January 8, 2008

SupCom's Best

After becoming enamored with the robot on the front page of March's PC Gamer, I decided to dip back into RTS territory for Supreme Commander. The game promised to take the genre to a never-before-seen scale, with battles large enough that strategy, rather than micromanagement, is what counts. The huge maps, massive armies, and exceedingly satisfying explosions all made the game feel big. I'll be damned if I didn't feel at the time like the fate of the galaxy rested on my shoulders. This was war. This was epic.

One skirmish match stands out in my memory as my favorite moment in all of my RTS experience. The match was 2v2, with me and an artificial intelligence on one side and two AIs on the other. The map was gigantic. Each group had a continent, ripe with resources, separated from each other by a huge ocean that was broken only by a thin land bridge connecting the two sides. This meant that all land forces were funneled into a small channel of fighting, which made for some prime strategizing.

Upon starting, my immediate focus was, naturally, to secure all the resources I could and to build up defenses on the land bridge. I built walls, shields, turrets, anti-air guns, everything. It was like the Korean DMZ. The pace of construction was frantic. That little strip of land became my only military center. If I could stop all attacks there, I figured, the match would be mine. At first, this was pretty successful. My enemies would send in a few light bombers, some tanks, maybe something heavier now and then, but nothing stood a chance. I had time, money, and security. It was time to begin the only project that mattered: the Mavor.

The Mavor is the name of a huge, game-winning artillery gun that's capable of hitting any stationary target from any range with pinpoint accuracy. It's only disadvantage is its prohibitively long build time. But it's worth it since it's one of those weapons that makes you cackle with glee every time it fires. I started early.

Now, it's worth noting that the Mavor isn't the only major character in this battle. Each side has a few extremely strong, game-defining units that only it can build. My enemy, for example, could build something called the Galactic Colossus. The Galactic Colossus is a gigantic humanoid robot that can crush all smaller units under its feet and destroy almost anything with its huge, sweeping laser beam. I discovered this when one of these charming fellows walked over my extensive, carefully-built defensive network with barely a scratch. I was heartbroken.

So my defensive network was gone, and had proven itself ultimately useless late in the game. I was able to take out the Colossus before it reached my base, and I began to plan a new, better defense. They'll never be able to beat me now!

I was in the midst of this when the narrator helpfully chimed in with "Strategic launch detected." That meant that someone had fired a nuclear missile, and it had not been me. I watched the blinking icon on my little radar screen descend and touch, almost gently, down to land. A flash of light, and then it was gone. So was my base. So was almost all of my army. So was the half-finished Mavor. Curses! Foiled again!

If I had any sense of perspective, I would have exited the game at this point. I had almost entirely lost. But I was too invested in it to stop then. My thought at the time was not "Hmm, maybe I should go outside" but rather "Oh, now it's on." I pulled back all my engineers to my useless computerized ally's base and began a few specific projects: bombers to stop another Colossus, anti-nuclear defenses, my own nuclear missile silo, and a brand new Mavor. I was focused this time. I had learned from my mistakes of the last two hours, and it was time to turn the tide.

They sent a few more Colossi, which I stopped short with a team of high-powered bombers. They fired another few nukes, but could never hit my new base thanks to the new defenses. My own nukes eventually finished building. And after a long period of waiting and managing my defenses, the Mavor was finished. It aimed, it fired, and I cackled with glee.

Each shot punctured whatever shields they had installed and destroyed the structures beneath in huge clumps. I sent in some scout planes and learned all that I needed to know: the locations of their anti-nuke defenses. A few Mavor shells later, and these defenses were gone. You know what had to come next.

Boom.

Payback's a bitch.