From the moment Supreme Commander was first unveiled as a successor to the real-time strategy classic Total Annihilation - complete with massive armies, tons of unit types, and the much-lauded ability to play the game with two monitors at once - we knew that this was going to be a franchise for the truly hardcore. Our suspicions were confirmed when we booted up the first game up and had our asses handed to us by some brutal artificial intelligence. Now Forged Alliance, a stand-alone expansion, has arrived to remind us that only the truly dedicated stand a chance in the impressive arena that developer Gas Powered Games has built.
Intense real-time strategy is the name of the game here, and Forged Alliance is holding nothing but kings and aces. Forged Alliance takes the already brain-poundingly complex and uber-balanced unit structure of SupCom basic and adds more than 100 new robots and vehicles to take into account (including 10 new unit types for each of the old factions).
Releasing FA as a stand-alone game was an odd choice, then, as anyone who hasn't played the original will likely be way too overwhelmed by both oft-unstoppable AI and lightning fast online opponents. It's made even stranger in that if you only have the expansion installed (which, granted, would be silly), you can only play as the Seraphim online, despite the fact that there's no training on how to succeed with that faction in the campaign. These strange eccentricities are a major hurdle for anyone new to the series to overcome, but they will likely only increase SupCom's legendary hardcore status.
As fast and furious as the action is, don't look for it to tug at your heart strings. SupCom wasn't loved for having a particularly good story, and it's no better here despite a valiant effort. Forged Alliance's single player campaign begins a couple of years after the end of Supreme Commander, enough time having passed for the three warring factions of the first game to ally against the Seraphim alien invaders.
The campaign's six missions are frequently interrupted for weakly-plotted in-game cutscenes that almost always introduce yet another enemy base in need of blowing up. Disappointingly, you can't play as the new faction, the Seraphim, during the story mode. The few named characters bark a lot of orders and occasionally die in faux-dramatic events, but there's so little narrative or character development that we found it hard to feel even the smallest strain of sadness.
But it's really not about story - it's about war on a planetary scale. If you were a fan of Supreme Commander, you've probably already purchased this expansion and will surely be pleased with it. For everyone else, check out the original first or nothing at all; this is not the beginner's RTS game you're looking for.