Supreme Commander 2 Impressions: Less Is MoreS

After he finished delivering medical advice, Gas Powered Games founder and CEO Chris Taylor showed me a little of what Supreme Commander 2 was bringing to the real-time strategy title.

It was a bit odd, seeing the next title in the Supreme Commander series behind closed doors in the Square Enix booth, but with the Japanese publisher taking a greater interest in publishing Western titles, I suppose it is something we'll have to get used to. After weaving through displays of pointy-haired protagonists, I made my way to the Square Enix meeting area, where the GPG crew were waiting to show me a brief look at their next RTS, which seems to have taken a few cues from the company's most recent release, Demigod.

In fact, Demigod was the first thing that came to mind as the brief demo began. Rather than taking place on a land-based battlefield, units were assembled on a platform jutting out from cloud-shrouded cliffs on an alien world. The mountains faded into the mist below the platform, giving off a sense of an expansive world far below the battlefield. It's the same sort of self-contained map you'd see in Demigod; smaller than what we are used to, but filled with character. Taylor explained that Demigod taught them that a smaller-scaled yet detailed battlefield delivered much great opportunity to portray a dramatic conflict.

The game certainly looks sharper than the first, and ran smoother too, thanks to some creative polygon tricks. Rather than bogging down the hardware with extraneous polygons in the name of greater detail, this time around Gas Powered Games has reduced the polygon count, allowing their new rendering engine to quickly fill the map with units without bogging or slowing down. Not that you'd really notice the drop in polys...the new engine, with its enhanced lighting and self-shadowing, delivers visuals that are better than the previous game while still being able to run smoothly on 3-5 year old hardware.

Taylor pointed out some of the upgrades and new additions to the game as we sped through our demo, and I tried desperately to keep up. Here's what I saw that was new:

ACU Improvements: The titular Supreme Commander, players who found the Armored Core Unit too flimsy in the first game should be pleased with the upgrades their primary unit has been given. Not only are there a wide variety of additional extras that can be added to the ACU via the new tech tree (see below), the newer version comes equipped with an escape pod, meaning the end of the unit isn't the end of you. Progressing through the tech tree eventually unlocks an even more improved version.

Tech Tree: Replacing tech levels from the last game is the tech tree, a branching progression system that allows the player to focus on the units and areas they excel at. There are three categories of items on the tech tree. Boosts (buffs), upgrades, which can add new functionality to existing units, and unlocks, which of course unlock more things to play with. The example I was shown involved a tank, which as it was upgrade sprouted longer barrels to increase firing range, or multiple barrels to increase the damage it dealt.

More Experimental Units: The most powerful units in the game, experimental units were a big draw in the original Supreme Commander, and they are back in full force. More than 25 new experimental units have been added, split into two categories - mini and mega. Mini's take about 15-20 minutes to unlock, while the megas won't hit the scene until 30-60 minutes have passed. Still mighty impressive, I got to look at the Fatboy Mobile Gun Platform, the redesigned Universal Colossus, and the most impressive, CyberZilla - a giant, armored dinosaur who might as well be wearing a "Game Over" t-shirt.

Taylor mentioned a few other improvements, including a retooled economy and a retooled neural net AI, but those are the sort of improvements it's hard to discern during a rushed, twelve-minute presentation. What I did walk away from the meeting with was the sense that Gas Powered Games was ready to kick Supreme Commander the first's ass with the sequel, and they weren't afraid to admit previous missteps and change their way of thinking to do so.