Porting one of the most popular and complex real-time strategy games of recent years, Gas Powered Games' Supreme Commander, over from its native PC onto the Xbox 360 is an unenviable task for the folks at Hellbent Games. After all, games as richly nuanced and deep as SupCom, as it's come to be affectionately known, can only be done on the PC, right? Well, not so fast. As we discovered during a recent hands-on session with the game, Hellbent has been working to ensure that SupCom for the Xbox 360 is a faithful adaptation of the PC game and, perhaps more importantly, that the game's inherent complexity is mitigated by a useful and easy-to-use control scheme.
If there's a single word to encompass SupCom, it would be "scale." More so than practically any RTS before it, Supreme Commander presented a sense of large-scale battles taking place on truly huge maps. In the PC version, the eight largest player maps could see battles taking place with armies that featured hundreds of units. That sense of scale is still well intact in the Xbox 360 version of the game, though some cutbacks have been made. Most pointedly, the eight player maps have been removed, and a unit cap of 500 has been imposed.
Those cuts might be a bummer for the SupCom hardcore but, for console fans who haven't been able to enjoy this ground-breaking RTS on a PC, consider it a necessary evil. During our (admittedly limited) time with the game, the look and feel of SupCom's epic scale seemed to be well intact as you quickly progress from a barren stretch of land to a thriving base of operations with dozens of units at your command.
A huge number of units to keep track of, large landmasses to conquer, and multiple fronts in your battle for supremacy: How do you all keep track of it without a mouse and keyboard? To be sure, the folks at Hellbent and Gas Powered Games (which has been working with Hellbent on porting over the game) have made the most of the Xbox 360 controller. In fact, the first pass of the console control system was built and tested on the PC version of the game. From that point, the controls have moved through several iterations, ultimately settling into the system that is in place now.
First, let's talk movement. Scrolling around the map is controlled with the left stick, whereas zooming in and out is handled with the right stick. Just as in the PC version, zooming is an essential tool--from the on-the-ground unit-by-unit view, to a bird's-eye (or would that be satellite's eye?) vantage point hundreds of miles above the theater of operations, you'll always have the view you need.
Practically everything you can do in the 360 version of SupCom is handled with command wheels that control everything from your basic commands on the battlefield to unit construction and queues. You bring up the different command wheels with the directional pad and then choose the command you want by selecting it with the analog stick and pressing A.
To assist the rapid construction of your forces, SupCom's queue mechanics are quite easy to use. For instance, to build a number of engineers quickly, you can first select a factory, press right on the D pad to bring up the build wheel, and select an engineer to add to your queue. Pressing left on the D pad will then take you over to the queue window, where you can automatically add additional numbers to those units already being built. Holding down the right button while adding units to the queue will add five at a time. There's also a handy "infinite" button you can press on the queue menu that will automatically cycle through your current queue, continuously building units as you desire and your economy allows.
Templates are another handy tool at your disposal for quick-and-dirty base building. Here, you can save a group of buildings in one of several template arrangements and then stamp that template anywhere you can build. Your engineers will then proceed to build out the constructs as needed. Templates are saved independent of your current game, too, so that the next time you fire up the game, you'll be able to use any templates you've saved in previous matches.
Grouping is the final piece of the controls in SupCom, and the game has several features that will let you keep track of the many units you'll have on hand. First of all, there's a grouping wheel that will let you choose units by type; you can even see how many of that unit type are currently idle, which is a nice touch. Furthermore, you can select units of the same type by selecting a unit and pressing A twice: Any other units of the same type will automatically be selected. There's also the standard "box-select" method, where you hold down the A button and draw a rectangle around the units you wish to select.
The new control-wheel-based system actually results in a much cleaner-looking game, and as a result SupCom for the Xbox 360 has fewer heads-up display elements onscreen. In addition, the game has an interactive tutorial that will introduce players to the new controls, which is a nice step up from the original's underwhelming tutorial. Finally, although the game won't let you configure the controls as you like, there are a ton of options you can toggle to create the gameplay experience you want: everything from magnetism setting (which affects how prone the game is to "snap" to units when the cursor is nearby) to whether or not you can rotate the map when zoomed out.
The general campaign for SupCom will be around 30-40 hours and will be the same as the one found in the original game. Although the game won't include any of the content from the Forged Alliance expansion pack, producers said that the new, clearer HUD was borrowed from Forged Alliance, as well as some of the back-end artificial intelligence improvements, resulting in a game that plays smarter and smoother than the original.
On the multiplayer front, online matches in SupCom will top out at four players. Two new modes have been added to multiplayer: king of the hill and command point. In king of the hill, the goal is to send as many units as you can to a certain point on the map; you'll receive points for each unit that manages to get to that area, and units that are higher up the tech tree will earn you additional points. In command point, you have to capture and keep multiple points on a map; this mode will likely challenge the speed of your base-building skills because, after capturing a point, you'll need to quickly ramp up its defenses to prevent an opponent from swooping in and destroying your work.
Based on our time with the game, it seems that Hellbent has done an admirable job of cramming all of the complexity of Supreme Commander into the Xbox 360. Only extensive play testing will give us the final word on how the console version's controls stack up to the PC version, and you can expect to see a full review of the game when it is released in March.