What could have been the perfect RTS game is marred by poor performance.
Those of us with fond memories of Total Annihilation will recall grand futuristic battles, smart AI, true 3D line of sight and an enormous selection of units to pick from. In an ocean of Warcraft and Command & Conquer clones, TA was a revolutionary epic that, until now, hasn’t been matched.
Supreme Commander is a sequel to Total Annihilation in all but name, which is no coincidence considering both games were spawned by the visionary mind of Chris Taylor. Like TA, Supreme Commander lets you wage war on expansive maps using naval units, aeroplanes, tanks and robots. New units can be researched, however you’ll find that you can’t simply build an army of top shelf units – you’ll need to specialise in a particular area and rely on smart combinations of units.
In order to keep your army functioning, you need to successfully manage two resources, matter and energy. The former is used extracted from hot spots on the map and used for construction, while the latter is ‘farmed’ by building more energy collectors, which can then be used to power your base and certain units. Resources aren’t simply hoarded in silos, rather they flow in or out of your general resource pool to be diverted where needed. If put too much drain on your resources, your war machine can grind to a halt, making economic strategy just as important as your military campaign.
Such complexity in unit and economic management could be disastrous without a carefully constructed interface, but it’s here that Supreme Commander delivers a killer blow to the RTS genre. The most notable improvement is the zoom option, which removes the ‘ceiling’ common in RTS games. Instead of madly scrolling around to view the map, you can seamlessly zoom out and back in on a different point. Zooming out doesn’t mean you lose sight of your units either – as you move through the clouds your units turn into abstracted quasi-military symbols.
Unfortunately, what could have been the perfect RTS game is marred by poor performance. That’s a rather nice way of saying that, even on hardware well above the minimum requirements, the game becomes near-unplayable as the amount of the units (and associated graphics strain and AI number-crunching on the CPU) increases. Supreme Commander is about mobilising a massive combined arms force, so paring down your armies just to keep the game running is not an ideal option.
It’s without doubt a great game, but it’s just too far ahead of itself. For a $100 purchase, we can only recommend waiting for a performance-optimising patch, or the day when ultra-quick quad-core CPUs become affordable.
This Review appeared in the May, 2007 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine