o you intuitively know to set production buildings to hotkeys so that you can reset their rally points in a split second, queue construction orders for builder units on the fly, and scout enemy bases during the first two minutes of the match and constantly thereafter while fighting a multiple-front war and ensuring the balance and growth of your economy? If not, prepare for some pretty serious beat downs while you learn Supreme Commander’s ropes. This is a real-time strategy game that makes no bones about targeting genre enthusiasts. It’s also one of the best releases that the RTS genre has ever seen.
Winning an RTS match is ultimately a question of turning the map’s raw resources into fiery death more efficiently than your opponent. Supreme Commander, with its focus on economy and its massive armies made up of faceless robots, strips the genre down to this core conflict. The groundbreaking user interface makes this both possible and massively entertaining. Instant full-battlefield vision via the slick zoom feature and powerful task-automation controls allow players to focus on macro-level strategy, rather than being bogged down in the minutiae of low-level command. Once you’ve mastered this UI, it’s keyboard-smashingly frustrating to go back to more primitive RTSs. On top of all that, the massive maps, varied troop types, and high unit caps provide lots of room to develop and counter esoteric strategies.
Perhaps more so than any other RTS, Supreme Commander caters to a slower, even “turtling” playstyle. Every faction has access to expensive, slow-building, game-breaking units in the endgame. They all have their counters – anything can be blown up with the proper application of nuclear, chemical, or laser weapons – but good luck surviving against an artillery piece that can toast your base from five kilometers away. Static defense is incredibly powerful; any assault against a competent player will require a massive invasion force to accomplish anything. Matches tend to last an hour or more – Starcraft-style furiously quick matches are not what you’ll find here.
As much as I love Supreme Commander, it won’t be for everyone. The gameplay style is markedly different than traditional RTS, and it’s a difference that not everyone will appreciate. Economic expansion is perhaps too powerful; the speed at which resource generation accelerates in the hands of a knowledgeable player means that a single missed beat of tempo can bury you under an uncounterable swarm of units. However, the overall high level of polish and deep macro-level scheming are enough to cement its place in the upper echelons of strategy gaming, regardless of personal taste.