Monday, January 22, 2007

Supreme Commander Beta Review

Executive Summary:
Supreme Commander is, along with Company of Heroes and Rise of Nations, one of the best Real-Time Strategy games I have had the pleasure of playing. However, it's taxing to a $3,600 gaming rig.

Review Proper:
I found a MOD that allows me to play skirmish mode online, choosing how many and what kind of AI to go against, which is of immense value. I've played many games, one with a human ally, and here are my findings:

  1. Pharra's E6700 Core Two Duo (2.66GHz) cannot handle four players with a 750 unit cap, which is a notch above the default 500 unit cap. 750*4=3,000.
  2. There are up to 8 players in a game. 500*8=4,000. Pharra, a $3,600 computer, won't be able to max out the number of possible players in the game.
  3. Three players at 500 unit cap appears to work fine - I'm not sure what four at 500uc would do. So while 3,000 killed, 1,500 was fine, and hopefully 2,000 will be too. I'll have to test this.
The AI is refreshing because most games feature: Easy, Normal, Hard, and Cheats; Supreme Commander, on the other hand, offers flavors. When playing RTS games you're really interested in changing what kind of game you're playing against the AI - are you attacking or digging in for a defense? Usually you can only control this by hand-selecting what kind of maps you play or making your own maps. Supreme Commander allows you to choose AI's that rush, build up a great economy and then rape you, or turtle in a difficult defense (and also still attacks, but not as much as the other two). This makes Supreme Commander highly enjoyable.

In my playtesting, I usually played against a Turtle AI with one ally, a Balanced AI. The Turtle is more than capable of countering everything the balanced throws at it until the Balanced AI reaches tech level 3, and then it can get hurt. However, Balanced AI never won by itself, it always needed me to help tear town Turtle AI's incredible defenses. Never in an RTS have I seen an AI turtle so well, with force fields galore, and so many AA guns even spy planes can't survive. We're talking SPAM amounts of AA guns, it's just incredible. I sent my ultimate Spiderbot monstrosity supported by waves of airpower and it was annihilated before it could tear down the shield generators, or even get in range of them. Nothing survives. Turtle AI lives up to the name.

Where Turtle AI falls short is defending it's perimeter. It usually picks two or three main bases and bulks those up like Sumo contenders, and leaves its outlying areas unguarded. It will respond via airpower when attacked, but if you just SPAM air superiority fighters, you'll counter it's counter-attack and win.

Where all the AI I've played with so far falls short is Navy. On a map where Turtle AI and me and my Balanced AI ally were separated by water, neither attacked each other except by air, and I saw no major troop landings from air transports. On ground maps, Turtle AI killed me once by overwhelming me with lame Tech 1 and Tech 2 units after it had built it's impenetrable defense - I'd wasted my resources trying to get to Tech 3 and didn't have enough forces to stop him.

In short, Supreme Commander looks brilliant, but I'm saddened that the game is so taxing. After the poorly coded Oblivion and Gothic 3, it is the only game that slows Pharra down. If the release is just as bad, than it will be the first well-coded game to do so. (If you don't believe Oblivion and Gothic 3 are coded poorly, then look at their bug fix logs and research Oblivion's development for the XBOX 360 prior to PC release, and how much money was spent optimizing for the XBOX 360, not the PC).

Multiplayer Review:
This is for those who love getting their game on against humans. Supreme Commander is all about pacing and balance. Resources cannot be depleted, the only thing that limits your growth is how fast you are gathering versus spending them. With the games revolutionary cueing system, the likes of which I have never seen done so well before, this game flows like water.

As I am, now being a father of four, mostly neutered and don't care to OwnZor other males in videogames as much, I can't speak further. I will say that the possibility remains that this game will net an intense multiplayer following. Longevity is based on MODdability, and Chris Taylor (Dungeon Siege) loves to make his games moddable.

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