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Look at that for a title. It could only be more bombastic if they tacked ‘BITCHES’ on the end. It makes absolutely no secret of being the most hardcore, epic, extreme, uncompromising real-time strategy game around. And playing it at last on 360, you start to wish they’d compromised a bit. You can zoom smoothly from a tree filling the screen, to an entire country laid out before you like you’re peering down through an airplane window. You can have up to 500 units fighting in a single game, some of them the size of mountains, others in fleets, armadas and battalions. You can build cities that dwarf Manhattan, entirely of your own free design, whirring and bleeping with interconnected science-fictionology, mind-boggling to behold.
But… it doesn’t. Run. Well. Did you notice how that sentence kept getting interrupted by short pauses? Annoying, isn’t it? And this game is not too dissimilar - it runs beautifully. For one and a half seconds. Then it pauses. For the briefest of moments. And runs beautifully again. For one and a half seconds. But between those tiny but frequent pauses is a magnificent game. SupCom is set in a future where war is fought with robots, so when the three factions clash, there are really only three humans on the battlefield. The rest is all the robots they build. Those humans, yourself included, are sat in the cockpit of a Commander Unit, a huge stomping super-mech that can build and destroy at an extraordinary rate and, when dead, explode with the force of a nuke.
That scale is as compulsive as it is daunting. Games take hours and involve endless base-building and economising. But they culminate in astonishing hordes of killer robots rolling into vast cities and clashing in an apocalypse of explosions. Those explosions include tactical nukes, which is an exciting idea but kind of a pain in practice. The only counter to them is a very expensive defence system that takes ages to build, so you have to keep checking with a scout to see if any of your opponents have started their own nuclear program yet.
The other big question raised by porting a very PC game to the 360 is – oh so inevitably – control. It’s not just that real-time strategy is a young genre on the console, it’s that Supreme Commander is famed for having the most advanced and complicated control scheme in mainstream gaming. You queue up orders for your units to execute one after the other, set up patrol routes, synchronize pincer movements, airlift ferrying systems and repeating build cycles. And amazingly, it all works on 360. Well, just about. The control scheme is surprisingly deft here. Certainly slower than a mouse, and that becomes a drag in very long games, but it doesn’t feel awkward. Right stick zooms in and out, left pans around and works as a cursor when you’re zoomed out. The D-pad brings up various order menus, and almost all the advanced stuff is done by just holding right bumper while you order units about.
The only thing that’s fiddly is separating land units from air ones within a small area: an annoyingly common requirement. Particularly when each time you try to draw a selection box around them, the game stutters and forgets where you were. It’s so much a PC game that when the slowdown gets chronic, you catch yourself feeling that same gamer’s guilt: “Sorry, processor! I know I’m asking a lot of you, but if you could just see your way to not chugging like a late-night claymation for five freaking seconds, I… I... Oh, not to worry, I really shouldn’t interrupt you while you’re working. Sorry.”
No. You know what an Xbox can and can’t do, Gas Powered Games, and if running your game smoothly is one of the latter, you need to change it. But that would be compromise, and “Supreme Commander, BITCHES!” doesn’t compromise. It just chugs.
Aug 22, 2008