Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Developer: Gas Powered Games
Release Date: November 6, 2007
Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance is the continuation of the Supreme Commander saga from the grand master of the real-time strategy genre, Chris Taylor and Gas Powered Games. Forged Alliance tells the story of the creation of an alliance between the UEF, Cybran and Aeon factions as they fight to conquer a newly discovered alien race known as the Seraphim. The expansion pack offers a new six-mission single-player campaign, an improved streamlined interface, improved graphics and over 100 new units. The game also expands its initial online offering with several additional multiplayer maps, and the packaging includes a colorful fold-out tech chart.
One may assume that since Forged Alliance has only six new single-player missions, it should be easy to breeze through the single-player portion of the game in a single evening. Don't count on it. Since each of the six missions will actually contain multiple sequential objectives on an increasingly expanding map, you'll be led into a campaign that could easily absorb several days of your life. As a benchmark, consider the fact that the first time around, the first single-player campaign mission took me (an experienced RTS gamer) four to five hours to complete on the normal AI setting. While playing these long missions, it's extremely important to save your game frequently. I learned the hard way after losing about an hour's worth of progress when the game suddenly crashed to the desktop. I didn't experience frequent crashing while playing, but experiencing this situation once is frustrating enough.
The new single-player campaign flows much differently than that of the base game. Instead of having new units and technologies unlocked as you progress, a majority of the technologies are available in the first mission in Forged Alliance. Obviously, the games play much differently because of this change; I actually preferred this staging over the routine systematic unlocking of features that seems to be the norm in most RTS campaign modes.
The new campaign and missions are challenging, and the well-designed game maps help exploit all three of its combat arenas (air, sea and land) quite well. The 100+ additional units in this expansion pack certainly add quite a bit of extra depth to the game. However, even with the new tech, you'll find that the title will not significantly differ too much from the original version. A typical game will find you first exploiting local mass and energy resources and then quickly building up defensive and offensive units and structures to gain a decent foothold in your initial territory before starting your favorite expansion strategies.
Probably the single most important reason for the success of this series, besides the gameplay depth, would have to be attributed to the highly adaptive enemy AI programming. If you spend some time in the skirmish game mode, you can selectively adjust the AI and experience just how sophisticated it really is. The tech trees for each of the four factions offer significantly different but certainly comparable unit strengths. Most unit production vehicles (land, sea and air) will offer multiple tech level upgrades, which expose the higher tech units.
Forged Alliance includes a new streamlined interface and some overall quality improvements to the in-game graphics engine. Supreme Commander was one of the first games to support multiple monitors, which allows you to maintain two separate and fully configurable displays of the battlefield. This is an extremely useful feature, considering the enormous size to which most of the maps expand. With this feature, you can keep an eye on the action while also keeping watch on your base(s) on your other monitor. Most of the accompanying screenshots reflect what you can see with a dual-monitor configuration. The obvious disadvantage to using this optional feature is that it can add a significant amount of additional lag to the game, depending on the capabilities of your gaming rig. Just having a blazing video card won't be enough; the massive size of the battles and the enormous maps will also require a serious amount of processing power. Even with a dual-core processor, an 8000 series Nvidia graphics card and three gigs of ram, I was usually lagging pretty hard toward the end of each campaign mission.
On the auditory side of things, as with the first Supreme Commander game, the sound effects and musical score nicely complement the intense gaming action. The larger game explosions can be quite thunderous, especially if you have a subwoofer in your speaker setup.
Forged Alliance, like its predecessor, has extensive multiplayer capabilities via the developer's online gaming presence, GPGNet. Through it, players can find and create multiplayer games with victory conditions ranging from Annihilation (destroying and enemies units), Assassination (destroying an enemy commander) and Supremacy (destroying an enemy's structures, engineers and commander). GPGNet offers players the ability to maintain online ratings and rankings, participate in online clan matches, maintain friends lists, chat in real time with other players, and participate in ladder games and tournaments.
The majority of online players of Supreme Commander take their RTS gaming very seriously, more than they should without receiving a paycheck after each game. To avoid any undue frustration, it is highly recommended that you at least complete the campaign missions, playing as each faction, prior to trying the online experience, or you will most certainly get "owned" in each and every game you play. An alternative method to prepare you for the almost fanatical online experience is to play lots of multiplayer games on a LAN with friends. Supreme Commander is one of the best supported games online at the moment. All program updates (and they are frequent) are automatically offered through GPGNet, including the GPGNet software itself.
Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance can best be described as an improved continuation of the Supreme Commander story with six new campaign missions that offer much larger and more challenging engagements. To get the most out of the new and improved graphics, you'll want to have a fairly robust gaming system in both graphics and processing power. Owners of dual-monitor setups can get the additional benefits of expanding their map-monitoring capabilities of the game map at the price of additional system loading. If you are new to RTSes, I don't recommend you start with Supreme Commander or this expansion. Even with the more streamlined interface, Forged Alliance has a fairly steep learning curve. However, if you are looking for the ultimate in RTS gaming, Forged Alliance is as about as good as it presently gets. Just keep in mind that this game is a widowmaker; it's guaranteed to eat most of your spare time if you let it.
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