Supreme Commander 2 Updated Hands-On - Multiplayer and Skirmish
We get our hands dirty in multiplayer in this epic strategy sequel.
The original Supreme Commander expanded on the large-scale strategy of the real-time strategy classic Total Annihilation, and Supreme Commander 2 will further streamline the experience to focus on key strategic decisions and the gigantic killer robots that result from those decisions. The game offers three standard multiplayer modes: assassination, which requires you to destroy your opponents' ACU (supreme commander) unit to win; supremacy, which requires you to wipe your opponents' ACU, base, and armies off the face of the earth; and infinite war, a sandbox-like mode with no specific victory conditions that's primarily intended for experimenting with various tech trees. We've had a chance to try these modes and skirmish matches against computer-controlled artificial intelligence opponents and have much to report.
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The sequel will offer 21 multiplayer maps, including revamped versions of popular maps from the first game, such as Seton's Clutch and Finn's Revenge. And there will be only two primary differences between multiplayer on the PC and on the Xbox 360: The PC version will support up to eight players, while the Xbox 360 version will support up to four. Also, the PC version will play online via Steam, while the console version will obviously run on Xbox Live, with support for friends lists, ladders, and stat tracking. Otherwise, multiplayer matches in both versions of the game will be very close to each other--they'll both start fast and ramp up even faster. Both versions let you choose various map conditions, such as fog of war on or off, varying game speeds, and fixed or random spawn positions. You can also easily assign teams to set up a team game and/or slot in AI opponents to turn your match into a co-op session against computer opponents. Though at higher difficulty levels, AI opponents are alarmingly efficient and frighteningly aggressive.
In most multiplayer matches, you'll start near two mass nodes with two engineer units and an ACU supreme commander unit (which, like engineers, can construct buildings). Mass is, of course, one of the game's primary resources, along with energy (which you generate by constructing generator buildings). While your first order of business is to build mass extractors on your two nearest nodes as quickly as possible, the rest is up to you--your first big strategic choice.
As we've mentioned previously, Supreme Commander 2 offers five different research tracks, three of which are tied directly to military development (land, air, and sea). Research points automatically trickle into your coffers at a slow pace, though you can construct research centers to accrue them at a slightly faster rate. Now, while you can construct basic barracks-type structures for churn-out units for each of these terrain types, you'll only unlock higher level units along each tree by investing research points in various improvements in each track. Only by scrambling up through the land military track, for instance, will the Cybran Nation be able to eventually commission the Megalith II minor experimental walker or the major experimental Cybranasaurus. It's these choices you must make early and often that will get you a leg up on your opponent, though it's also crucial that you get a sense of your opponent's choices and progress with aggressive reconnaissance.
Traditional real-time strategy recon is usually a function of how well you can micromanage your cheap scout unit (or cheap peon unit) into the fog of war and sniff out your enemies' bases before your sacrificial scout gets splattered into paste. Fortunately, Supreme Commander 2's research trees allow for recon as well. In addition to sounding stations, which your builder units can construct from the "advanced" buildings tab (including radar and aquatic sonar stations), pretty much all research tracks contain at least one radar upgrade that will increase the range of all tracking stations, as well as at least one vision upgrade that will increase your sight range.
Interestingly, some higher level units have additional radar- and vision-based bonuses, like the UEF air track, which includes an unlockable bomb camera that will extend the field of vision around any of your bomber units. Key intel (especially if you happen to sight an opponent's deadly high-level experimental unit lumbering your way) will also help you adjust your next research picks to perhaps be more suitable to the situation at hand. All tracks have defensive additions, such as personal energy shields, that can be unlocked for your land, air, and sea units, as well as for your structures and ACU.
Beyond recon, Supreme Commander 2's multiplayer games seem to be real-time arms races with intermittent skirmishing and land grabs. In order to keep your war factories humming and your armies constantly growing, you need to snag as many mass deposits as possible (though if you're a skillful enough micromanager, you can actually send your engineers out after your fallen allies and foes to scavenge leftover mass from their husks). Fortunately, building point defense is extremely easy (turrets can be quickly and cheaply dropped in and around your holdings) and from there, it's a hop, skip, and a jump up through the structure research tree to heavier emplacements. These include the Noah Unit Cannon (a powerful experimental unit that is at once artillery, troop transport, and barracks that generates powerful ground units, then fires them like long-range artillery shells to dump them right into enemy territory) and good, old-fashioned nuclear warheads. As a matter of fact, even though Supreme Commander 2's marquee attractions are the huge, lumbering offensive experimentals, playing a defensive "turtle" style seems like a very viable way to go in multiplayer. That is, if you can dig in and control enough mass nodes to keep your forces going.
From what we've seen, Supreme Commander 2 has a great deal going for it as both a single-player game with a hefty campaign and as a multiplayer and skirmish game with a lot of different ways to play. The game is scheduled for release in March on both the PC and the Xbox 360.
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