The rest of the changes are bad, but not disastrous. The worst is that the AI this time is just limp. It puts up a decent fight in the campaign, where missions stack the odds hugely in its favour, but in Skirmish it can’t match even an average player like us. We could only take on the smartest AIs in SupCom by making them fight each other: here, we can reliably beat a team of four. The only tougher setting is Cheating, which nukes you in a few minutes. We’re not looking to get obliterated; we’d just like an AI that can navigate the tech tree well enough to build an Experimental when we do. Currently, the only way to see a clash of the titans is to make a cup of tea after building yours.
It’s also smaller game. There’s only one eight-player map here, and it’s a drab, shrunk rehash of one from the first game: Seton’s Clutch. It’s still great, but that makes it all the more maddening: there should be dozens like this, and bigger still, because the tech system works even better for large-scale war. It’s only on a huge battleground that strategies of position, timing and logistics come into play: SupCom 1 was a deliberate demonstration of that.
Despite the AI and map size, Skirmish is still the best way to play. The other two modes, Multiplayer and Campaign, each have their own trouble with the new Research Trees. In multiplayer, some strategies just seem uncounterable. Most of your time-investment in a strategy – spending Research Points – happens in secret.
So by the time we see you start to build a nuke silo, it’s too late for us to earn enough Research Points to unlock nuke defence before you obliterate us. Similarly, if we research a Cybran Soul Ripper gunship, by the time you see us building one it’s too late to get up enough anti-air to destroy it.
The campaign is surprisingly worthwhile. You have to play as each of the three factions in turn, but the UEF commander you start as is an unusually likeable chap. When an early villain laughs, “You really think those Fatboys will stop me?” Maddox says exactly what we would have: “Honestly? Yeah.”
There are still way too many missions where your objective is "Defend this shitty base I shittily made for you against an unknown number of unknown enemies from an unknown direction until - too late! they got past the turrets I pointlessly placed miles from the base by coming from an angle I forgot to say they might come from."
The bigger problem is that each faction’s tech-trees are restricted until the final mission, so you get one chance per race to try all of the most interesting stuff in the game. SupCom 2 is all about the tech trees: locking bits of them off reduces the campaign to a 12-hour tutorial.
So SupCom 2 is a great game struggling to find the right format. Skirmish is as close as it gets: it’s enormous fun despite the toothless AI, particularly if you play with a friend and stack the bots against you. We play every lunchtime now, and talk constantly about what strategy we’re going to try next.
What makes it so infectious is partly the diverse and ridiculous units, partly the way their specialised weaponry tesselates, and partly the system for unlocking them. It keeps you thinking about the roads not taken, the pairings not combined, and the hyperdeathbots unbuilt.
Mar 2, 2010