|User Rating:||10.0/10 - 1 vote|
|Rate this game:|
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.