Supreme Commander 2 Updated Hands-On

We got a first look at the Xbox 360 version and the new mini-experimental units at GamesCom 2009.

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After taking a break to work on Space Siege and Demigod, Gas Powered Games is bringing us another dose of the sci-fi real-time strategy game Supreme Commander, and what we saw at GamesCom 2009 certainly looks promising. Supreme Commander 2 is set 25 years after the original, and the team has made a number of major improvements to its gameplay, including a new pathfinding system, improved factions, and an overhauled economics system, all of which should result in a "much more playable game," according to CEO Chris Taylor. He was on hand at GamesCom to demo the game and focussed on the Xbox 360 user interface.

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What's New: One of the biggest features of the Xbox 360 UI is the stretch cursor, which allows you to select the nearest unit or structure with the click of a button, rather than having to scroll over and click directly on top of it. Once it's selected, you can bring up the selected unit/structure's build menu, which is a round selector similar to the selector in Halo Wars. Taylor stressed that "everything has to be done quickly through these intuitive systems" and is confident that the system has been designed perfectly for control pads. Subtlety is everything when it comes to UI, according to Taylor, and while there were a few visual displays on the screen, they certainly didn't seem to distract from the gameplay.

What's Different: Taylor introduced us to the hunker mode, which allows your commander to crouch when in trouble. In the event that it blows up, you can eject the head and fly it back to base to rebuild your commander. We also checked out some new experimental units--massive war machines that can turn the tide of war--such as the King Cryptor, a mech that features several very powerful cannons to make light work of weaker units. In addition to the big guns, there are mini-experimentals--miniature versions that are cheaper and quicker to build. It seems that you have access only to minis early on, rather than "major" experimentals, but with 27 crazy experimental units in total, you shouldn't be strapped for choice.

Taylor also told us about the new half-baked projects. If you're in a hurry to deploy forces, you can choose to send particular units out before construction is complete. The trade-off is that the build progress reflects directly on how effective they are in battle. For example, if you deploy a unit that's at 50 percent completion, it will work only 50 percent of the time, and the rest of the time it will simply sit there smoking.

What's The Same: Zooming out accesses the same strategic view as the PC version, which turns your units into tiny isometric blocks to give you a good strategic overview of the entire battlefield. In theory, the Xbox 360 version of the game should be quite similar to the PC version, besides obvious control differences. One caveat, however, is that multiplayer matches are limited to four players, rather than the PC's eight-player matches. If you think playing real-time strategy games on a console is inferior to the PC, then you might be surprised to hear that Taylor revealed there are "some members at the office that prefer the Xbox 360 [version]."

What Impression The Game Made This Time: Supreme Commander 2 is looking like a whole heap of fun, and we like the idea behind the mini-experimental and half-baked units. The game is running at a smooth 60 frames per second, and the level we saw looked great and featured four bases spread out around a massive shaft with a spinning turbine at its bottom. Supreme Commander 2 will be released on the Xbox 360 and PC but has yet to receive a firm release date.

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