(Cross-posted to Supreme Commander Talk.)
So I’ve been writing a lot about Supreme Commander lately. For that I will make no apologies. It’s an awesome, excellent, ground-breaking game, and search phrases related to Supreme Commander are number one in my Apache logs right now, so lots of people are reading the Supreme Commander posts.
I’m playing through the campaign mode on hard right now, and since I don’t have too much time to dedicate to the game, it’s going somewhat slowly. I’m only on UEF mission 5 (I haven’t even touched the Cybran or Aeon campaigns yet). I’m nearly done with mission 5 though. And what ridiculous fun it is! I’m on my second-and-a-half try, and I’m finally going to beat it. The hard campaign is such insane fun. Yeah, in Supreme Commander, you actually do lose fairly often, and you have to replay missions and tweak your strategies to finally pull out a win. If you like waltzing through videogames with nary a challenge then the hard campaign isn’t for you. But I’m having my best gaming experience in years on the hard campaign.
Let me give an overview of mission 5 for those who haven’t played it. You start off with a large, developed base with three outlying bases (but an utter lack of any defenses). Almost immediately you come under attack by enemy land forces and planes. The only way I was able to survive past this point was to pause the mission at the very beginning to spend about five minutes setting up construction queues for building defensive emplacements. There isn’t a second to waste on this map.
After this, the Aeons start trying to nuke you. You only even get the construction schematic for anti-nukes after they’ve already tried to nuke you for the first time (luckily, you start off with one anti-nuke covering your main base). After that, they start trying to nuke you in volleys of three. So you have to frantically get those anti-nukes up and running before the first volley comes in. On easy, I imagine they give you a lot of time to get ready for the nukes before the first volley. On hard, it’s a race down to the seconds to get those anti-nukes up in time, even when you’re pooling all of your resources into them (I had ten construction units building each anti-nuke and still barely made it). The first time playing through the mission, I didn’t make it on time, and I was hit by three separate nukes and had to restart. I ended up playing the game on an average speed of about -5 (the scale of speeds goes from -10 to +10). Without slowing down the game significantly, there simply isn’t enough time to coordinate all of the simultaneous defensive and construction efforts that are necessary. This is one of the huge strengths of Supreme Commander: it’s about strategy rather than trying to do as much micro-management as possible under severe time constraints (like pretty much every other RTS). You can take all the time in the world, but if your strategy isn’t up to par, you’re hosed.
What makes this mission so insidious is that as you’re furiously trying to construct the anti-nukes, the AI is also sending a large (50+) unit army at you. So not only do you have to build lots of nukes, you also have to have a lot of defensive emplacements, and you have to plan out the layout really effectively, because the resource crunch doesn’t allow you to make nearly as many as you would like. On my first play-through I had focused enough on the defenses but ended up getting nuked. On my second play-through I had focused too much on the anti-nukes and my base ended up getting stomped by the invading army. There is a perilous balance between the two that I finally ended up finding on my second-and-a-half play-through (having not restarted all the way back to the beginning of the mission). The ground force was able to destroy a lot of my buildings, but I did end up repelling them and the inbound nukes.
The most frightening moment was a race that went down to the last second with the enemy forces closing in and my commander and four Tech III construction units frantically working to get a Heavy Shield building up in time. I even had to divert resources away from the anti-nukes (by pulling ten construction units away from building them) to get the shield up in time. It finally came online about five seconds after the front line of the invading army starting coming into range and destroying my defensive buildings. Luckily, they didn’t take out the shield before it was complete, and it came online and lasted long enough for me to successfully repel the attackers, albeit with heavily casualties (including, eventually, the shield generator itself).
Oh, and while all of this is going on, the AI is also sending large numbers of fighters and gunships at you, so if you somehow haven’t also found the time or resources to build lots of SAM missile launchers and flak cannon at each of four separate bases, you’re screwed.
After you get your anti-nukes up and running you need to counter-attack the Aeon bases and destroy the nukes. Luckily, two of the nukes are within artillery range of one of your bases, so I was able to polish them off by building four artillery pieces. I also built another ten or so artillery pieces distributed throughout my bases to help whittle down incoming assaults, as well as over one fifty Tech II point defense towers.
At this point I finally started to come out of my ridiculous resource crunch (had everything I was building been going at full speed, it would’ve used four times as much mass as I actually had coming in). The enemy was still coming through with an army periodically and wiping out parts of my main base, but it was just the defensive emplacements, and I had enough time in between attacks to rebuild them. Finally I started getting an army together. It consisted of about 100 Tech III units. I sent it against the final Aeon base, the one with the last remaining nuke launcher that was out of artillery range. I met an Aeon army along the way and took heavy casualties. Then I assaulted the base and took 100% casualties. But I did manage to destroy their nuke launcher and most of their defensive emplacements, so the assault was a success.
Sort of. I didn’t actually manage to destroy any of their unit-producing factories, so they were still regularly constructing large armies to assault my base with, causing casualties each time. And in mission 5, once you destroy the final nuke launcher, the battlefield expands to reveal five Cybran bases, two of which have super-long-range Tech III artillery within range of your base.
The next fifteen or so minutes were so frantic I don’t remember much about how I possibly survived. I just know that I hastily put together a smallish army to go assault the Cybran artillery bases while my own bases were getting chewed up by the continual Aeon threat that I had failed to eliminate. The Cybrans also start their own land and air assaults. It was, in a word, unfair. Here you are in the middle of the map, surrounded by enemies on all sides who are attacking you with large armies and pounding your bases and units with artillery.
But somehow I managed to survive, and I used my land armies to take out the two Cybran artillery bases while only suffering moderate casualties to my defensive infrastructure. Then, my commanders back on Earth authorized me to use nuclear weapons. Yeah, you can imagine the wide grin I was wearing at that point. I quickly finished building a nuclear launcher by putting twenty construction units on it and having my commander reclaim the husks of hundreds of dead enemy units that had attacked my base. It was at that point last night that I saved and went out to spend time with my friends.
But I am going back into that game right now and I am going to nuke those enemy bases to high holy hell.
So that’s what the hard campaign is like. If you’ve played the game, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t played the game, maybe you’ll consider buying it. I can only offer up my highest recommendations: that it’s the most cerebral, frenetic, challenging, and tactical gaming experience I’ve had since Total Annihilation.