I'm Being Given a tour of Gas Powered Games' plush Redmond offices. "And this is the server room," announces an energetic Chris Taylor, a man who seems to eat, breathe and guzzle gaming alongside his morning Weetabix. "There's over 10 terabytes of storage and three cooling systems so the room stays icy cold," he says. "It's where we keep the beer."
A tour from Chris Taylor is never dull; the legendary creator of Total Annihilation is rarely short of enthusiasm, managing to make every corporate meeting room and square cubicle a joy to explore. Veering past walls and walls of gorgeous concept art, I can tell that Gas Powered Games is a studio striving for evolution, and I can't wait to get down to business and find out what its latest innovative and exciting RTS effort, Supreme Commander is like to play.
Thankfully, I don't have long to wait, as very shortly I find myself in a large, finely-catered gaming room filled with ninja-grade PCs and widescreen monitors that could be used alongside the main stage at Glastonbury. On the screen in front of me, an overexcited Chris Taylor is giving a demonstration of what you should expect from his most epic RTS to date, and already there are enough planes, tanks and explosions on-screen that I'm considering nipping off to one of the office's 'collaborative spaces' for a quick breather.
"Most RTS games are played like a sandbox, where you stick your face into the top of that sandbox and slide around trying to stay on top of things," says Taylor, targeting a pair of nuclear missiles onto a raging battlefield. "Well now we've got this extended volume, so there's fighter planes at one altitude, bombers at another, torpedo bombers coming down, missiles flying up..." Right on cue, his nukes strike home, effortlessly taking out hundreds of tanks and infantry in a searing visual spectacle. "So we're really getting into what happens above the battlefield in a most serious way."
To say the display in front of me is intense would be an understatement to say the least. But I can't help but wonder how anything less than a team of men fitted with Doc Ock mechanical limbs could control the multiple, massive assault forces Taylor is touting in his demo. Without a top-notch interface, Supreme Commander looks like it could quickly descend into multimanagement hell.
Thankfully, my fears are put to rest when Taylor steps aside and I take the reigns for myself, as Gas Powered Games have constructed a highly intuitive interface that keeps the game's epic battles chugging along smoothly. It takes a game or two for me get comfortable, but the zoomed-out 'strategic' view eventually becomes second nature, and I'm soon poring over its all-encompassing chess-like display for a more strategic look at the battlefield.
Another impressive aspect is the automated nature of base management, which allows you to shift your focus over to the front lines rather than worrying about tedious construction. After a short period of early-game tweaking, I can pretty much leave my factories and defence units to look after themselves. Build orders can be queued before the factories are even built, and waypoints can be issued even as units are rolling out along the conveyer belt.
But Supreme Commander is by no means a build-and-rush experience. As Taylor reminds me, the game is about strategy rather than tactics, the ultimate objective being to take out your enemy's commander - or ACU (Armoured Command Unit) - rather than amassing and deploying wholly-expendable armies. This is where the game's innovative zoomed-out 'strategic' view really makes its mark. Having an instantly accessible, global view of the battlefield is incredibly useful in strategic planning, allowing you to find gaps in your enemy's defence, create decoy assaults and flank the enemy commander to snatch victory. It's an experience more like Risk than any other RTS game I've played.
Up Your Game
As the day progresses, excitement fills the room of war-gripped journalists as we get a chance for a spot of willy-waving, as the first ever Supreme Commander tournament is announced, with prizes and all. I'm quick to enrol as PC EssexHoodlum, enticed by the Supreme Commander flask and goodies, and mildly confident after a convincing training victory against an inexperienced German staff writer.
My first game - a 4v4 match on a wintery map writhing with resources - goes well. After the first two commanders are reduced to black scorch marks on the battlefield, the fight is on for first place - at which point I get my first taste of Supreme Commander's massive experimental units. Out of nowhere, my opponent sends a gigantic flying saucer spinning in my direction - one of the most intimidating RTS units I've ever seen. Alerting the rest of the room with my knee-jerk yell of "Holy shit!" I zoom out to the strategic view and order every aircraft at my disposal to attack the screenwide mammoth that's hovering menacingly towards my base.
