Forging ahead

The Forged Alliance expansion pack for the CPU-gobbling Real Time Strategy monolith of the moment, Supreme Commander, is rather good.

A couple of Ythothas. Or Ythothae.

First up: It's a stand-alone game. And not a terribly expensive one - sixty Australian bucks delivered from eBay dealers like the one I used, forty US bucks from Amazon).

If you only have Forged Alliance and not the original Supreme Commander (now only $US29 at Amazon!), you can still play multiplayer games against anybody else who has Forged Alliance, with or without SupCom. But the only side available to FA-only players is the new one, the weird alien Seraphim.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. The Seraphim, once you get past the bizarre names and shapes of their units, are actually simpler than the other three sides. They've got slightly fewer units available, but what they have combines the features of multiple enemy units.

So, for instance, they've got a very annoying "combat scout" unit, which has the wide view and radar coverage of everybody else's scouts, plus a decent gun (the other scouts either have no gun at all or a gun that does nearly no damage), and an automatic cloak feature that makes the scout almost completely undetectable if it's told to "hold fire" and doesn't move.

Forged Alliance's typically lousy storyline revolves around the Seraphim, whose weirdly-named units all look fantastic (those giant chicken-walkers in the picture above are "Ythothas". Or possibly Ythothae). Often asymmetric, always shiny, and usually with some parts that just hang there in the air with no connection to the rest of the machine.

This ultra-tech does raise the question of why the Seraphim units are roughly equal in power to those of the three human sides, but the answer to that is of course "because otherwise there wouldn't be much of a game".

FA has a short, but rather difficult, single player campaign in which you can play any of the three original sides against the Seraphim. (I, of course, would have rather liked the opportunity to play the Seraphim in the campaign and crush the miserable hominids, but we don't always get what we want.)

Forged Alliance is not just a unit pack. The whole game's been dramatically rebalanced, so if you've never played SupCom before you may be surprised to find yourself actually winning against someone who's been playing for months, but is now trying to do the same things they did in the original game.

It is, for instance, no longer economically sound to build vast resource farms full of generators and mass fabricators. Massfabs are much worse value than they used to be, so you can't just button yourself up in a self-sufficient base and not bother trying to control territory.

And veterancy - units getting tougher as their kill count rises - has been dramatically revamped. You used to practically never see a veteran unit except when something got to shoot at a factory that had a long build queue, so the attacker got credit for a kill every time it blew up the latest 1%-complete unit-in-progress. Now, most units get their first veterancy level - and some more hit points, and slow hit point regeneration - at five or ten kills. Little level 1 units veteranise even faster.

What this means is that, although tech-level-one units are more useful in FA, it's now a very bad idea to just spam hordes of tech one tanks at the enemy base. The defenders, including the enemy's all-important Commander, will very rapidly become rather buff at your expense.

(All we need now is Kingdoms-style gold highlights on veteran units!)

People are, of course, still finding things to bitch about, most notably the fact that FA is an even bigger system hog than "vanilla" SupCom, even after you turn off certain features that really pound frame rate down.

Pretty much any dual-core CPU and moderately recent video card is good enough for small multiplayer games of FA at reasonable resolutions (on one or two monitors!), though, so this isn't a You Must Upgrade Your One-Year-Old Computer game (like, say, Crysis).

I recommend it.

2 Responses to “Forging ahead”

  1. Steven Den Beste Says:

    That picture is awesome. But I bet when there are 30 of them on screen the frame rate drops into a hole.

  2. Daniel Rutter Says:

    If there are 30 Ythothas on screen, the Seraphim player won four hours ago :-).

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