Supreme Commander - hands-on

We've just got one thing to say: UF-Oh!

That was unexpected. Facing off against three other players - Red, Green and Blue - we've just been defeated. And it was going so well: we'd been conducting constant, searching raids against all our opponents. We'd made steady progress - taking out our enemies' production facilities scattered all over the ice-plains.

And then, trouble. A UFO slowly looms across the screen. Our anti-air batteries are weak and barely scratch its surface. The UFO's metal shell opens. A single laser fires from its center, straight down. Like the White House in Independence Day, we're toast. Dammit. Try again.

Supreme Commander is about scale - a very different prospect to most strategy games. You can see it first in the size of the maps; all rolling hills, dense forests and gaping chasms. But it also shows in the size of your biggest troops. There's the Spider-bot, slamming its eight legs right through the chassis of an enemy. The Colossus, its laser eyes scorching the ground.

And then there's that UFO, casting a shadow over our entire army. All these robot soldiers dwarf the little baby-bots that we've been sending out to cause chaos. Even our siege walkers, themselves capable of absorbing an astonishing amount of punishment, can run underneath a Spider.

Why does all this matter? Ask Chris Taylor, creator of Supreme Commander, and he'll tell you that most RTS games "are more about tactics and resource management rather than managing battles." The problem: battlefields are too small to allow for planning. When it takes less than 30 seconds to drive the entire length of a skirmish map, there's no need to employ elaborate stratagems. All you really need to do is pump out the tanks and charge.

The RTS doesn't have to be that boring, as Supreme Commander quickly taught us. One of our earliest tricks was to load up a couple of aerial transports with siege bots and artillery. We'd fly them around static defenses and land behind the base. From there, we could shell soft targets like factories and resource producers without having to make a full frontal assault. If they tried to counter, we just returned to base. Watching even klutzy newcomers develop strategies from simple toys is clearly thrilling Chris. "That's smart. Real smart."

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