Time logged before Full Steam Ahead: 3 Hours
Last episode, I said I would spend some time talking about the special place games like Sleeping Dogs occupied. In short, I meant to spend some time talking about games that I did not or could not play due to technical limitations. However, I then got caught up in my enjoyment of Sleeping Dogs, and never got around to talking about those kinds of games in the blog.
I’ve only spent three hours in in Supreme Commander 2. I distinctly remember the game freezing up or closing without warning multiple times as I was playing. Unlike Sleeping Dogs, I never came back to Supreme Commander 2. Using Steam’s categories system, I banished Supreme Commander 2 to a folder called “Doesn’t Work”. My computer has been upgraded since then, but I never came back to SC2. At least, until now.
Supreme Commander 2 is a real time strategy game, or RTS. Unlike some other strategy games, where players get turns to carefully plan out each individual action, RTS games all happen in real time. Everyone is free to move, build, or attack whenever they like. This results, in most RTS games I’ve played, to a mad dash to gather resources, improve your defenses, and attack the enemies before they have a chance to do the same to you. Unlike Total War: Shogun, you won’t get a serene chance to review your income and resources at your leisure. You are locked into the micromanagement of resource gathering, unit and building construction, researching new units and abilities, and combat on any number of different fronts.
SC2 takes place in the far future, in a universe where humanity has split into three different factions. At the beginning of the game the factions are held together, barely, by a tenuous coalition. Because the game needs a story, or the combat needs a purpose, or any number of other reasons, the coalition immediately collapses and the factions are thrown into conflict with one another.
The three factions all have slightly different styles of gameplay and aesthetics. The United Earth Federation (UEF) is your standard militarized human force of the far future They favour hard hitting attacks from a distance, with lots of artillery and naval gunning. The Cybrans are technologically enhanced humans, featuring cyborgs and genetic augmentations. Their units are cheap, spidery robots. The Illuminate are a group of humans who made contact with an alien species, adopting their philosophy, culture, and technology. Most of their land units hover, leading to a quick, surprising army.
Massive Armoured Command Units (ACUs) provide the backbone of your military. They are slow, but tough as nails. They are equipped with devastating weaponry, and can be upgraded to make them even more fearsome. Furthermore, they are your main construction unit in the game. Despite the efforts developers have gone to to make each army feel distinct, gameplay boils down to the same pattern of gather-build-destroy-repeat. The addition of unique experimental units adds some excitement to the mix, but at the end of the day it’s just another unit, albeit a massive one.
Part of me wonders what a RTS without any combat component might look like. A game that used the same systems for building your base or civilization, a game that required the same careful management of workforces and resources, a game without the looming threat of attack. A game where the development of your world was the goal, as opposed to a step in the process of building your armies. I think I might like that kind of game sometimes.
In any case, Supreme Commander 2 is fundamentally not that game.
However, the game is undeniably fun. The designers knew they weren’t designing a military simulation game, so they decided to have some fun with. The Illuminate armies can build flying saucers. The UEF gets an experimental tank called the Fatboy, which is, essentially, a massive artillery platform supported by 4 smaller tanks. The Cybrans get Cybranasaurus Rex, which is described in game as an experimental lizardbot. The game is played on an exaggerated scale; you can zoom in so close you can practically see the nuts and bolts on your tanks, or zoom out so far all you can see the the symbols that represent them.
A phrase I’ve used before in this series is nothing revolutionary. Supreme Commander 2 fits that description nicely. The story is pretty standard science fiction fare, the gameplay is like that of any other RTS, and all in all, there’s not a lot to say about the game itself. Instead, I’ll talk about what the game represents in the place of my games library.
The “Doesn’t Work” folder was not a huge folder. There were, at most, a dozen games in there. Some of these games wouldn’t launch because of hardware issues. Some of the would run slowly, to the point of being too annoying to play for leisure. Some, like Supreme Commander 2, had bugs that would cause the game to close without warning. Hell, a couple times during this playthrough, the game would still randomly minimize for no reason whatsoever. The point is, the “Doesn’t Work” folder was useful for sorting my Steam library into more manageable categories. Some of these games work much better now, like Sleeping Dogs and Supreme Commander 2. Some still don’t work 100% correctly. Some I won’t find out about until I get to them in Full Steam Ahead.
Let’s consider this in a different perspective though. I own 130 or so games, and in order to keep the numbers simple, we’ll say that I had 10 games in the “Doesn’t Work” category. Imagine if every time you bought a dozen eggs, chances are that one of them, for some reason or another, was completely unusable. That’d suck. Or, to keep things in the context of games, imagine you are a golfer, with a bag of thirteen clubs. Some of the clubs are better than others, some are used in different situations, but on of those thirteen is non-functional.
In real life, you can go through the egg cartons in the store, finding one with perfect eggs. In golf, you can pick and choose clubs that best suit your style of play (I know some golfers would argue that none of the clubs in their bag work properly, but that’s just golf humour). If a club doesn’t work, you can return it to the store, or sell it yourself, or give it to a friend or charity.
For a long time, Steam games, once bought, could not be refunded. or returned. If you upgraded your computer accordingly, maybe you could play the games, or you could hope for a patch to make them playable, but you couldn’t get your money back. So far, I’ve been lucky. The two games from the “Doesn’t Work” category I’ve encountered in Full Steam Ahead so far have ended up playable. Still, it doesn’t feel great to have a game that is unplayable due to technical limitations.
Next Episode: Star Wars Battlefront 2