Thankfully, it soon succumbs to my might during an impressive air skirmish that has half of the room yelping in awe. Collapsing theatrically to earth like a scene from Independence Day, the ship leaves a scorched and smoking shell in the ground; the whole scene suggesting that Supreme Commander will be as entertaining to watch as it is to play.
After my dramatic win in the first game, I'm feeling a bit cocky as I waltz into the final. Victory is but a whiff away. Sizing up my foreign opponents, I decide my chances are good, and the group of spectators behind me further inflate my cranium. It's my most focused and efficient performance yet; I quickly claim the nearest resources, my factories systematically upgrade tech levels and pump out small attack forces with ruthless efficiency. My navy controls the waves, my bombers and fighter jets fill the sky and my ground forces are growing to the hundreds with tech level 3 siege bots leading the charge. The final assault on my opponent is nearly ready and the crown of my army almost complete: a gigantic mechanical spider carrying a 100ft cannon that can level bases single-handed.
I'm rubbing my hands with glee. It's almost finished: 96%, 97%! Eight engineer bots and even my Supreme Commander himself are working together to bring it to life. Then 98%, 99%! It's done! Jets, destroyers, land troops: go, go, go! My titanic spiderbot jolts into action. Then suddenly, at the heart of my offensive strike force a nuclear blast breaks loose. I'm confronted with fire, smoke, explosions and the eerie message: "You have Ijeen defeated." Gasps turn to disbelief, disbelief to laughter. I'm frozen in shock, and then it suddenly dawns on me; my spiderbot goliath has stepped on my Supreme Commander.
Chris Taylor shakes his head in puzzlement and turns to a member of his development team: "That's a bug! Write that down!"
Clash of the titans
Units so big you might need a few extra TFTs to see them
Past the vanilla tech levels, you'll eventually discover the titanic beauties nestled in the 'experimental' build tab - units so big and menacing that in many cases, you'll actually have to zoom the camera out to get a proper look at their 300ft cannons.
Rarely have you seen anything quite as intimidating as the creations in the Supreme Commander catalogue. Take the so-called Aeon Galactic Colossus. Towering over your puny tanks and infantry, shooting lasers from its eyes and sucking up artillery with is gravity claws, it's definitely not a creature you'd invite inside if it followed you home from school.
But not all experimental units are frontline mecha-godzillas. The UEF mobile factory, for example, acts as more of a support unit pumping out a constant stream of tanks to aid your main assault force while also servicing aircraft and blasting attackers with its on-board artillery turrets. In this case, it's both big and clever - a theme that runs throughout the game.
Download Supreme Commander
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
I'm Knackered. Well and truly zonked. It's no exaggeration to say that never, ever, has a game taken so much out of me. After the best part of a week sealed inside a room with nothing but a copy of Supreme Commander and a PC for company, I've emerged, eyes streaked like a whipped hide, back bent like an arthritic centenarian who's just been rabbit-punched in the spleen and totally, utterly exhilarated. Put me back in, I want some more...
For the past year (well, 14 months if you want to be picky) we've been told that Supreme Commander would be one of the most intense RTS experiences of all time. And you know what? For once, the hype has actually been vindicated.
After years of self-imposed exile from the strategy fold, Supreme Commander proves to be a magnificent return to the genre for PC gaming legend Chris Taylor, who rose to prominence way back in 1997 with the sublime Total Annihilation - a game to which Supreme Commander bears more than a passing resemblance. And if you've ever played Total Annihilation, you'll know that's no bad thing.
However, rather than simply rehashing past glories with glitzier graphics, Taylor and his team at Gas Powered Games have masterfully re-invented the template by giving'it a thorough 21st century makeover.
So What's It Allaboutthen?
Well, I'll tell you. Having mastered the art of long-distance space travel, humanity - aka the United Earth Federation - has spread to the far reaches of the galaxy, using its conventionally armed (with a few nukes thrown in for good measure) armies to exterminate any resistance it meets, Itouding a spiritual alien race called the I Seraphim Which, as it transpires, was a bit of a boo-boo...
I Enchanted by the Seraphim's way of life, pocket of intergalactic hippies breaks 'away from the UEF and creates the Aeon Ifoction, which sets its will against the UEF's expansionist ethos with an array of sleek, hovering and highly powerful weapons. I With me so far? Good. Now, while these I two sides are knocking chunks of space debris out of each other, a clever fellow called Dr Brackman works out how to combine computer chips with human brains. 'Thus, the Cybran nation is born - a force sting hulking mechanised robots and jmetic warriors.
