Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance Review
Pentium M 2GHz CPU
2GB DDR2 RAM
GeForce 7800GTX Go
128MB Video Card
256MB Video Card
Despite great reviews and a solid pedigree of past games, Chris Taylor and his team at Gas Powered Games didn't enjoy the sales and popularity that his game Supreme Commander probably deserved. Sure, the game's system requirements were rough and the game focused a lot - maybe too much - on maintaining a smooth economy rather than the actual fighting, but the scale of wars you could wage easily made up for that. The fiercely loyal RTS community felt like the game strayed too far from the formula set up by Taylor's first RTS title, Total Annihilation, and while Supreme Commander is not by any means a failure, its audience has dwindled to a small fraction of what it was since release. Now Gas Powered Games are following up their efforts with Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance, a stand-alone expansion pack (it doesn't require the original SupCom) that adds a new race, 100 new units, and more maps - while bringing back the best maps from the original game along with a new six-mission campaign.
The new campaign seen in Forged Alliance has the game's original three races banding together to fight against the Seraphim, a once-thought-extinct alien race who has come back to life for blood. The UEF, Cybran, and Aeon armies have put their differences aside to defend themselves from being hunted down, and the new worlds they've colonized since the Seraphim turned their old ones to glass are already under attack. You come in to the first mission with the choice of three races - the campaign plays out the same no matter which you choose - and the battle is already raging on as soon as you arrive. This is by no means a good way for beginners to learn, however, as unlike Supreme Commander's campaign, there's little here to get you used to the game's dozens of units, buildings, and abilities.
For those who have already played the original game, the way the campaign tosses you into a war with tons of units at your disposal immediately is actually a good thing. The first mission lets you use all the units from the first game right from the start, and slowly adds in the ability to use the new Forged Alliance new units. And while the campaign only has six missions, each one can take an hour or two to finish. Then it's on to Skirmish mode, where you can choose from a number of AI opponents to give you a pretty tough challenge - even if you were able to beat multiple Supreme AIs in the original SupCom.
And this, again, is where most of the depth lies if you're not into playing online. LAN games are excellent with a buddy against the AI, or just doing a single game against an AI opponent is generally a fun and engaging experience. Depending on the map you choose (and there are quite a few here, new and old), you will be in for a short game or a long one with lots of back and forth along with plenty of expansion bases and fighting over resources.
The fourth race is not playable during the campaign, but you can use them in Skirmish and multiplayer action and they're a fun race - if maybe a little bit too much like Aeon meets Battlestar Galactica's Cylons. They seem well-balanced and a fine addition to the previous three races, although it remains to be seen if all of these new units really are balanced correctly for the long term. Only the really good players will be able to determine that.
From a technical perspective, Forged Alliance unfortunately just doesn't deliver what it needs to. The game has gotten a decent boost in its looks with more detailed maps and units, but what the game really needed was for players to be able to do larger matches without the need for a dual-core CPU. Just like the original game, this one calculates physics and ballistics to a level (and then displays it all on a massive scale) that other strategy games rarely even try to achieve. The downside is that this is highly dependent upon your CPU, and it only makes for even tougher system requirements than before. Since this game is at its best with thousands of units and buildings in a single match, those who meet the minimum system - or sometimes even the recommended one - will find choppy gameplay that slows to a crawl when the bullets start to fly.
The interface has gotten an overhaul here in Forged Alliance, and you'll have a bigger window into the world while the information being displayed to you is a little more compact and relevant than before. New is the ability to set up profiles for units, which is intended for players to quickly get sets of orders together so they can focus on more important things. The game is still complex as hell, though, so plenty of micromanagement is still needed to get the most out of the wide range of units you often need to simultaneously wield during assault or defense. The new interface and features help a little bit, but if the game's economy and complexity was a problem for you before, that will not be going away with the expansion.
GPGNet for online play is back again, and yes, it's as strange as ever. The confusing interface does offer plenty of options for downloading replays, maps, mods, and more, but at least a couple of the bugs I've dealt with in the past are still here. If GPGNet was strange and a little annoying to you before, well, that won't change here. It works, but it could be much better. As far as online compatibility with the original Supreme Commander goes, unfortunately the developers have decided to restrict those who only have Forged Alliance to playing as the Seraphim only while online. This doesn't really fracture the community, but it does add a level of confusion to everything. The rules of who can play who online are listed in this thread on the GPG forums - just scroll down a bit to see it. The nice part is that if you don't want to play online, you'll get to control three of four races in the campaign and as any of the four in LAN and Skirmish games.
So, will Forged Alliance breathe new life into the Supreme Commander community? I think the answer will be yes, but only for a short while. This is still too similar to the original game and the flaws in this series are still here. There's still a big economy focus which will turn off some players, tough system requirements that will turn off even more, and while I absolutely love the gameplay in Supreme Commander, this one probably won't be pulling in many new players. It's strictly just a way to bring a bit more to the fans of the original game, or if you're a more cynical type, a way to cash in on an existing fan base. Of course, I think THQ and Gas Powered Games probably realized early on that their fan base has been dwindling, so this seems more to be an honest effort. It's damn good, but it's just not quite enough to rekindle interest in their game.