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 Supreme Commander
To most casual observers the once monstrous RTS genre has been lying dead in the water for many years now. A lack of major innovation from even the biggest titles and a stubborn refusal to deviate from genre structure and overused clichés has left it stagnant and its appeal has withered in the eyes of the mainstream public. Some even argue that the genre reached its peak in the mid nineties with benchmark setting games like Command & conquer and Warcraft may never rise to those standards again. Of course there are those that would counter that, putting forward recent titles like Company of Heroes and Rise of Nations as a good indication RTS has a rosy future. Whatever your thoughts on the future of real time Strategy games the release of Chris Taylor’s Supreme Commander should make you and your left mouse button finger quiver with excitement.

While his name may not be instantly recognisable to most gamers but to RTS aficionados Chris Taylor is regarded in the same way as FPS nuts view John Carmack, and for good reason. During those early years there were only two RTS titles worth your money, Command & Conquer and Total Annihilation. C&C may have performed better at retail but it was TA that had the most passionate following, in fact, until recently servers hosting the original TA were still bustling with activity from hardened fans.

A true sequel has been in high demand ever since and other than a couple of expansion packs and the poorly received TA: Kingdoms there has been no sign of the TA brand even now. But fans can rejoice as Chris Taylor has returned to the universe, and genre, he helped kick-start a decade ago with the rather excellent Supreme Commander.

Set in the distant 30th century, humans are in the middle of a fiercely fought Galactic Civil War contested by three factions; the United Earth Federation, the Aeon Illuminate (Pro-active Spiritualists) and the Cybran nation (Androids battling against the chains of human oppression). After years of fighting ‘The Infinite War’ against the two other nations, the UEF are in ruins and on the brink of defeat. As a last resort they construct an almighty space-based weapon capable of destroying an entire planet. The weapon can be used against the UEF and now you enter the battle, attempting to turn the tide of war in you chosen faction’s favour. Ok, so the story may not win any prizes for originality but the fact that none of the sides are portrayed as clear-cut whiter than white good guys is a nice design choice. The story is probably the only big letdown as this is easily one of the best strategy games since the days of its half-brother.

It is a sequel in all but name; the game structure, battle units and overall presentation feel just like TA only with the extra polish you’d expect from ten years of technological progress. Like it’s predecessor, Supreme Commander will give even the most powerful PCs of it’s era a thorough workout and it is worth pointing out that the recommended specs on the box are not for not just for show, you will need to check your PC can handle it before considering a purchase.

The reason why Supreme Commander needs so much oomph soon becomes apparent as you get presented with some of the grandest missions ever contained in an RTS. Even in the first couple of ‘tutorial’ missions the scale dwarfs the epic battles from the Total War series. You would be forgiven for wondering what the fuss is about when you first take hold of your ACU (Armoured Command unit, essentially your on-screen character) you can barely explore the area around you but it does allow you to see your initial buildings from a small distance, a view you’ll barely use later on.

The game world slowly expands as you complete each task, until the map is so large individual units are little more than pinpricks on the screen. Finding particular tanks or aircraft from these distances would have been a nightmare were it not for one of Supreme Commander’s trump cards, battle icons, which make it simple to direct your armies quickly and effectively from any distance. As such, there is no longer a need for a separate map cluttering up the view screen as it is so easy to just zoom out, direct your units, and then return to ground level for more intricate commands.

In fact, the whole interface feels a lot simpler than other RTS games and there are a lot of shortcuts designed to aid you in your role as the ‘Supreme Commander’ on the battlefield. You can assign multiple commands to each unit, making it easy to set up patrols or organise a gun and run attack. As with its predecessor, resources are drip fed regularly through energy extractors and can be stockpiled for when it’s needed, energy can even be collected by your ACU during any short gap in the fighting by extracting it from nearby plant life or even from your enemies smoking remains.

The only other disappointment with Supreme Commander is the amount of single player missions, a paltry six per faction. Admittedly, they are much longer than you’d find in the average RTS and later missions require some pretty in depth strategies and lots of concentration to complete but you will see through them all within ten hours.

But the multiplayer options more than make up for this and online, this is honestly the most fun I’ve had on an RTS since playing Red Alert 2 on my Uni LAN network. Games are easy to set up and the amount of customisation on offer is terrific. It was a shame the full modding kit never made it to the retail version as it contained all the level editing software used by the actual development team. It would have been fitting to create the ultimate Mod package with the spiritual successor of the game that first kindled such passions in so many strategy fans way back when.

Supreme Commander is a fantastic game overall and as long as you have a PC powerful enough to do it justice this is an essential purchase, RTS fans might even want to consider upgrading your set up just for this game.

9 out of 10

Buy Supreme Commander now at Play.com
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