Forced to flee Earth due to persecution by the UEF and considered abominations by the Aeon, the Cybrans are soon sucked into three-way conflict, where everyone hates everyone else and just wants to kill, kill and kill some more... Then shoot the dead bodies in case they're still alive and just pretending to be dead. So begins the Infinite War.
Fast-forward 1,000 years and the UEF are on the back foot and close to defeat, while Cybran sleeper cells are rising throughout the galaxy and the Aeon are in the ascendancy. And that's right about where you come in.
Size Is Everything
As a fledgling commander, you control a massive battlefield robot called the Supreme Commander (check out 'Super Supreme', below right, for the full lowdown on these bad boys), a vehicle that can construct and repair as well as dismantle and annihilate bases. Wifh the war balanced on the edge of a meat cleaver, it's your job to turn the tide and end the conflict.
Before we delve any further, let me just prepare you for the sheer scope and scale of this game. Actually, you may want to sit down for this part.
Imagine the largest base-building RTS level you've ever played. Go on, think really hard. That's it... Now double it. Then double it again. Now add a little bit more to the edges. There, you've got it. Pretty big, huh?
It's no exaggeration to say that most of Supreme Commander's levels are akin to four or five standard RTS missions. Starting off with just a third of the map visible, you begin by constructing your base and building up an army of land, air and sea units. Once your primary objective has been completed, another section of the map is unveiled and a new objective issued. And so it continues.
Forget the half-hour skirmishes of RTS games of yore - this is futuristic warfare at its most intense, taxing and titanic. Missions can take several hours to complete, during which you'll be forced to build massive attack forces as you sally out of the confines of your camp and establish secondary bases around the map.
It's a war of attrition, a war of patience and a war of perseverance, where thousands of units are expended to gain a foothold on the map's Mass deposits (the game's only uniquely mineable resource) and edge ever closer to victory. From the very first minute you're beset by enemy attacks, probing and pushing at every weak spot in your defences. It's a maelstrom of unrelenting carnage.
Squadrons of aerial units dogfight above booming anti-aircraft guns in one sector, while two mighty armadas clash on the seas in another. Each and every bullet, laser pulse and missile is calculated through space, with wayward shots pounding into the surrounding landscape and igniting trees.
Zoom To Manoeuvre
Using the full gamut of combined arms forces is one of the keys to victory, as is fully mastering the stunning and highly original tactical map of the entire level. Cleverly, this map can be accessed straight from the battlefield, simply by zooming out as far as possible, before zooming back into any area simply by pointing the cursor and rolling your mouse wheel.
It's not long before you realise this isn't so much a strategy game as an action epic, a cauldron of death where speed of thought and brute force are often required to reap the greatest triumphs.
By the time each map has been fully revealed, there'll be half a dozen battles raging across the level, with units intelligently engaging the enemy whenever they come into range. It's here that the tactical map becomes invaluable, and there's even an option to split the screen between the battlefield and the tactical map, a design decision which verges on genius.
With every passing mission the stakes are raised both strategically and in terms of the plot, which charts your faction's struggle for survival through a set of well-acted briefings, cut-scenes and in-game events.
At this stage it's more than likely that if you're of an inquisitive nature, you'll have already taken a sneaky peak at the score and are wondering why, given what you've read so far, Supreme Commander hasn't scored even more highly than it has.
Might Makes Right
The thing is, for all its originality, many of Supreme Commander's levels come down to one variable: numbers. Attempting to use a small, carefully compiled strike force to strategically overpower your foe is virtually impossible. In fact, more often than not, you'll find yourself resorting to the age-old tactic of building up a titanic force of ground, air and sea units while hiding behind your base defences, before unleashing them on your equally well-defended opponent.
That's not to say that this unsubtle mechanic isn't fun in its own way, but for a game of Supreme Commander's scope -especially one with such a brilliantly designed tactical map - you can't help but feel ever so slightly disappointed.
Granted, you can coordinate attacks for greater effect, but if you lack the numbers, it doesn't matter how cunning your strategy is, as you'll simply get wiped out and have to start building a whole new force from scratch. And believe me, this can take a very, very long time indeed.
