Good Lord, what have they done? Gas
Powered Games, now working with Final Fantasy creators Square Enix, have turned the PC's most grandiose real-time strategy into something small and simple. But as the fanboy tears stream down my face and splash onto my N key - inadvertently selecting all my naval units - I am dimly aware of something else. I quite like it.
It's smaller and simpler, yes, but no one's replaced SupCom: the first game's still there, it still looks great and is still a megalomanic thrill to play. SupCom 2 isn't good in any of the ways the first one was: the scale isn't spectacular, the maps aren't lush or inviting, you don't have the power to plan out your whole base before it's built, and there isn't a huge menu of nerdily exciting deathbots to build.
Instead they've gone for the risky decision of making it playable. Did you play SupCom? It was hard to play. Even once I'd grasped the unconventional principles of the economy, it took me so long to figure out how to set up an efficient base that eventually I gave up, turned off Fog of War, and just watched how a top-level AI did it. That was a problem not just for the accessibility of SupCom, but also the fun of playing it competitively: the winner is the player who most robotically copies the optimal base build. There are plenty of interesting options once you're set up, but that doesn't matter if your opponent has enough resources to pick one before you do.
This game is almost laughably simple by comparison. Build a land factory (literally, a factory that makes land units) and you can construct a tank, or a longer range tank. You still have to capture Mass nodes and build power generators, but the game won't let you build anything you don't already have the resources for. That means no crashing your economy, so there's not much of a knack to setting up a base.
It does get more complicated from there, but all that complexity is built into the Research screen. It's a menu of technologies that unlock or upgrade units, divided into five separate trees: Land, Air, Naval, Structure and ACU (your commander unit). Each of the three factions have different trees: the UEF's Air technologies enable very early access to a powerful gunship, while the Cybran Land tree lets them be first on the field with a formidable Experimental Megabot. There are more basic differences, too: the Illuminate have no Naval tree at all, since all their land units can hover over water. And Cybran boats can be upgraded to sprout legs and become terrifying spidery land units for just three research points.
You progress up these trees slowly at first - you might have generated five Research points by the time your base is established, ten after your first scuffle. Even if you spend them all in one tree, the shortest route to a top-tier experimental unit is 23 points. To really specialise in Air, say, you'll be spending 35 points in that tree alone.
This means setting up your base involves some decision-making right away. Not just in terms of whether to plump for Land, Air, Structures or Sea, but whether you want to build Research Centres to race through the upgrade trees faster, or Power Generators to build up the energy reserves you'll need to build your first Experimental. I've been tinkering with a balance that produces enough energy to build a Soul Ripper Experimental Gunship shortly after I earn the final 13 points needed to unlock it, for maximum soul-ripping at the earliest possible time.
Once you've got that first mega-unit, it's not improbable that you've won. Games of SupCom 2 often last less than 15 minutes, and even the larger clashes only take about half an hour to resolve. If your opponent does survive, though, and their counter-attack doesn't destroy you, it starts to get interesting.