52 Weeks of Canadian Gaming - Week 40
Release Date: June 23, 2008
Developer: Hellbent Games
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+
Reviewed by: Brian Wray
Real Time Strategy (RTS) games, a staple of the PC gaming community for the past fifteen years, are only recently starting to make headway onto consoles. The major stumbling blocks for the popular gaming genre has been the shear amount of processing power needed to render and move hundreds of units (not to mention all the bullets, rockets, explosions etc..) on the screen at once and the complexity of the controls required to do so. The processing requirement is not really an issue anymore with the Xbox 360 and PS3 gaming consoles, but the complexity of controls is still a major hurdle that needs to be overcome.
RTS games usually involve plenty of command that must be mastered. When playing an RTS game on a PC, the mouse provides a very easy way to choose specific units while the keyboard provides a vast number of keys to map various game functions and tasks. For example, Supreme Commander on the PC includes an array of over 85+ keys (or combination of keys) to perform every possible action in the game quickly and efficiently. The Xbox 360 controller may be complex, but it only has 10 buttons, one D-pad (allowing for 8 more selections) and two analog sticks. To port even a simple RTS game over to a console, game designers had to learn some new tricks and become very creative. Supreme Commander is no simple RTS, it is one of the most complex games ever developed. It was up to the talented folks at Canadian game developer Hellbent Games to pull-off the impossible. Did they succeed? Well yes and no.
First a little background story. For over 1,000 years a terrible conflict called the Infinite War has raged between three human-based factions: the United Earth Federation (UEF), Aeon Illuminate and Cybran Nation. Using Quantum Gate technology, the three factions can create “Quantum Tunnels” to nearly any location in the galaxy, granting them near-instantaneous travel to even the most distant planets. Massive Armored Command Units (MACU) can construct and unleash entire armies anytime and anywhere. The Infinite War has claimed billions of lives. Entire planets have been turned into nothing more than smouldering rocks floating lifelessly in space. There is no room for compromise. There is no room for mercy. Only you can end the Infinite War…..or so the game manual would have me believe. This disquieting message does set the tone for the game very well as only the total destruction of the enemy will be the acceptable outcome.
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When the game first starts, the player is presented with a choice of one of the three factions. There is really no advantage to choose one faction over the other as they are share similar offensive and defensive units be it land, air or navel and similarly also share near identical construction, resource and intel structures. The only real effect the choice of faction will have on the game is in relation to the storyline. This is not a criticism on the game, as there are over 100 different units or structures to build and command. Supreme Commander is truly a monumental game.
In Supreme Commander, commanders do not sit in a bunkered shelter barking orders. Nope they are located in giant mechs commanding troops from the middle of the battlefield. Before any order can be given, commanders must first gather resources and every army has need of both mater and energy. Of these two resources, only mater is collected as energy will be derived of mater. With enough mater and energy, massive armies can be erected quickly and effortlessly thanks to "replicator" technology allowing complex objects to be created from combinations of these two resources.
The visuals in Supreme Commander are acceptable, but not incredible. The various textures look fine when zoomed out from afar, but look bland when zoomed in close. There are several nice touches such as trees toppling over when crushed by giant armoured vehicles or the MACU (commanders’ mechs), or catching fire and burning down from a nearby explosion. This effect would have been much more impressive is the “forests” were not limited to only a few dozen trees. The game world could have greatly benefited from other terrain objects as well. It would have been nice to see each game world covered in large grass fields, or huge forests that would also burn in a similar fashion as the mini-forest fires allowing a visual representation to the actual ecological devastation of such large scale wars. After all, each mission of Supreme Commander will require several hundred units to complete resulting in epic scale carnage and destruction.
The complaint of mediocrity can be extended to the audio portion of the game. The music and voice acting is adequate, but not extremely inspiring. The sound effects are nice though.
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Now we come to the most important aspect of the game, the controls. With so much ridding on the controls I am glad to say that the developers did manage to create a workable control scheme for the Xbox 360. Sure they had to make use of every single button, bumper, trigger, d-pad and both analog sticks to control the various actions in the game, but for the most part the controls are intuitive and playable. Part of the solution was to make use of circular selection screen. This circular method is quite popular on consoles as it allows easy selection to be made with either analog stick. Another new function added for the console is ability to queue unit production by groups of five by holding down the right bumper. These types of control changes and many more go a long way to make the game playable on the Xbox 360, but this necessarily mean the game will be enjoyable on the console. The controls are still not quite adequate for the console considering the scope of the game. Once the game picks up the page (basically anything after the second level), the action is so frantic that it becomes extremely difficult to keep up with all the commands required to coordinate hundreds of troops, divided into several units to strike at the enemy in an efficient manner. The enemy does not suffer from any such disadvantage. The best suggestion that I can offer to would be commanders is to replay the tutorial several times allowing them to master the shear volume of control options available in the game. War is heck.
The game has other problems than just the complexity of the controls. At times, the game will literally have hundreds of troops on the screen on either side of the conflict. This volume of characters can cause a serious frame-rate drop, rendering the controls even more difficult. At least the devs saw fit to include a save anywhere/anytime option as a single slip-up can cause hours of gameplay to be annihilated as quickly as ones army forcing the player to restart.
So is the game a write-off? No. I have to say that even with such flaws; Supreme Commander is a great game. The game is not for everyone as it will only appeal to those that have been blessed with an immeasurable amount of patience. For those special games, the game is extremely rewarding.
PS/ Achievement junkies beware. After playing the game for a full week, I only had 40 gamerscore points to show for my efforts. This game is not for the faint of heart.