Have You Played… Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance initially amazed with its scale. It’s a real-time strategy game in which hundreds of robots collide upon enormous maps, in which the units you build at the start of a match are the size of a metallic toenail on the Experimental units you’ll be building at the end, and in which you’ll spend your time zooming seamlessly up into the clouds just to fit all the destruction on screen.

Seven years later, the scale doesn’t impress me as much. Instead it’s the depth that continues to amaze.

I went through a phase a couple of years ago of playing SC:FA every single day. After about a year, I looked at a friend playing and was surprised by something on his screen. “What is that?”. There was a unit hovering high above the map, lasering buildings and units on the ground from a height I’d never seen any travel before. It turned out to be a UEF Novax Satellite. How often do you discover that a game you play for hours every single day contains a unit you’ve never even seen.

SupCom feels like a game where individual playstyles are writ large. Different strategies have less to do with micro-control over small numbers of units and more to do with which end-of-level-boss unit you want to construct. Are you aiming for a fleet of ships which can sprout legs and walk on land, or a flying donut often first detected by the island-sized shadow it casts beneath it?

On your repeat journeys to unlocking these destructive options you’ll learn to master the nuances of Supreme Commander’s unusual economy, where your ability to spend and build is determined by your rate of income and not what’s already in the bank. It’s possible to crash your economy by betting on future profits that then don’t arrive. Everywhere you look in Supreme Commander there’s evidence of a designer who had spent a lot of time thinking about strategy games, and who had smart ideas for how to make their systems more nuanced, more inter-connected, more full of enormous spiderbots.

Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance is a standalone expansion to the original game, and it’s the best way to enter the series today. It’s got more units and races and options than its predecessor, and it maintains the scale and diversity and economic complexity that the (admittedly more accessible) Supreme Commander 2 abandoned. When paired with the essential Sorian AI mod, and perhaps FA Forever for online play, it’s the most rewarding and surprising RTS I’ve ever played.

67 Comments

  1. Wowbagger says:

    I’ve never played it, is it akin to Total Annihilation enough for me to give it a bash?

    • Gap Gen says:

      It’s by Chris Taylor, who was the lead on TA (which they didn’t have the rights to, hence the name change). It’s a spiritual successor to TA, so yeah, it’s pretty close. Some notable differences are a reliance on superunits like the flying saucer and proximity bonuses and shields that encourage you to build tightly-packed bases rather than sprawling networks of factories and defences. I’d say of SC and PA, PA feels more like TA, but both are worth a look if you liked TA. Also SC is probably super cheap somewhere.

      • Wowbagger says:

        Thankyou – that’s the concise answer I was looking for. I’ll have a mooch for it on gog or something.

    • Cinek says:

      It’s very different than TA. And despite of what people claim – it’s not a spiritual successor to TA, it’s a decent game, but carving it’s own, distinct path.
      SupCom is basically all about experimental. In TA you are connected to your army and even tiny PeeWee can make a difference if used right (eg. sneaky attack into the enemy base) – in PA your regular units are just trash filling in the game while everyone race for experimentals. This basically changes the whole gameplay and the amount of strategies available to the player, especially if you play against even opponent. I know FA got many loyal fans and I’m sure I’ll be bashed by them, but for me FA feels like a TA without half of it’s depth.
      As for the multiplayer – it’s good as long as you don’t interact with FA community. It’s full of elitist f*** ups, much more than any other RTS I played. I don’t know what’s up with this game but it’s luring specific kind of jerks.

      Oh, and don’t even try SupCom 2 – it’s a bad game (and gash, that career mode…).

      If you are looking for a spiritual successor to the Total Annihilation – it’s not Supreme Commander / FA but rather TA:Spring (renamed now to Spring Engine) with mods like Balanced Annihilation. And obviously new Planetary Annihilation (which got gameplay flow much closer to TA multiplayer than SupCom ever did).

      • JonWood says:

        Rushing straight to experimentals is a surefire way to get yourself wiped out in the early game, as my brother would find almost every time we played. For some reason he never seemed to learn that my swarm of Tech 1 tanks was going to beat his vast fleet of half finished experimentals any day of the week.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Experimentals are showy but inefficient. A good horde of gunships will usually trash them.

        Basically if you had Core Contigency for TA, every faction has a Krogoth or two available—but even more in need of army support against an an actually co-ordinated defence. Super-artilery and nukes remain as comparable game-enders, and a wave of T2 units may well crush such dreams if well-executed.

        (One of my best skirmish matches was when I completely misread ranges on a map and found myself being shelled by enemy T3 arty having decided building by own would be pointless. Had to rebuild from inside a single flickering shield bubble, very carefully overlapping outward, until I managed enough of a strike force to take it out.)

        • hotmaildidntwork says:

          To be fair, there’s not much that a horde of gunships won’t resolve in short order.

      • australopithecus says:

        The Forged Alliance Forever community is now the main online multiplayer forum, with around 10,000 people a month playing on it due to the many bug fixes, balancing patches and improved match-making offered through the online client. There are some jerks, like any online community, but there is active moderation and I’d say there are fewer jerks than most places on the internet, and far more friendly people willing to welcome and help out newcomers.

