Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Developer: Gas Powered Games
Release Date: June 23, 2008
When Supreme Commander launched on the PC a little over a year ago, it garnered a lot of attention for being one of the largest scale real-time strategy games (RTS) on the market, allowing players to experience a previously unheard of-scope when it comes to wartime strategy. Set in the future year of 3844, Supreme Commander featured three human-based factions that have been warring against each other for over a thousand years. Players could command a single unit and use it to build up bases, gather resources, and create a vast army that would number in the hundreds.
The maps were incredibly large, easily the biggest available in the RTS genre at the time, and to compensate, the game offered two different views, one of which allowed you to zoom far out of the map, minimizing all units and placements into small icons, giving you an incredible sense of scale as you battle it out against your opponent. The title was also praised for being graphically impressive, especially considering all the activity going on at once.
Hellbent Games, the developer behind the 360 port of the title, had quite a job on their hands when they started moving the PC experience over to the console. RTS games are still relatively fresh for console players, with only a few fairly recent examples (Civilization, Command and Conquer, LotR: The Battle for Middle-earth) being established for developers to work off of and improve upon. Since the scale of Supreme Commander is what really sets it apart from these other titles, it's hard to believe that the game would be able to make a decent transition to a platform that offers a bit less in the customization and control department than a standard keyboard and mouse setup would.
However, if Hellbent Games did anything right with Supreme Commander, it's definitely got to be the controls. They managed to take a fairly complicated (by most standards) set of RTS controls and shove them into the relatively small controller of the 360, and still keep the majority of your options intact from the PC to console. Unfortunately, the overall experience is marred by various bugs, freezes, and other technical glitches, so while Hellbent definitely succeeded in a great port of the gameplay mechanics, everything else feels like a mess.
Supreme Commander offers up a tutorial mode for first-time players, something that I'll recommend to even the PC pros, as it does a decent enough job of getting you acclimated to the new setup. Select a unit simply by highlighting it with the cursor and pressing A. From there, you can either press up on the d-pad, which will bring up a radial wheel that allows you to pick from options such as move, assist, and self-destruct, or press right on the d-pad to bring up a construction menu, assuming you have selected units meant for building. When you begin the game, you're only given your main unit, the Armored Command Unit (ACU). You'll want to begin gathering resources that are closest to you, designated on the map by small green icons that represent Mass deposits. The only other resource in the game is Power, which you'll create by assembling power generators or by building hydro structures on certain map areas. You can then begin the process of creating your army by building Land, Air and Naval factories, each with a variety of units to construct.
Rounding out the available options, you can also create defense structures, such as anti-air units or ground defense towers. Each of your factories has three different tiers of units, which you'll unlock the longer you play a map and manage to meet certain requirements. You can expand your base outward as well, provided you find enough materials to continue building structures. If you begin to run low on resources, your army creation will slow down considerably, so you need to be sure that you're taking in enough resources to support the force you're trying to construct.
Resource gathering and army creation are easy enough to perform with the given controls, and these are the major points covered in the tutorial. However, while the tutorial covers combat, it would have been nice to see it expanded upon. It took me a while to figure out how to make all of my units move in formation, which you'll definitely need to know how to do (hold down A when you want to move a large group, and it'll bring up the formation they'll move into). Also, the tutorial is so easy to finish that it doesn't really prepare you for the difficulty introduced as you advance past the first couple of campaign stages. Keep in mind that each stage will typically last an hour or more, so newcomers to the genre may have difficulty wrapping their heads around the initial experience, expecting something a bit quicker and easier. The title offers three different difficulties, and I definitely suggest selecting Easy if this is your first time playing an RTS.
The largest issue with Supreme Commander is the game-breaking bugs you'll encounter. The most frequent, and frustrating, is the constant freezes and lock-ups that'll occur, typically during the saving process. If you encounter one of these, be prepared to lose a lot of your prior progress, often killing hours of gameplay. Also, every time this issue popped up, I lost all of my stat information, something that is vital to quite a few of the Achievements in the game. Obviously, if you don't care about Achievement points, then that won't be an issue, but losing hours of progress definitely will.
Another less aggravating bug comes from the sound, which will attempt to amplify and cover every single sound effect in the game whenever you use the zoom out function. If you have two large armies battling it out at the time, you'll be introduced to an incredible amount of noise and static, which will occasionally cut out all together until you zoom back in.
Another issue is the constant slowdown and stuttering you'll encounter. You can also tell when you're going to be treated to a bit of dialogue from your commanders because the game will nearly halt to allow the small pop-up window to load. Of course, Supreme Commander has to be taxing on the hardware, considering that it has a 500-unit limit, but it also feels like this should have been an instantly recognizable issue as the title was being developed. Oftentimes, you'll feel that certain units aren't responding, but it's simply a matter of waiting for the command to actually hit home. It's definitely aggravating to deal with when you're getting into the thick of things during a mission, making it really hard to fine-tune your combat options.
Also, the AI of your individual units can be questionable at best. Every so often, a group of units I set up to patrol an area would just stop moving, and I found myself having to do a lot more micromanaging than I should have. Certain units wouldn't respond to attack commands, screwing up formations because weaker units would be moving and responding just fine, but just getting blown up by the enemy since the entire formation wasn't there to absorb the hits. Additionally, if you encounter a map with quite a bit of mountainous terrain, prepare to see your formations constantly split up as they try to maneuver around the ranges, causing you to redirect units to a proper path.
Supreme Commander does offer a pretty full selection of modes for players when it comes to the online segment. There is your standard versus modes, allowing for teams or individuals to battle it out with up to four players. There's also a King of the Hill mode, which has players trying to secure and maintain one spot on the map, and the Command Point mode, which will have your engineers and ACU scrambling to secure various buildings scattered around the map. The player with the most buildings at the end of the time limit wins.
The end result of Supreme Commander on the 360 is that the overall quality feels like a failed experiment. Sure, Hellbent did a great job of porting over a control scheme that most would shy away from, but at the same time, the quality control involved leaves a whole lot to be desired. You can definitely play the game, but whether or not you can stomach making it through all 18 campaign stages in the face of all these issues is something else. Unless Aspyr is able to introduce a patch or two to fix some of the major technical flaws with the game, avoid this title for now.
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