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A Spiritual Successor...Again
Spiritual successors can be a tricky thing, and Supreme Commander was prime evidence of how difficult they can be. While Supreme Commander managed to capture much of the feel of Total Annihilation, it also captured many of its flaws. As a result the game left me wondering why I would want to play Supreme Commander when I could boot up Total Annihilation and play the game in its purest incarnation.
This criticism apparently hit home at Gas Powered Games because Supreme Commander 2 is a much tighter, more focused, and more modern game. But has this translated into a better game, or are the old, nagging flaws still there?
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Gameplay - Single Player
I've read in various places that somewhere between 60 and 80 percent of people who buy strategy games only play single player. I can understand why. Strategy gamers are kind of scary, and multiplayer can be a nasty experience for new players.
If you're the kind of player who prefers single player, you'll be disappointed by what Supreme Commander 2 has to offer for two reasons. First, the campaign is incredibly bland. It isn't terrible, mostly because Gas Powered Games is reasonably good at nailing down the mechanics of single-player levels. However, the story is cheesier than pizza and not even as memorable, leaving you to wonder why you should care about progressing to the next level.
More problematic is the AI. It doesn't really have an understanding of how Supreme Commander 2 plays. In fact, it doesn't really have an understanding of how a strategy game plays, period. It never does anything surprising and is easy to defeat on all but the hardest levels - and on those levels it is only able to provide a challenge because it cheats.
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Gameplay - Multi Player
Mutli-player in the Total Annihilation franchise has never been clear and easy to recommend. There tends to be two camps of people who play these games, and each has different views. The first camp consists of more competitive gamers who prefer fast 1 on 1 matches. It is certainly possible to play Supreme Commander 2 as a quick, micro-managed engagement - but it isn't much fun. The game will be over before you get to use the most interesting units and the strategies that go with them.
Larger matches, however, can be a blast. In one match the fight was so brutal and insane that by the end of the game my team and the opposing team had switched locations on the map as our bases were repeatedly destroyed and re-built. In another I used the Noah Unit Cannon to shoot my army across the map only to watch in dismay as my desperate opponent nuked half his own base, annihilating my army in the process.
It is these moments of incredible destruction which define the franchise, and Supreme Commander 2 excels in them. Oddly, it excels in them because it is notably down-sized in comparison to Supreme Commander. The battles are not technically at large, but it is possible to field crazy units quicker, and as a result the battles feel even more off-the-wall.
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Gameplay - Stability and Netcode
Gas Powered Games has a long history of making games which are unstable, laggy, and sometimes downright broken. Some may remember the fiasco which was Demigod, a largely online game with a netcode which almost never worked correctly. One would think that Gas Powered Games would learn from its past mistakes and try to make sure that Supreme Commander 2 has a bullet-proof netcode.
Alas, that is not the case. In fact, Supreme Commander 2 has many of the same issues which plagued Demigod, although they are less severe. Games which have been launched often show up in the list of open games for hours after they are completed. Once you do find a game, there is a decent chance that you'll mysteriously lose connection and be put back out in the lobby, and once you're in the game there is a large chance that someone will lose connection in the first five minutes of play. Even if everything goes well, there is often substantial lag, resulting in a jerky experience.
This is inexcusable. Supreme Commander had a poor netcode, and Demigod was worse. Gas Powered Games should at this point be well aware that it has a problem and needs to fix it. But they haven't. Gas Powered Games is not a fly-by-night studio, and Supreme Commander 2 is a full fifty dollar game. To see these problems continue is unacceptable, and I doubt I'll buy another Gas Powered Games title in the future.
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Graphics and Sound
Oddly, Supreme Commander 2 actually looks worse than Supreme Commander. The textures and unit models are less detailed than the first game. The difference isn't small, and is instantly recognizable.
It is rare to see a sequal back-pedal in terms of graphical quality, but there is a method to this madness. While Gas Powered Games seems thick when it comes to their netcode, they have acknowledged the fact that Supreme Commander was a challenging game for even powerful gaming computers. Supreme Commander 2 isn't is pretty, but it at least runs smoothly.
The audio is also nothing special. This is actually a greater tragedy than the graphics, because the original Total Annihilation had one of the best sound tracks of any game in its day. Supreme Commander 2 is far more generic.
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I wish I could recommend Supreme Commander 2. I felt the same way about Supreme Commander. Total Annihilation remains my favorite RTS of all time, and these games do occasionally re-capture the glory of that game.
But Supreme Commander 2, like Supreme Commander, doesn't quite capture the same brilliance. At times, when battleships are firing and gunships are raiding and transports are off-loading huge masses of tanks, the game is a blast to play. But there are too many network issues. There aren't enough maps. The units don't have enough character. And so on.
At the end of the day, most gamers just want to know if a game is fun to play. And Supreme Commander 2 usually isn't. It has too many netcode issues, too bland a campaign, too dumb of AI. The game comes up short in numerous ways, and while the stars do rarely align to create a unique experience, they usually remain obscured by a fog of mediocrity.