When Supreme Commander was released in Februray of 2007, it redefined the scale of the real-time strategy genre. Large-scale battles took place on enormous maps that were over 40 kilometres squared with units dwarfing others, as high-powered lasers criss-crossed the battlefield. With the release of the standalone expansion, Forged Alliance, Gas Powered Games is trying to expand what it means to fight on an epic scale.
The story of Forged Alliance continues from the original: unfortunately, this means it's both pretty shallow and irrelevant. When the first ended with the conclusion of the 1000-year war, another threat appeared, this time to the entire human race. This was the Seraphim, a group of dimension-jumping aliens that have decided to wipe out anyone of human origin. This is not good, and the other three factions band together to fight them off. In the campaign, this also means you can't actually play as the Seraphim, but you can in skirmish and multiplayer.
The campaign mode is different from traditional RTS games in that it only has six missions to play through. Do not be fooled, however: these are no ordinary missions. While each begins typically enough ("Kill the bad guy on the other side of the map"), complete your objective and you'll soon hear a delightful little phrase that tells you, in essence, that your world just got bigger. The map then expands to reveal more objectives, more enemies, and more to eliminate you.
This is an interesting way to play, since the highest tier of units and buildings, such as the turret that can fire across an entire map, stay with you. Unfortunately, this usually means you've just fought a large-scale battle that, if you're lucky decimated only a portion of your available units, in order to take out an enemy stronghold. And now you're face with another at full strength. And they're sending all their units at you as you watch, stunned.
The game as a whole has been upgraded and polished from the previous version, both in what the player sees and what he doesn't. Immediately noticeable is the GUI that's been changed from the bulky version of Supreme Commander, becoming sleeker and easier to read. Additionally, the graphics have become better with higher polygon counts and effects. There pace of the game has also been improved, so the grand structures and units of end-game strategies can actually be implemented before the game ends. This last point creates a small problem, especially for newer players.
Forged Alliance is a standalone expansion, which means that you don't need the previous version to play this one. However, what the previous version has and this lacks in the presence of a few hand-holding missions, where you're able to get your bearings and figure out how to do what. Forged Alliance says "Forget that," and tosses you into the middle of a war-in-progress with access to nearly all of the units and structures available to your faction. While this is great for people who've already played through the original, for newer players, it's brutal, and presents a learning curve like a brick wall.
The graphics of Forged Alliance are of interesting note, but not because the of the fact that they're quite good. See, you probably won't be seeing them. While it's possible to zoom all the way into each of your units to see what they look like, most of your time will likely be watching them walk around like ants. At best, they'll be small little models moving around on your screen, while at worst you'll be staring at a map full of icons that represent what you have. You'll be sending your blue attackers to take out the red crosses across the map, and while you probably know what you're doing, it's not very pretty to watch.
In many ways, Forged Alliance is probably the game to pick up. An improved interface, a new race, and improved mechanics mean that it's the better of the two titles (although playing as the original three races in skirmish and multiplayer require the original game). The campaign is brutal to start out with, with no leeway or grace period to let you know what, exactly, you're doing, which may turn off new players, but a few rounds of skirmishes to build up a comfortable rhythm in the title is usually good enough for this. While the game still suffers from something of a slow pace (some units and buildings can take nearly an hour to build), there's still some intense combat to be had, so, while it suffers from a few problems here and there, Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance deserves a spot on the shelf of many an RTS player.