Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance Single-Player Hands-On

There are almost countless significant changes and improvements in this stand-alone follow-up to the epic real-time strategy game Supreme Commander.

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It seems as if it was so long ago that Supreme Commander first appeared, but THQ and Gas Powered Games' epic-scale real-time strategy game was released only this past February. Fast-forward about eight months, and the two companies are nearing release of Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance, a stand-alone follow-up that will introduce a powerful new alien faction and a new campaign. However, the changes in this follow-up are significant, and they belie the short development time that Forged Alliance has had.

Forged Alliance upgrades Supreme Commander in almost every way, including visually.
Forged Alliance upgrades Supreme Commander in almost every way, including visually.

Forged Alliance picks up a year or two after the events of Supreme Commander, and it turns out that a lot happened between when you "won" that game and the beginning of Forged Alliance. The firing of the Black Sun superweapon actually opened a portal to another dimension, which allowed the powerful Seraphim aliens to invade. The aliens are driven by a belief that they must wipe out all human life from the galaxy, and this forces the surviving United Earth Federation and Cybran Nation factions to make an alliance. The Aeon Illuminate has mostly sided with the aliens, though some Aeon rebels have joined up with the UEF and Cybran coalition.

The six-mission single-player campaign doesn't sound like a lot, but judging from the first mission, you'll be thrown into a full-scale war with little ramp-up. That's in contrast to Supreme Commander's campaigns, which gradually eased you into the gameplay. The downside to the original game was that you barely got to play with any of the upper-tier and experimental units before the campaigns were over. However, in Forged Alliance, you'll have access to almost everything in your arsenal at the get-go, and the opening mission is a desperate struggle in which you defend and then counterattack against multiple opponents. That fits in with the last-stand theme of the campaign, because the coalition of allies is near the edge of annihilation at the hands of the Seraphim.

On first appearance, Forged Alliance doesn't look so much like a follow-up than it does a full sequel. Almost everything looks better than in Supreme Commander, right down to the loading screen for a mission. The interface has been completely overhauled, and it looks a lot better and more informative than before. The graphics have also been given a boost, given that the polygon count on units looks as if it has at least doubled or tripled. The textures have also been entirely redone, so there's a lot more detail on everything. Then there are a ton of new visual effects, from the gorgeous flak bursts of antiaircraft cannons to the smoke trails on missiles. The difference between Supreme Commander and Forged Alliance is like night and day, visually.

Gargantuan battles are the bread-and-butter of the single-player campaign.
Gargantuan battles are the bread-and-butter of the single-player campaign.

The changes aren't just limited to the visuals, either. Most of the gameplay has basically been retuned. Sure, there's the new faction and new units for existing factions, but most of the rest has also been tweaked. Build times for many units feel altered, and ditto for repair times. For instance, we had Tech 3 UEF air-superiority fighters that were battered in several dogfights and had landed at an air staging facility for repair and refueling. In Supreme Commander, repairs could be done within seconds, even on the most damaged of aircraft. In Forged Alliance, repairs can take minutes, which is a huge change. Now you've got to really make sure you've got enough air staging facilities to keep a large air force flying at all times.

We haven't had a chance to check out the new Seraphim race and what it can do, but we were on the receiving end of some of its units, including an experimental titan that makes the Aeon's galactic colossus look kind of wimpy. It was pretty brutal, and the Seraphim can dish out plenty of damage quickly. We'll keep on playing around with Forged Alliance for now, but get ready for some major changes to how you play Supreme Commander. Forged Alliance ships next month.

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