It's a problem that's compounded by a control interface that's just not quite intuitive enough for a game of this scale. With so many units on each level and with action this frenetic, control is everything and you sometimes feel like you don't quite have enough of it.
Throw in some suspect pathfinding when trying to move a larger body of troops (40 units and above), and you're left with a game that at times leaves you as frustrated as it does elated. One further thing to watch out for is how resource-hungry the game is. Unless you're packing at least 3GHz of processing grunt, you're likely to experience some major slowdown towards the end of most levels, while a 256MB 3D card or better is also a must if you want to play with anything approaching an acceptable level of detail.
Super But Not Quite Supreme
It's always satisfying to come across a genuinely innovative and intelligent title, one that not only attempts to raise the bar for its genre but succeeds with aplomb. While Supreme Commander may be slightly flawed in places, it's still a wondrous rendition of futuristic combat, and one of the finest specimens of 21st century RTS gaming you can currently buy. What's more, the epic gameplay is (ahem) Taylor-made for some of the finest multiplayer RTS action you're likely to experience any time soon, making this one package that any lover of all-out action warfare simply can't allow themselves to overlook. It might not be perfect, but it's still supremely good.
It's Raining: it always rains in Seattle. And if it's not raining it's probably drinking a coffee, watching Frasier and thinking about it really hard. But this bleak blanket of watery needles is battering the windows of Gas Powered Games' plush offices as I wait for the arrival of gaming legend Chris Taylor, founder of the studio and creative director of what could just be the most innovative and ground-breaking RTS game since Shogun: Total War. On the giant screen before me stand perfectly aligned columns of futuristic soldiers, their ranks sprawling menacingly into the distance. Tilings are starting to look brighter already.
Taylor's entrance is typically energetic. He's a man who bleeds gaming, someone who's always striving for evolution in his latest project Given his track record -after all, he was the brains behind Total Annihilation, one of the greatest RTS games of all time - I'm eager to see just how this, his latest vision, will stack up to the competition. Never one to linger on formalities, Taylor dives straight into his presentation.
"Our first goal is for players to be immediately comfortable," he begins. "No learning curve. All of the controls that RTS fans are familiar with are present However, you can also use the mouse wheel to zoom out to see more of the battlefield in order to be more informed of what's going on. We have scale of map, scale of unit and scale of numbers, which make for battles consisting of hundreds of units."
Zoom, Zoom, Zoom
Suddenly we're propelled from a close-up view to an intricately detailed, all encompassing zoomed-out perspective that displays the entire battlefield, a massive expanse of land and sea dotted with units and armies skirmishing in multiple hotspots. It's as though someone has taken ten levels from a standard RTS and pasted them into one gargantuan war zone.
Before moving on, Taylor takes a moment to explain the player's role in this bloody conflict. "You play as the Supreme I Commander, who's a unit on the battlefield. After a thousand years of war (see 'Fight For Your Right', page 56), no-one has had a strategic enough mind to win the conflict That's where you come in. You're the Supreme Commander who ultimately wins the war."
Your Supreme Commander will be fully upgradeable with either defensive augmentations (that'll allow him to sit deep inside your main base and repel the enemy), or with jump jets and shield systems that'll enable him to wade into the frontline action. And of course, should your Supreme Commander unit snuff it, it's game over.
Without doubt, the game's most impressive-attribute is its scale, and when I'm saying that I'm not just nodding towards its mammoth-sized levels. Zooming down to ground level, Taylor skims the camera across the sea - each undulating wave reflecting the sun's rays with startlingly lifelike realism for an RTS game.
Then a dot appears on the horizon. As we approach, it starts to take on a distinct form, swelling into a monstrous metal battleship bristling with four anti-aircraft guns, three enormous main cannons and two anti-missile turrets. The sheer immensity of this vessel makes most other strategy games' naval units look like fishing boats. "The scale in Supreme Commander is huge," says an enthusiastic Taylor. "Most RTS games woujd only have one or two weapons max for a unit like this."
Taylor heads towards land where a moored battleship towers above a column of heavy tanks, dwarfing them as an NBA star would a row of stunted dwarfs. "In the old days, you'd have a ship and a heavy tank that weren't very different in size," he explains. "In Supreme Commander, the barrels on a heavy tank are the same size as the anti-aircraft guns on a battleship. We're trying to make the scale of our units a lot closer to real life than other RTS games." So far, it's looking like he and his team are well on course to achieving their aim.
