Over in multiplay and skirmish, you get to see the entire map from the off, so there's no wondering what fresh horror will be unleashed upon your moment of triumph. With a level playing field, the improvements are more obvious. Forged Alliance's redesigned user interface still looks like it's not quite accepted the 1990s are over, but at least it no longer takes up most of the screen, as SupCom's boxy monstrosity of a UI did. You're able to see significantly more of what's going on without having to invest a second monitor (dual-screen remains the best way to play the game), and there's more logical clustering of related buttons, meters, doohickeys and whatchamcallums. The bars for energy and mass resources now snuggled together in one neat corner, for instance, rather than spanning the width of the screen between them.
These modes are also the only place you get to hold the reins of new race The Seraphim. They're purely a foe in single-play, but perversely they're the only race you can command in multiplayer if you don't also own SupCom. Visually flashier than the three original factions, they're immediately appealing to play as. It's like rifling through your wardrobe full of t-shirts'n'jeans, and suddenly noticing there's a white suit and mirror shades in there too. This being a particularly symmetrical RTS, they play almost exactly the same way as the other three, but sacrifice variety of units for each that there is having a little more clout. There's none of the wonderfully silly lolbot value of, say, the Cybran's tottering Monkeylord (or, equally, their new expire mental, the improbably crab-shaped Megalith), but the Seraphim do otherworldly weirdness pretty well - they're all liquidy-smooth surfaces and negative energy beams.
They add more visual cheer to what are often barren-looking battlefields (some token graphical tweaks don't stop SupCom's worlds from looking sparse and clinical), but not as much as the rethought Experimentals. These are Supreme Commanders supremiest units, but previously they took so achingly long to build that games were usually over before they got to haul their giant metal behinds into battle. In Forged Alliance, most are faster and cheaper to construct, so they're more likely to make an appearance. As it should be - seeing two titans clash makes for a far more satisfying climax than simply watching one guy gradually erase all the other guy's power generators. On the other hand, nukes now take crazy-long to build. A shame, as their devastating appearances are now rare, but because the instant game-over they can often spell is more uncommon, again there's more chance of a thrilling giant robot/UFO/battleship wrestling match.
So here's the thing. I think it's a bit of a lousy single-player game (though less so if you're intimately familiar with SupCom), but a fairly incredible multiplayer/skirmish one. It's closer now to the game we all hoped Supreme Commander would be from those earliest screenshots: really, really big war that builds to an impossibly exciting crescendo of sci-fi excess. Ostensibly, it's a traditional expansion (the whole not-actually-being-an-expansion thing aside), focused on doling out generous handfuls of new units rather than reinventing the game in any meaningful way. Really though, the Seraphim and a few new death machines per faction amount to just a fancy haircut to ooh and aah over - far more importantly, the game underneath it has worked on its social skills. It's more presentable now, and it knows that letting people get to the big stuff is essential to a good time.
If you're a SupCom player, think of this as pretty much your dream patch for the game, but with the unfortunate but understandable addition of a price-tag. If you're an RTS fan who hasn't played SupCom yet, this is without doubt a better place to start. It's more polished, it's more varied and, with the Seraphim's big'n'shiny toys in there too, it's wargaming on the most jawdropping scale there is. It's also everything that turned a lot of people off SupCom intensified, and I think that's a bit of misfire if it's serious about winning a new audience - which is why this scores less than the first game did. Why else would it be standalone? Well, perhaps so that SupCom players have to cough up more groats than they would for an expansion disc - but that's tinfoil hat territory. If you're even slightly interested in real-time strategy, you owe it to yourself to play this - but leave that merciless, exhausting campaign well alone until you've made yourself into a war-god with skirmish mode.