Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance Review

Alright, this one's a couple months old but I've only recently been able to give the Supreme Commander expansion the time and attention it deserves for a review, so better nate than lever.

Supreme Commander is one of, if not the, best RTSes to ever grace the gaming world. So, naturally, expectations were high for the expansion. I'm happy to say that for the most part it does not disappoint. The balance is not broken (as happens often in an expansion for a RTS), the new units are nifty and most of them are actually useful, and there are lots of other little changes and tweaks.

There's one big caveat though... apparently they felt the need to increase the poly count of the models, and they did something else as well which hobbles the graphical performance in quite a few places. Even my badass quad core box with an 8800gtx in it sometimes stuttered down to 5ish frames per second and no amount of graphical option lowering actually helped, so I'm suspecting some kind of "oops" at work here, but the problem is usually easily circumvented simply by zooming out further until the computer is no longer trying to render every little thing but instead is in the "strategic overview" so to speak.

Even that aside, there's a little more to gripe about. For instance, my units seem to have forgotten a lot of what they learned when they took that defensive driving course. They no longer even attempt to drive around each other, stop to let another unit pass in front of them, or other such things. Instead, in what I can only guess is meant to be a humorous demonstration of the game's physics engine, the two units obstructing each other will ram into each other, repeatedly bouncing off like innertube-riders jostling in the river/moat at Schlitterbahn until they manage to ram their way free of each other. Often I've found a small clutch of my engineers, who were supposed to be on patrol, all tied up in a knot playing bumper cars against each other while my precious base goes unrepaired.

There's also some other little wierd things going on. It seems like sometimes the cost of certain things varies from level to level, for instance. Also, the unit pathing and AI is absolutely brilliant to bordering on clairvoyant on some levels, and is slightly underwhelming on others, sometimes resulting in the pants-on-head retarded activity outlined at the end of the previous paragraph. Gunships in particular seem to have contracted the worst case of the stupids, as often they manage to leapfrog themselves from where I have them parked and amassing as a devatstating force, to strung out a mile in front of my base where they can be picked off a few at a time. Even the Cybran experimental uber-gunships do this too. But once you know what to look for you can kind of adjust for it.

That pretty much gets the bad stuff out of the way, though the good stuff doesn't take long to cover. New faction is good (makes those 4-player maps less awkward). New units are good (my favorite is the new tech 3 point defense for the UEF). Adjusted cost and consumption for units has been a uniform improvement. New user interface takes a little getting used to, but once you do it's much streamlined. The campaign is a little on the short side, but replayability is there for sure.

The true litmus test of an expansion, in my opinion, is whether its shortcut replaces the original's as your preferred method of launching the game. For instance, once you got Broodwar you never went back to old vanilla StarCraft. The Zero Hour expansion for C&C Generals was the best example of this, because Generals was a mediocre title that Zero Hour took to amazing heights. Compare that against, say, the Creature Island expansion for Black and White, which I (and I'm sure many others) promptly ignored after one run and returned to regular B&W. Forged Alliance does pass this test, despite the performance problems and unit AI wierdness. Once you've gotten your hands on the new units, you won't want to go back to how it used to be.

Verdict: B+

And that's the word from bandit camp

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