But Supreme Commander's sheer scale isn't Gas Powered Games' only consideration in relation to realism. With every projectile's flight computed through three-dimensional space, yoiftf be ablp to see each shot streaming towards its target and colliding with a suitably meaty impact Battleships will sag backwards as their guns fire off fearsome salvos while smaller, nippier units will duck under the legs of their larger, slower comrades.
But I'm concerned. Sitting here listening to Taylor, I wonder whether all this ambition will be hampered by lack of control. After all, co-ordinating multiple attacks and defensive manoeuvres across a huge expanse of land is no small ask. Unsurprisingly, Taylor is way ahead of me, moving the presentation onto what could potentially be one of the most intuitive interfaces ever to grace a strategy game.
The Full Picture
"When you start off playing an RTS, the first thing you want to do is to zoom out," he begins. "The more information you have, the more strategic you can be.
You can get a complete picture of what's happening on the battlefield thanks to the zoomed out viewpoint You can move all of your units from the zoomed out perspective or from up close. It's the exact same interface paradigm.
"You can also set and monitor patrol and move routes with a press of a button and even see their estimated time of arrival. This system makes it very easy to create a co-ordinated attack. We joke that if Eisenhower had had this system, he could have co-ordinated the Normandy invasion in 26 seconds instead of eight months."
Another exciting new feature will be the ability to queue up build orders for weapons factories still under construction (now there's a first), and you'll also be able to see exactly when each new unit will be ready to enter the fray. It's innovations like this that could just propel Supreme Commander into a new echelon of strategic excellence and finally eradicate the strategy-lite, build-and-rush ethos that has held a stranglehold on the genre for far too long. We live in hope.
A Tale Of Three Sides
The titanic conflict at Supreme Commander's core involves three very distinct warring factions. "I believe in asymmetry," explains Taylor when I ask him about the differences between the three sides. "It makes each side more interesting and fun."
The UEF consists of the greedy, colonising forces of Earth, which come equipped with an instantly familiar arsenal of heavy tanks, bombers and battleships. The robotic Cybrans, meanwhile, are distinctively different with their collection of alien-looking units, including towering spider-walkers that dwarf even the mightiest UEF tank. The Aeons are also highly unique, possessing sleek, simple, single-weapon units.
"We want the player to believe that each faction wants to create its own identity," explains Taylor as he concludes his weapons inspection.
With the game's basic premise explained and the three factions introduced, it's time to get into the meat and I'm not talking about the three kilo vat of beef lasagne that Gas Powered has wisely ordered me for lunch. Like some sort of strategically masterful Russian doll, Supreme Commander's three campaigns will comprise of six or seven operations set on unique and increasingly expansive maps. Each operation is then set to feature between two and five missions, " with every new objective revealing a previously hidden section of the level.
"You don't start off an operation with a base," continues Taylor. "Your Supreme Commander uses a Quantum Tunnel to appear on the surface of a planet and you immediately have to start building it. You're then given a lightweight mission to start off with, but things soon start to heat up as new intelligence comes in. The idea is to create some surprises, so on the way to attacking an enemy base, you might come across another one you didn't know about. This makes missions feel more fluid and less scripted."
In a game of Supreme Commander's magnitude, it'd be all too easy for base management to distract from the game's all-out action thrust It's a pitfall that Taylor has, once again, already addressed.
"During the game's later stages you'll be able to build a unit called a Base Commander. The Base Commander can be upgraded and will remember where every factory in your base is. So if you're attacked, he'll automatically rebuild your base, meaning you can really focus on the frontlines rather than micro-managing your bases." Now why didn't anyone ever think of that before?
Air, Land & Sea
Time for some more action. We're back out at sea tracking a fleet of ships powering towards an enemy coastline. Whining overhead is a wing of Interceptor planes flying in perfect formation, scanning the skies for any sign of hostile aircraft It's not long before they appear, two wings of enemy bombers bearing down on our flagship. Our planes peel off and engage, the sky suddenly swarming with darting planes and fizzing missiles that connect with crippling force, sending their victims spiralling out of control into the sea. Two enemy bombers shake off their pursuers and head for one of our battleships, which opens fire with a devastating anti-aircraft barrage. One of the bombers never makes it. The other does, condemning our craft to a watery burial as the aerial battle continues to rage above.
