It's a weird one, and as distant as you can imagine from, say, the OMG experience of spending command points to go up a doctrine level in Company of Heroes. Instead you're flinging points at the tree constantly, a +10 per cent to aircraft health here, a +50 per cent to sonar distance there, and only occasionally enjoying the satisfying payoff of saving up the mass of research points required to unlock an experimental unit.
As a system, it doesn't seem to sit quite right. The advances are always useful enough that it's worth bringing up the research menu and tossing your amassed research points into the void, yet only rarely are the advances very exciting. Perhaps the tree might feel a little less like a hungry mouth to feed if bringing it up didn't mean obscuring your view of the action proper.
What I do like about the tree is that it will allow for a variety of sneaky plays in multiplayer. While some of the upgrades you can acquire cause subtle visual changes to your units, by and large you only realise that your opponent has been shunting all his points into aircraft when you end up on the receiving end of them.
Likewise, the prerequisites required to unlock nukes or a top-level experimental are largely statistical upgrades, so if you're careful you'll be able to build them unexpectedly. It's nice. A little bit of guile and bluff to go with the first game's blunt economics.
It's good there's something to look forward to on the multiplayer front, because now I need to make a public service announcement about Supreme Commander 2's single-player campaign. Gas Powered Games are trying to tout Supreme Commander 2 as a treat for single-player gamers, right? With a strong, human, character-driven plot?
This is the first game I've played in a very, very long time with writing so tedious I've recoiled from the screen, and in my preview code (still a chance for this to be fixed!) most of it plays out during unskippable cut-scenes.
Also, I'm not going to replay a 30-minute long single-player mission to check, but I'm near-positive I heard a Cybran commander use a big word incorrectly as he fled the battlefield. As in, the script-writer had an incorrect understanding of what it meant.
(Update: On Gas Powered Games' recommendation I did play the mission again, just to check. He wasn't speaking nonsense! He was just quoting a passage from Shakespearean tragedy Titus Andronicus! We really regret this error. Sorry, Gas Powered Games.)
Other gems you can look forward to include this heated exchange between your commander and his opponent during a mission:
"Guys like me eat guys like you for breakfast!!"
"Well, that explains the foot in your mouth."
It's annoying, because I've read a lot of people griping that since Square Enix are publishing Supreme Commander 2, the plot's obviously going to be terrible. I was hoping for the chance to knock those guys back. [For the record, I think that foot mouth joke is amazing. Pre-ordering. - Ed]
In any case, disappointment about the plot aside, even this yet-to-be-finetuned preview code feels like the superior game to the original Supreme Commander, and it would be crazy to ask for anything more than that. That would be like asking for a fifth wheel on your car, or something.
Supreme Commander 2 is due out for PC on 5th March, with an Xbox 360 version to follow.