DriverHeaven.net
 
 


» Supreme Commander Forged Alliance (PC)

 

 

 

 

Earlier last year, Gas Powered Games released Supreme Commander, the spiritual successor to the revolutionary RTS game Total Annihilation. SC's reception was kind of a mixed bag, due to its rather unforgiving, newbie slaughtering game-mechanics, monstrous system requirements and flood of issues. SC capitalised mostly on catering to players who want to control grand armies, and coordinate lengthy, well planned combat manoeuvres, compared to the micro-management that we are accustomed to from games such as Company of Heroes or Command & Conquer 3. Supreme Commander's expansion, Forged Alliance, aims to enhance this in every possible way.

The world has changed a lot since the Infinite War ended and it's a little unclear who the victor was, but this doesn't really matter anyway; firing Black Sun allowed a new massive threat to annihilate most of mankind, and has already forced the three factions who were formerly about to obliterate each other onto the same side. The Seraphim, the race teaching the Aeon about their religion's most fundamental part, the Way, have returned – with the worst possible intentions. The future of the human race (or cyborg in the case of the Cybran faction) hangs in the balance, so the UEF, the Cybran and the Aeon join forces in order to overcome the Seraphim invasion.

For the Supreme Commanders wanting to see what happens after the Infinite War...

Whilst the single player campaign wasn't exactly the main appeal of Supreme Commander, there certainly are quite a few changes in the expansion pack missions. Instead of giving each faction a separate storyline to follow, the player gets to choose his or her allegiance during the first mission, and this affects which Armoured Command Unit the player receives at the start of the rest of the missions. Besides this, there are some other minor differences (such as the chatter, changing depending on the race chosen), but there is basically just a single set of 6 missions. This may not seem like a lot, but the typical Supreme Commander mission structure (upon finishing a task, the area expands and the player is confronted with a new threat – something that happens several times during each mission) and decent replayability value due to being able to use the other factions (no more excuses such as "I would have managed if I had Soul Rippers") mean that there is easily over 30 hours of fun to be had from the single player campaign alone.

Unfortunately, this campaign, and more importantly Forged Alliance in general, seems to be somewhat torn between trying to cater to the Supreme Commander fans and new players. The fact that it's a standalone expansion would suggest that it is geared towards new players and veterans alike, but looking at the game itself, this is very difficult to accept. The campaign is incredibly unforgiving towards newcomers who aren't accustomed to the gameplay mechanics. Instead of gradually allowing them to get accustomed to the rather impressive line-up of usable units, new players are overwhelmed with being allowed to (in fact, forced to, in order to survive) build every unit in the tech tree, bar some of the new additions on the first map, experimental units included. Also, the restriction of only being able to use the new faction in multiplayer battles for those not owning the original game is quite a huge handicap.

On the other hand, for those that have had their fair share of Supreme Commander earlier on this year, the missions may seem somewhat easy and extremely predictable. Players, for example, that know how the mission area expansion system works can easily prepare for the not-so-surprising counter-attack of the AI from bases that were off the map until a certain objective was met. This means that not completing the objectives at first, but building an extremely powerful army before allowing the counter-attack to happen can make the game a snore-fest, and the horribly scripted AI doesn't help there either.

However, besides the somewhat lacklustre single player campaign, the game offers a lot to Supreme Commander fans, with the most notable difference being the completely revamped economy and game balance. Basically every single unit has undergone some tweaking, which sadly means that all those old tactics and build orders have become obsolete, but the game has definitely changed for the better. "Turtling", as a strategy, has been completely destroyed by making mass fabrication horribly inefficient, and beefing up the mass extraction. Whilst the best way to get mass in SC was to chain fabricators and generators in large numbers, players have to expand and capture mass spots now, abolishing the six hour stalemates of the original game. This can mean that the game is decided very early on (during the tech 1 stage), if one side doesn't manage to get and hold a fair chunk of the map, so the game is arguably even less beginner tolerant than it was before the expansion pack.