"When ships sink, we want them to sink with the power, sadness and majesty that giant capital ships sink with," whispers Taylor as the last remnants of our warship gurgles below the waves. It's a moving moment, and we both salute as members of the development team play a solemn tribute on string instruments hidden below their desks. I urge Taylor to continue.
The action moves inland. We arrive just in time to witness the start of an encounter between UEF and Cybran forces. The humans are soon on the back-foot, their collection of foot soldiers reduced to mush by three giant spider-walkers and an array of nippier anti-gravity tank-like units. Things are looking bleak for humanity, but as ever, Taylor has a trick up his sleeve.
Zooming out to the global view, Taylor selects a nuclear submarine, grinning evilly as he gives the command to fire. The missile hurtles straight for the massed Cybran ranks, before detonating into a devastating mushroom cloud that vaporises every living (and mechanical) thing in its path, while its secondary blast hurls away other nearby enemy forces like leaves in a typhoon.
It's moments like these that set potential blockbusters apart from RTS fodder, and from what I'm seeing, Supreme Commander is already looking like being one of the most exciting and intense RTS games for years. But, just when I think I've seen it all, Taylor unleashes one final surprise.
"One of the coolest things about Supreme Commander is the way our technology escalates," he begins. "You get to a level where you have giant battleships and enormous spider-like vehicles stomping around, but then the game goes one step further with its experimental weapons."
Experimental weapons? Oh yes my friends, we're talking the kind of experimental weapons that'll have every RTS fan dramatically swooning left right and centre on the highways and by-ways of Great Britain. Taylor starts off by showing me a giant flying saucer that's more tlian a little like Independence Day's gargantuan invasion ships. "This is the most devastating unit that the Aeon can build. It can be used as a transport but it has a gigantic beam of death that shoots down," he explains.
"In addition, one of the UEF's experimental weapons is the Mobile Tank Factory. It's an enormous unit that can go across any terrain. You can even drive it along the sea floor and up onto your opponent's continent It has battleship guns to defend itself and an air service facility so you can service scouts and bombers on it" I urge him to go on, but Taylor has finally run dry, keen to hold back Supreme Commander's last few tantalising secrets for another day.
I leave Gas Powered Games with a renewed sense of hope. After years of stagnation where - Total War aside -innovation has been sparse, it looks like Supreme Commander could be the game that leads the genre in a new and exciting direction, providing a ray of light for a game type that's been flooded by C&C clones for far too long. It's just a shame it can't do the same for the Seattle weather. It's still raining. It always rains in Seattle.
Resources take a back-seat as action drives gameplay
With maps as big as Supreme Commander's, the last thing you want to be spending your time on is painstakingly collecting limited resource supplies, then arduously traipsing across the map to get to the next lot. It's just as well then that Gas Powered Games is providing you with an infinite resource model that'll allow you to spend more time wading through the corpses of our vanguished foes and devising cunning battle plans.
Supreme Commander's resources will come in the form of War Mass (the substance needed to build units), which can be extracted from underground wells and energy generated by reactors. Couldn't be simpler, really.
Fight for your right
Three factions, three ideologies. Take your pick
It's 2007 A group of scientists create a system called Quantum Tunnelling that allows highspeed space travel. Harnessing this new technology, humanity colonises the galaxy. With the UEF's empire expanding too rapidly, the galaxy collapses into civil war as planets try to break away from the UEF's rule. But while the battle rages, the UEF continues to colonise new worlds, and discovers and wipes out an alien race called the Seraphim. However, a handful of humans, intoxicated by the Seraphim's spiritual way of life called The Way, break away from the UEF and form the Aeon faction.
Meanwhile, a character called Dr Brackman has created a way to augment human ntelligence with a chip. He creates a new, robotic race called the Cybrans, who thirst for independence. But with the UEF determined to keep them in line and the Aeon's unwavering determination to bring peace to the galaxy by wiping out any potential aggressor races (go figure), it's not long before the galaxy becomes embroiled in a three way, thousand-year war. The question is, whose cause are you willing to die for? The decision is yours.