Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Developer: Gas Powered Games
Release Date: Q1 2007
The Strategic Possibilities of Deluded Megalomania
The Gas Powered Games crew, including Chris Taylor of classic real-time strategy game Total Annihilation fame, really know how to get a point across. That title hit PCs in 1997, and a decade's worth of anticipation and expectation awaits the arrival of Supreme Commander, the Taylor-led PC RTS due out early next year. The Supreme Commander show at the THQ pre-E3 summit was a presentation, not a demo. Still, the sense of scale and the-galaxy's-at-stake drama emerged convincingly from the home-theater-sized screen as the Gas Powered guys described the game's generous accommodation of your megalomaniacal fantasies of becoming a Supreme Commander.
Set in the 39th century, the human race of Supreme Commander has colonized the galaxy, but hasn't exactly evolved of Star Trek-ish utopian sort of existence for itself. Colonies have misbehaved, setting out on their own paths of technological and social development that displease imperial authorities. When the imperial forces of Earth lose control of the colonial worlds, the United Earth Federation, Aeon Illuminate and Cybran Nation find themselves embroiled in the Infinite War for ultimate domination. The back story is more than a simple diversion, too, as the types of units each faction produces reflect their philosophies and reveal the practical differences at the heart of their conflict. The Aeon, for example, follow a one-unit, one-purpose policy, while the Cybran develop multifunction units to allow their commanders to approach situations in diverse ways that accommodate unique command styles.
That's your history as you assume the role of Supreme Commander and lead your faction to victory. It sounds like some sweet far-future epicness, kind of like Ender's Game meets The Forever War.
The pre-E3 presentation emphasized the world-sized battlefield, showing off the ability to zoom out from up-close combat to a sub-orbital vantage point. More than just a slick move, say the devs – and it is quite slick to see the view descend from beyond the clouds back to the action on the ground – the huge scale opens the gameplay up to more strategic options since you're not confined in as restrictive a game space as you might be in RTS titles with less grandiose ambitions. Supreme Commander also promises to give you more time to take advantage of those possibilities by not focusing so much on resource management at the expense of combat.
The battles that play out in these massive worlds are entirely simulated, right down to the effect of gravity on long-range projectiles, lending a more realistic feel to exchanges of firepower than you'd get with a rock-paper-scissors-style battle system. You head into battle with 240 upgradeable units, including air, sea, land and the in-betweens like amphibious assault crafts, submarine aircraft carriers and mobile factories. A flexible path-making system for ordering units to and fro lets you adjust segments of multiple-step paths without having to readjust the entire plotted course. According to the presentation team, the idea is, if you can think up something to make your units do on the battlefield, you'll be able to make them do it. Those kinds of promises are the stuff of dramatic presentations, of course, but Supreme Commander looks like it has real potential to live up to at least the most reasonably sober interpretation of such a claim.
Supreme Commander isn't as stunning visually, at this point, as it is in the scale department. Units of the three factions are easily distinguishable by their basic colors, but they're more impressive for the size of some of the larger vessels than for level of detail at this stage of development. Several months remain to refine the graphics before the projected release date, even if the game is more about pushing real-time strategy to a truly epic state than it is about doing it in the prettiest possible way.
It's difficult to describe the Supreme Commander preview as "just" a presentation, as it emerged as one of the most exciting titles of the event. It promises a massive game world in terms of the number of units clashing on the battlefield as well as the simple size of the worlds. The folks from Gas Powered Games emphasized the thrill of projecting military force over great distances, and who doesn't want that? If you're an RTS fan, this is the title to keep under close surveillance in the post-E3 months leading up to its release.
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