Epic Sized Strategy
Supreme Commander was one of the most talked about and watched RTSes of 2005 and 2006, boasting massive battles and massive conflicts for you to engage in, and, to put it simply, it delivers. At first Supreme Commander may feel intimidating, but it is perhaps one of the most streamlined RTSes available. You are able to queue just about any action you want well ahead of time, allowing for quick base construction and massive army production. I could go on and on about the infinite uses of the queueing system, but I'll spare you the details.
Jumping into Supreme Commander will feel like familiar territory for RTS gamers, but with a few key differences. First off, resource management is more about balancing your input and output and less about just getting together one giant, static pool of resources. In essence, any resource production is an income rate, +1 mass per second, +20 energy per second, etc. and then everything else will have a cost. Building a building could be -1 mass per second and -30 energy per second and so your chief objective is to make sure that you're not pushing your economy too hard, because if your reserve pool runs out, all your production will slow down, snowballing and in some cases, ending your game. After a little bit of fiddling, you will undoubtly come to terms and enjoy pushing this system to the limits. Secondly, base layout actually matters! If two buildings share one complete side (in the case of a larger building, if the smaller's side is entirely touching part of the larger's side, that counts too), then they will gain adjacency bonuses. Not all structures will have adjacency bonuses, but something like a base will benefit with having mass and energy nodes adjacent to it, because the production cost of anything it builds will be lowered. The same goes with any structure that needs energy to run: having a power generator or two will lower the running cost of that structure if they are adjacent. Likewise, building resource storage structures adjacent to the same resource generator will result in increased efficiency, allowing the generator to produce more resources (IE, have a higher output rate). What this all boils down to for the player is a simple, effective resource system that makes raising a massive army very easy.
But Supreme Commander has a few other features worth mentioning as well, including the "strategic zoom." It will probably be the first thing you notice while playing and definitely the first thing you will miss when you're on a different RTS. Rather than just having your standard "god camera" that can zoom in close to shake hands with your units, you can also continue to zoom out- to the point that units are replaced with tactical icons, and eventually you can zoom so far that you're looking at the entire megamap, rather than fudging with the minimap, and with a flick of the mouse wheel, you can zoom all the way back in at another point on the map, making it really easy to manage the large amounts of units you're producing and keep your expansive bases organized. And, for those who have a computer that can handle the task, players can use two monitors to play Supreme Commander, allowing you to have two different perspectives on the battle at the same time, allowing for much more control and organization.
"Yeah, yeah, that's all fine and dandy, but is the game actually any good?" you say. Yes, yes it is. The streamlined style that the game presents you with lets you wage war on a huge scale without breaking a sweat. This game is perhaps a little slow for some gamers, but the build up is worth it. In a typical match, your biggest units will be colliding into your foe's by the one hour mark, and that's when things really start to peak. All of the attention to detail and flashy attacks really do feel like they pack a punch when you finally get to watch your Experimental juggernaut of a battle mech march all over you opponent's base, crushing anything that happens to be smaller than it and devastating what is left of their base. And that's not all, no, one of the most satifying scenes for a newcomer to Supreme Commander is your first strategic warhead (read: nuke) touching down in the middle of your unfortunate foe's base. I'd be hard pressed to find more beautiful and devastating nukes, except perhaps in another one of my personal favorite strategy games, World in Conflict.
One drawback about the armies themselves is that they're all generally similar right up until you're slamming your experimentals into each other. As a whole, every side has basically the same units, but with a little bit of their own flair. For example, the UEF, Aeon and Cybran all have a T3 Assault Bot of some sort, the UEF's has shields, as does the Cybran one, while the Aeon doesn't, but is able to heal other units (so two can work together as a squad, healing each other) as though they were also basic engineers. It really isn't until the Experimentals that the three factions begin to play differently. Experimentals are the "Tier 4" units: each faction has three, they all have long build times and cost an enormous amout of resources, but a single one can be the thing that turns a losing battle all the way around in your favor.
Visually, Supreme Commander was looking sharp two years ago, and it is still looking exceptional today. It is one of the better looking strategy games on the market, and while the armies all play fairly similarly, they each have very distinct visual styles. Sounds are, at the same time, spot on and help make all the units sound "epic" and powerful. Add to that the screen-shaking effects of some of the experimental units, and you can almost taste the power that is balled up inside some of the units in the game.
But wait, I gave it a 4!? Yeah, Supreme Commander is great, with a campaign that will be appealing to some and last them quite awhile, but I'd have to say if you want to get the most out of the game, you'll want to have some friends to play against. Not only that, but patching Supreme Commander is a pain that usually takes ages as you have to not only patch Supreme Commander, but also the patching interface itself. And in spite of two years between its release and this writing, Supreme Commander is still system intensive, so don't expect to be playing 81km matches with a friend unless you both have a good internet connection (Cable or faster, please) and good computer.
Without a doubt, I would recommend Supreme Commander to anyone, but you've got to have the system and the connection to get the most out of it. If you do, this game deserves to be in your collection, and it isn't about to get old. There's something about seeing your foe's massive base getting immolated by a strategic swarm of missile that still manages to bring a tear to my eye.