        As for Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance being “basically all about experimentals”, you just display your ignorance of the game with comments like that. Many multiplayer games of Forged Alliance, especially with mid to high level players, never even see an experimental being built, and each experimental has weaknesses which can be easily exploited if it is not supported by other units. A good way to lose is to send in unsupported experimentals, because when they are killed the wrecks of their bodies can be reclaimed and recycyled by the opposing player, giving a large boost to their economy.

      • BlueTemplar says:

        Shameless Spring/Zero-K bump :
        (Commentary for latest 2vs2 tournament)

        Replay of the game here :
        link to zero-k.info

    • Sc0r says:

      BEST. RTS. EVER. HANDS. FUCKING. DOWN.

  2. Tiax says:

    “It’s also possible to crash your flying donut by launching it before it’s finished, rushing it through the production process to counter an approaching enemy at the risk of it malfunctioning and falling limply to the ground.”

    Uuuuuh, what?

    • Gap Gen says:

      In SC you could launch a superunit before it was complete with a chance of malfunction depending on how incomplete it was.

    • Premium User Badge

      Graham Smith says:

      Argh. I played them both loads over the same period of time, and must have merged them a bit. Fixed!

  3. RossBorkett says:

    Still one of my favourite games

  4. Rao Dao Zao says:

    I love how shiny and metallic the Seraphim units are.

    Shame you don’t get to play as them in the campaign… Unless you manage to convert an engineer or two. :D

    • Gap Gen says:

      Converting engineers to build hybrid armies is one of my favourite things about TA/SupCom.

  5. Peter Radiator Full Pig says:

    This is one i mean to play. I only played 1, but i loved it. Though I would crash my economy 100% of the time. It would go, ignored for a while, then id build a load of stuff to catch up, crash it, and never learn from my mistakes.
    Good times.

  6. phanatic62 says:

    I picked this up just the other week in a Humble Bundle. I didn’t want any of the other games, so I bought it just for SC:FA. It’s already been eating up a ton of my already sparse gaming time.

  7. McCool says:

    Still easily the best RTS ever. Light years ahead of the glorified graphical update that was Starcraft 2. Countless found memories playing it. The only sad thing is how the industry pretty much ignored Supreme Commander and Total Annihilation alike, and chose to go down the no-risks endless re-skins of C&C route, where strategy = clicks per minute.

    • SomeDuder says:

      What’s really fucking depressing is knowing that there simply will be no more games quite like this. It’s a genuine PC master race game, and it shows in everything – lots and lots of units, lots of depth in said units but also in the maps and available tools.

      I mean, each bullet is individually tracked and displayed! Turrets track independently! Bombs and missiles can be intercepted by defensive structures! YOU CAN BUILD A GIANT SHIELD DOME THAT SOAKS UP DAMAGE nnnnnnnnnnnnnng. Plus of course the retardedly amazing way of shoving units into the battle (build crap at factory, set rallypoint of factory onto a ferrypoint of a waiting fleet of transports (which mechs can shoot from while in transport, btw, how cool is that) and the transport will just wait till its full, and zoom off toward the frontline. Ad infinitum. Infinity war indeed!

      Plus not to mention FA Forever of course, the community that’s keeping this game going and patched (It even survived a recent near-death experience where the original creator of the FAF lobby system decided he didn’t want to bother anymore, and the whole thing was smoothly transferred to a new owner, who even upgraded the server environment last week). AI is fun and all, but playing against other human beings is the best (And don’t worry, there’s bound to be people worse than you, no matter how bad you might be).

      So yes, 9/10

      • Enterprise2448 says:

        You forgot to mention tech 3/experimental artillery (accidentally) bringing down flying saucers and gunships.
        Or nuking the enemy player’s submerged ACU and imagining his face when. Or using a bunch of CZARs for a non-defendable kamikaze attack. Just to name the few that I can recall after a couple of years of not playing the game.

        • Graerth says:

          Real men build weapons on commander (monkey laser for the best option) and teleport to enemy base and do it themselves.

  8. bills6693 says:

    I played Supreme Commander (1) for ages, which is basically FA but with less units as far as I could tell. I did buy FA when it released on steam (never found a copy before then since every GAME store has like 4 PC games and it wasn’t WoW or a new release) and played a few hours but I’d already played myself out on SupCom original, having sunk dozens and dozens and dozens of hours into it.

    I only ever played singleplayer, did all the campaigns and played a ton of skirmishes. The campaigns were great – the way that you did part of a mission and then the mission area expanded and you had new objectives to complete. By the end, the starting area you’d done the first part of the mission in was like a tiny footnote of the entire map. It really served to emphasize the scale.

