Supreme Commander 2

Gas Powered go nuclear

Real time strategy games have always promised a lot more than they have delivered. In the past, many titles have offered epic battles on a scale never seen before but the dreaded squad cap always takes its toll on the promise of huge battles clipping them to nothing more than a large skirmish. That was until Gas Powered Games burst onto the scene with Supreme Commander.

Supreme Commander was a colossal game that had the power to suck players in to gargantuan battles that ended up taking literally hours to complete. Now, almost three years on, the biggest RTS ever seen is back and we have been lucky enough to get some hands-on time with Supreme Commander 2.

Supreme Commander 2 has some pretty big shoes to fill. The original game managed to blend in battles across air, land and sea with some pretty large maps. From first impressions, not only has Supreme Commander 2 managed to keep up the traditions of its lofty predecessor but Chris Taylor and the team at Gas Powered Games have managed to up the ante for RTS games yet again.

The events of Supreme Commander 2 take place 25 years on from the first game and although there has been a measure of peace, the delicate balance between the UEF, Cybrans and Illuminate tips once again into all out war.

We join the story again as the UEF are testing their latest model of Armoured Command Unit. A surprise attack by the Cybrans gives us our first taste of combat as the preview code introduces us to the updated control interface of Supreme Commander 2.

As it happens the updates are incredibly impressive. Whilst preserving the complex yet accessible nature of the original's interface, it has all now become translucent or 'pop-up' overlays, on a very detailed widescreen battlefield. When no units are selected the unit options screen slides neatly away off the bottom of the screen until another unit is highlighted. This adds a fantastic amount of visibility over Supreme Commander's static windowed approach.

The battlefield itself is where the real improvements begin to show true. The detail in every single unit is amazing, especially when you can zoom right into vehicles and see their insignias, watch the buildings gradually assemble and even see the factories busily producing war machine after war machine.

The maps are insanely detailed. One map had us battling atop a series of high construction platforms networked between leafy peaks, an absolutely mind-blowing setting for what turns out to and harsh struggle to secure technology.

On a subsequent map the ACU crashes through woodland, knocking over all the trees in its path. The maps are all exquisitely detailed and necessarily so. It is possible, as with the last game, to zoom in and out of the battlefield at will and this is made even easier this time as you can now zoom into wherever your mouse pointer is, making movement between distant areas of the map a breeze.

Building an army couldn't be simpler. Just select a factory - land, sea or air - click on your desired unit the requisite number of times and repeat the process until you either run out of resources or have queued all the units you want. All you need to do is wait for the factories to churn out the weaponry and then you can send your army out to war.

The real neat trick is how Gas Powered games have managed, yet again, to balance the game very effectively to encourage the use of different units. Supreme Commander 2 seems to effortlessly steer you away from the tank-rush strategy by never providing you with a kill-all wonder-weapon of ultimate destruction. Even the giant experimental war walkers and battleships, armed with the most destructive weaponry have their weaknesses. Battleships are vulnerable to attack from the air and submarines and therefore need to be escorted by AA-gun wielding frigates, submarines and fighters. The giant experimental war walkers make short work of buildings but have trouble targeting fast moving objects and require an air escort to defend them from enemy gunships.

No unit is without its uses and it is up to you to find out how to balance your armies to cope with you opponent's strategies and the challenges that the map presents you.

Another gem of the preview was the research system, which did take a short while to discover properly, but allows an increased flexibility in battle. Research points build up over time and can also be gained by finding Tech Caches or completing optional objectives. These can then be spent on the tech trees to make production cheaper or quicker, open up new vehicles and buildings and even update existing units to make them give or take more damage.

With separate tech trees for air, sea, land, buildings and your ACU you have a great array of upgrades available and choosing the right ones could make the difference in the fight. Spend too many points on developing shields for your buildings and you may lack the weaponry to fend off your opponent's bigger war machines. Spend all your points on bigger guns to assault the enemy and you may find your base destroyed by a sneak attack whilst you're held up by your opponent's defences.

The beauty of Supreme Commander 2 is that it does make you think beyond the tank rush and that is one of the areas where it is really showing that it will succeed the achievements of the original Supreme Commander.

There is even more of a story arc in this new game with each faction campaign accompanying a narrative that, in the preview, hints at tackling underlying issues like abuse of weapons of mass destruction with gentle tact that goes beyond the kind of storytelling found in other traditional RTS titles. Sadly this is only really a taste of what the complete narrative will be and we will just have to wait until the final game arrives to find out if the storylines carry the kind of weight hinted at here.

The most impressive thing about Supreme Commander 2 so far is that the developers have managed to create battles on such a scale that makes its predecessor's battles seem small. Gas Powered games have managed to cram more units on to the screen than ever before - so much so that if there was a squad cap we didn't notice it. And they do all this whilst stopping short of battles seeming cluttered and incoherent.

From our short but exceptionally meaty taster, Supreme Commander 2 seems to have succeeded in besting its predecessor in almost every respect. The sheer scale of the game goes beyond epic. It therefore seems highly apt that the game is being published by Square Enix, a company known for producing titles that make the biggest of games look miniscule.

Come March, when the finished version of Supreme Commander 2 hits the PC and Xbox 360 even the mighty Final Fantasy XIII might look small in comparison.

E3 Trailer