Supreme Commander

Think back to the dawn of the RTS. The original Command & Conquer blew the world away with its top-down 2D action, and spawned a whole new genre. Itself inspired by the God-game, C&C went on to see not just a massive number of sequels, but a large number of imitators, too.

Back in the day, C&C was displaced as King of the RTS by a game called Total Annihilation. Those of you old enough to remember it will surely remember that it introduced height and terrain into the RTS mix. C&C was a flat expanse, but in TA, rocket troops on hillsides had clear views into the valleys beneath. Taking a hilltop fortress was more difficult than taking a flat one, as is the custom of war. And line of sight was limited by the kind of terrain you were walking through and looking into.

TA was an instant classic, and remained at the top of the 'Must Buy' lists for a long, long time. But whilst there was an expansion pack, the seemingly inevitable sequel never appeared.

Today, Atari owns the rights to the TA brand, and seems destined to let it rot in a basement somewhere. But the creator of TA, Chris Taylor, has come back to the RTS table with this latest title from his game development company, Gas Powered Games.

Supreme Commander, then, is the spiritual successor to one of the greatest, if not the greatest, RTS games of all time. Can it possibly live up to that kind of hype? After 10 years, can a sequel really cut the mustard? How does publisher, THQ, follow on from its massive PC success of last year, Company of Heroes, arguably the best RTS of the century so far? Only one thing will decide the fate of the galaxy, sorry, the game in question - sitting down and playing through it.

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Chicken Supreme

And my, what an effort that is. As if to make up for the 10-year absence, GPG has piled in a massive amount of content to keep gamers happy. As is rather traditional, there are three different factions in the SupCom universe, all of which have a campaign mode with 10+ missions. These missions are all an hour and up, with the latter-half taking two hours and up. You are looking, then, at an easy 40-50 hours of gameplay on the campaign, not including starting maps again because you stuffed up. And that's not even starting on the multiplayer, where you'll find 20+ dedicated MP maps for different game sizes, a full online playing network, mod options and more game types than you can shake a stick at. This is no 8-hour shoot-em-up.

Of course, that's not to say that these campaigns are particularly inspired in terms of plotline, which is your usual sci-fi scenario. The people of earth have begun to colonize the galaxy in the far future, obviously, and this has had far-reaching consequences. To help support the United Earth Federation (faction one, and your standard space-faring human types), the humans built cyborgs to pilot ships, pour beer etc, but obviously made them subservient. If they had bothered reading any sci-fi for the previous few millennia, they would have known that sentient cyborgs tend to rebel to gain independence.

A group of these rebels fled off-world, determined to end the tyranny and oppression of the UEF (thus creating the second faction, the Cybron: revenge-hungry, mental cyber-people with a dark side). As the humans wage their war, they discover an ancient alien race many galaxies away. Not prepared to accept the possibility of life on other planets, the fundamentalist Christians...sorry, the UEF, attempt to eradicate the race.

Unfortunately for the UEF, this eradication doesn't happen before the race, the Aeon, can instil their 'galaxy as one' religion in a number of the humans, causing a break-away race. This group of spiritual, religious war-zealots advocate peace through war and cleansing (making up the third faction, the Aeon). Now that we have the history out of the way, let's fast-forward to the present - the war between the three has been raging for hundreds of years and, now, the crux of the conflict is upon us. And it just so happens that you're a rookie thrown into the middle of it all - a rookie with a destiny...

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So you can see what we mean when we say that the plotline is uninspired, and the three factions also follow the standard differentiators. They have similar units, similar buildings, but with different strengths, weaknesses and, well, colours. The UEF is a nation of land-lubbers, with a preference for tanks, bots and artillery. Being all spiritual, the Aeon admire the sea, and are strong at naval building and combat on the high seas. The Cybron, with their lightning quick reflexes, are great pilots, and prefer to fly their way to destruction. It's the classic rock-paper-scissors combination of styles, and there's a reason that it's ubiquitous - it works well.

So far, so much like any other RTS. So what's the first thing you notice about SupCom? The first thing is the scale. It's a game that demands you think in the big leagues, in the thousands rather than the tens. Company of Heroes was an intimate RTS, leading you to control individual snipers, tanks, and troops. SupCom requires you to build tank batallions in the thousands, air fleets of hundreds of bombers and gunships and naval crews of tens of battleships.

Forget war on a single front, and maps with single objectives. This is conflict on a massive, epic scale, and you'll find yourself executing complex, gigantic military manoeuvres on three or four different fronts at a time, sending in wave after wave of tanks to kill shield generators, ships to kill anti-aircraft installations and bombers to go all WWII on bases.