Forget everything you knew about Supreme Commander tactics

Forged Alliance allows the player to use a huge range of new and interesting units, all of which offer fresh tactics or ways to counter earlier tactics. The new units include shield boats, mobile bombs, line-of-sight towers and even an offensive satellite system. One of the biggest issues for some gamers was that the factions weren't different enough, besides their highest tier units, since every side had an equivalent for each unit up to the experimental level. Not only has this changed with the new units, which all are unique additions to each faction, but the strengths and weaknesses of each race have been amplified even further for all of their units. The UEF are all about defence, long range bombardments and sturdy units, whilst the Cybrans rely on stealth, powerful regular experimental units , and the Aeon on speed and hit and run tactics, in addition to a powerful economy (thanks to their new experimental among others).

This leaves us with one of the other biggest new features, the Seraphim race. Sadly, it seems a bit like they didn't get as much love from GPG as the other factions, since their unit line-up resembles the other factions before Forged Alliance, but this doesn't mean that they aren't a feasible alternative. With extremely powerful land units, the strongest shields, and some very spectacular experimentals, they seem to offer something for everyone. It should also be mentioned that the nuke-system has been entirely altered, so assisting nuclear missile launchers (and defences) doesn't work any longer. This means that having a nuke launcher up before your opponent builds a defence can easily decide the outcome of the game. On the other hand, the nuke defences have become very cheap in comparison, so building one before your opponent is rather a question of remembering to build one, instead of having the best economy up, but with the newly gained importance of off-base mass-extractors and fire-bases, nukes and nuke-defences are, contrary to what the first reactions from players were, more crucial than ever.

When talking about the units, it has to be mentioned that for some strange reason the balance is completely different in the campaign mode, being somewhat of a mixture between the above mentioned and the original game, so don't be surprised when things don't seem to behave like what you'd expect after playing through the single-player part of the game. It was a rather shocking experience when I tried to build a Soul Ripper under twenty minutes in my first multiplayer game, only to find that contrary to SC and the Forged Alliance campaign instead of it being the cheapest, it was the most expensive non-long range experimental in the game. Another interesting aspect worth mentioning, is the improved veterancy system. Finally units gain ranks quicker, for lower end units a few kills are sufficient and it really does make a difference. Higher health and health regeneration give veteran units a lot higher survivability, so instead of just sending your troops in to die, manoeuvring them so that they'd survive really does pay off.

Let's get to the good stuff: multiplayer

It seemed to be a general trend for some custom-game players to specify restrictions in the server's name, such as "no nukes" or "no T4 arty", whether these were really kept by the players joining was up to them really, since there was no way to enforce it. Forged Alliance allows the host to disable all sorts of build options, such as nukes, experimentals or even more general groups such as air units or a given tech level altogether. This allows for a lot of variation and will satisfy those players that would enjoy a good old fashioned encounter with hundreds of regular tanks, mechs and other lower tech units, assisted by support units such as mobile shield generators and AA, without a single experimental waltzing in and annihilating everything in sight. This means that the Custom game and skirmish portion of the game are a lot more flexible than before. There are also quite a few new maps in FA, some of which are instant favourites, so Supreme Commander players tired of everyone playing Isis will be glad to hear that there are several 2vs2 maps that are great alternatives now! The new maps are also somewhat more colourful than the originals, but can still be a bit too bland; it's a pity that all we really see are trees and rocks on them with the occasional tiny neutral colony.

The skirmish AI has also undergone a lot of changes: it actually mimics quite a few tactics used by players in online matches, such as attacking your mass extractors with light assault bots or air-lifting engineers close to your base in order to build tactical missile launchers and wipe you out before you get a chance to find out what's happening. Of course it's still no match for a seasoned player, but beginners will have a tough time with the new AI. For those that want a real challenge, without playing online, there is a special "cheating" AI with double resource and build rates. This is a quite lethal combination, and a much appreciated addition for those that are into co-op LAN gaming, for example.

What would a decent game be without all the eye-candy?

The visuals in Forged Alliance have been somewhat improved over Supreme Commander, with the most interesting change being the way the game handles the fog of war. Instead of revealing and hiding patches in a rough circular area around the unit every few moments, each unit has a perfect circular viewing range that gets updated with every frame. This eliminates the issues from the original game where you'd wait for your strategic bombers' view radius to be updated so that you could alter their course away from the enemy AA turrets and instead the revealed area travels smoothly with the units. Besides this, there have been a lot of minor changes, such as the detail being increased on each unit or more spectacular explosions / effects, all of which add up to an overall more impressive total.

