Supreme Commander 2

ACU in the hole?

There are two possible reactions to any mention of Supreme Commander. Yes, just two. Don't pull that "how dare you force the entirety of human experience and attitude into just two boxes" stuff with me. Two! If it turns out there's more I'd have to axe this entire introduction, and then where would we be? We'd have a preview without an intro, and there'd be anarchy. Killings would be necessary. So: two possible reactions.

Number one! "Oh yes, yes, the only true real-time-strategy game of recent years - none of this dumbed-down experience points and tank-rushing stuff."

Number two! "It's too complicated, it's boring, and the entire genre is doomed etc."

The problem being that making a game for a very specific audience - i.e. dyed-in-the-wool strategy gamers raised on Total Annihilation back in the 1990s - means the rest of the world curls its lip at you. SupCom 2 isn't taking any such risk. Yet at the same time, creator Gas Powered Games seems determined not to lose any of SupCom's ferociously dedicated existing audience. It's tempting to blame the lack of boat-rocking on GPG having made a right pig's ear of their last two games: Space Siege by being dreadful, and Demigod by being a multiplayer-led game whose multiplayer didn't work. They need a hit, in other words.

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Nothing about SupCom 2 suggests fear or compromise, though. The number of unit types has been sliced in half and resource-gathering has been made easier, but it's still huge and lavish in a way that no other combat-only RTS has tried to be. The aim isn't to lower the complexity significantly so much as to show its working this time around - to introduce players to all its tanks and planes and submarines and enormous cyborg lizards gradually and coherently, rather than throwing everything at you and expecting you to work it all out.

At the same time, speaking to GPG's boss Chris Taylor (full interview to follow soon!), it's clear he's trying to push this as much more of a single-player game. Always a tricky thing for an RTS to do, but if this is more than mere marketing speak it's quite a big step for GPG to take. SupCom had a very rambly story and far too many talking heads in its campaigns, but really it was a multiplayer game - existing more for titantic tests of online will and skill than for narrative satisfaction. GPG is really leaning on storytelling for the sequel - focusing in to character-led familial drama, with the far-flung robo-war between three future-Earth factions as a backdrop rather than taking centre stage itself.

In practice, this seems to mean lots more cut-scenes and talking heads, so the writing and acting needs to be pretty damned sharp to pull it off. Personally, I haven't been terribly engaged by the cut-scenes I've seen, so I'm a little worried I'm going to be reaching for the Escape key in half of them, but then it's early days and the somewhat-droning chatter I've heard is very much out-of-context. It's surely not an easy task to make players relate to a guy who pretty much spends the entire game sitting in a big chair inside a building-sized robot's cockpit, which is why they've also included characters such as a talking brain in a jar. So, hopefully a big dollop of sci-fi silliness is going to make SupCom 2 a bit of a romp too.

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