnitude and play value – it’s far from a bad thing.

Ben Knowles: Gas Powered Games have spent a lot of time on unit design. Each is accompanied with a nice little icon on the build menu and once built they look to scale and have detailed animations. It’s possible to track a selected unit with the T key, enabling you to watch a plane fly by whilst zooming. The Cybran commander is beautifully rendered and looks amazing close up.

Supreme Commander allows the player to combine air, land and sea units. There’s a specific factory for each and the variety of units is immense, in the full game there will be near limitless strategies to employ. Most of what made Total Annihilation great can be found in Supreme Commander, such as the build queue system. It’s possible to quickly tell your commander to build a row of defences in one motion, or queue up an army of mixed units from a factory, without forcing the player into lots of micro management. This is how RTS should be, enabling you to focus on the bigger picture and you’re less likely to forget to return to build re-enforcements.

Waypoints can be set down using with ease once zoomed out. Instead of manually flying your spy plane to discover the map, with a few clicks it’s possible to tell a spy plan to do 3 sweeps of the map and return to your base, should it survive. In these situations the strategic zoom is very effective, though for general use it will take some getting used to.

Supreme Commander is shaping up well and will give Command & Conquer 3 a welcome challenge.