The space consuming old default UI is also gone, and replaced by faction specific ones, with matching themes. Unfortunately, whilst they do look great, things such as the state of the build queue loop/pause buttons aren't that easy to make out any more. The build icons have been grouped by type, so that the buildings used for resource collection are separated from those that allow for unit production or the base defences. Whilst this can be handy, it can also be slightly annoying for those that are used to the old system.

The soundtrack, once again, fits the atmosphere of the game very well, and offers enough variety so that it doesn't get annoying, but subtle enough not to distract from the game. The voice acting is excellent most of the time, although listening to Dr. Brackman say "Oh my, yes" for the n+1th time can get pretty agonising. I must admit though, that I do miss the unit acknowledgements that are typical for RTS titles - even though I do know that the ACU and the SCUs are the only piloted units in the entire game, some feedback similar to that in Total Annihilation would have been nice.

The System Requirements

Supreme Commander has always been known to be incredibly harsh, even to higher end PCs, but the situation has been somewhat improved through patches released shortly after the vanilla version's release. Forged Alliance's system requirements are somewhat similar to that of the patched Supreme Commander (although the performance seemed to be better with SC), with a few issues resolved. The game is partially scalable in terms of graphics, although a lot of the settings don't actually improve the visuals/performance all that much. The biggest difference comes from setting the fidelity option to medium compared to low, with the high setting being a barely notable difference. Whilst adding a lot of extra details such as higher texture settings are neat for taking screenshots, it hardly affects the game experience, since most of the time the player will be zoomed out far enough for the difference between for example medium and high texture detail to be basically non-existent.

Unfortunately, the game is incredibly CPU demanding, and as soon as a lot of units are roaming around, the game speed reduces beyond playable levels. I'd strongly advise anyone to not try and play Forged Alliance on single core CPUs: even if you think you can cope with the jerkiness of the later single-player missions, it simply won't be enough for multiplayer. The game speed depends on the slowest CPU performance out of all players involved, and someone playing with a single-core CPU brings the game to a halt quickly, and the result will be that every player will quit sooner or later once it becomes unbearable. Even a slow dual core processor fixes the jerky gameplay and constant pauses associated with single core CPUs; beyond that, the CPU speed only defines how much the game will slow down. Another important thing to have for Forged Alliance is at least 2GB of RAM for larger multiplayer matches, although 1GB can be enough for smaller 2vs2 games.

Final verdict

All in all, as an expansion to a great multiplayer RTS, Forged Alliance really delivers, satisfying all the needs of the fans. The new balance, economy and the new units are excellent, and in that regard, it is basically what Brood War was for Starcraft. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the rather predictable and highly scripted single player campaign, which seems to be nothing more than a neat extra for Supreme Commander veterans to play around with. This would all be fine, were it not for the puzzling fact that this expansion is a standalone game, somewhat suggesting that beginners could start their Supreme Commander adventure with FA.

Such players will most likely be disappointed by the horribly overwhelming campaign and brick wall resembling learning curve, compared to the "build 3 extractors and 3 power generators" style of the early maps in the original game, and the fact that they will only be able to use the new faction in multiplayer battles. Basically, if you liked Supreme Commander, then skipping this would be a sin; if you are new to the SC universe, you're better off getting either the vanilla version or the gold pack, containing both games.

Gaming Heaven works closely with our associates over at YOUGAMERS

Gameplay
92/100
Absolutely top notch multiplayer , this is what Supreme Commander should have been at launch. Somewhat disappointing single-player, partly saved by the finally usable AI, but that's not what this game is about anyway. Beginners are out of luck without playing the original game though.
Graphics
91/100
All in all great graphics and the new units and race really do stand out. Maps are a bit bland. The visuals only really shine when zoomed in though, and this doesn't happen too often.
Audio
88/100
Good soundtrack and great voice acting, but the lack of unit acknowledgements robs the game of a great verdict in this department.
Technology
85/100
Lots of great features, great visuals, massive amount of things happening simultaneously but the fact that people with single core CPUs won't be able to play online with an enjoyable performance is disappointing.
Overall
(not an average)
88/100
A must have for Supreme Commander fans, Forged Alliance improves upon the original game in every possible way. The amount of different tactics one can use is simply unmatched in any other RTS - however, if you are new to SC, you may want to get the original game first.

 



GamingHeaven style designed by craig5320 based on the 'Pod' by CinVin Styles

Copyright ©2002-2007 DriverHeaven.net, All rights reserved.