    I personally just liked messing around in skirmishes against the AI, building up massive forces of tier-1 bots and transporting them en-masse by air over to the enemy base. Sure 60% of the air transports got shot down and sure the bots were super weak but enough got through that I would overpower them from the inside. It was very inefficient but it was fun as hell

  9. Frosty840 says:

    I always felt rather sad for the evil aliens in SupCom:FA, because their side was basically at much the same level of development as the factions in the original game. Those factions all got upgrades for the expandalone, and the Seraphim faction felt very sparse and underdeveloped.
    The same thing happened to the extra faction in the Total Annihilation: Kingdoms expansion, too. Leaving a job half-finished seems to be a hallmark of the core development team that is currently edging quietly away from Planetary Annihilation…

    There were a decent number of mods that significantly expanded FA’s unit list, but I don’t think any of those really pretended to have anything resembling balance…

    • jack4cc says:

      Compared to PA I’d call referring to SC:FA as unifnished nitpicking…

    • SomeDuder says:

      FA unfinished? The only thing I really want is engineering stations for all the factions (UEF and Cybran have spoiled me), but other than that, this 5 year old game is pretty much all-inclusive.

      Compare this to Planetary Annihilation and you’ll get why your comment doesn’t really tread water

  10. jonfitt says:

    I played quite a bit of the SC/FA campaign, and a few skirmishes, and a chunk of the SC2 campaign. For me it never quite got me totally hooked. I wanted to like it more than I did. I bought into PA and played a couple of skirmishes, but I didn’t quite get it either.
    I don’t know how everyone else plays, but I find that the only way to keep track on things is to play 100% zoomed out. That means that all these pretty screenshots you see of robot war are never seen. I see square with U on it attack triangle with a + on it. Triangle wins, hurrah!

    Also, I can’t handle the number of units in any kind of clever way. Band select all bombers, attack base, band select all land units, attack base is about all I can manage.
    I would like to have a formation of laser robots at the front, AA in the middle arty in the back all screened by overlapping forcefield bots march forward, but it just turns into a robot jamboree as soon as they move.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Hold RMB rather than clicking, then pull the mouse in a direction. It’ll form a ghostly little formation. LMB click while holding to change the shape of this formation.

      Given a mix of bots, it will usually at least manage to evenly space out shield generators. Downside is that the spacing seems to be controlled by the fattest of them, so sometimes it can be ridiculously sparse. They will also slow down to try to move in this formation, which can be slower than the slowest of them if they start scattered and are waiting for stragglers to catch up and get into place.

      I also strongly recommend putting your air factories to pump out swarms (possibly on repeat) of bombers/fighters/gunships as appropriate into patrol routes, because then you can do your rubberband air waves by moving the patrol points into and back out of enemy territory, and reinforcements are then automatically part of the force.

      • jonfitt says:

        *Chris Griffin* WHAAAAAAAAAAAT! I didn’t know about those formations. I’ll reinstall tonight!
        I do heavily use patrol routes though, especially for air units otherwise they just lie there waiting to die.

      • Neutrino says:

        “Given a mix of bots, it will usually at least manage to evenly space out shield generators. Downside is that the spacing seems to be controlled by the fattest of them, so sometimes it can be ridiculously sparse.”

        It will also puts the tankiest units at the front of the formation and longest ranged units at the rear. The open spacing is usually a good thing as it limits the extent to which strike bombers and other AOE damage can wipe out multiple units in one pass.

    • Colthor says:

      SupCom does support formation moves with auto-overlapping shields and so forth. I think you hold down right-mouse when giving move orders or something.

      And yes, you’ll spend most of the time zoomed out, and hardly ever have to care about individual units. It’s not a game about micro-management. There are more important things to worry about, like intel and your economy.

      Edit: beaten!

  11. mashkeyboardgetusername says:

    I haven’t – I’ve played plenty of Supreme Commander but never picked up Forged Alliance. Is it a big enough step up to be worth it then?

    • LionsPhil says:

      IIRC it makes a few UI improvements, although I can’t remember what they are.

      One of the big changes is that it sets the higher-than-2GB-pointers-safe flag on the executable, so it’s less prone to run out of address space and crash.

    • Crafter says:

      It is a collection of a lot of small and big improvements to the SC formula.
      If you liked sc vanilla, you probably want to check it out, especially since you should be able to have it for a very low price.

    • mashkeyboardgetusername says:

      That does sound kind of interesting, especially the less crashing thingywhatsit. I’ll keep an eye out. Ta for the replies.

  12. mattevansc3 says:

    I never got on with the Supreme Commander series and they actually put me off the RTS for a while.

    Its micro-management on a grand scale and while that may appeal to some gamers I couldn’t think of anything worse. Its a frustrating experience where you have to be in a hundred places at once because units don’t “react”. I lost an entire squadron of flyers because after production they stayed on the ground and continued to stay on the ground while the enemy AI was destroying them with strafing runs and I had my attention on another base.

    If I’m playing a grand scale strategy I’d expect more macro management and less micro management.

    • Batolemaeus says:

      That is a very strange comment.

      You should’ve just set your factories to automatically set units to patrol. You can have a constantly replenishing fighter screen around your base with no further input.

      There are tons of micro-reducing features in the game. You can set factories to send units to a unit carrier, which in turn flies them to the front line. You can build preset building combinations so you don’t have to place much manually. Engineers on patrol will automatically repair and salvage. Aircraft will automatically refuel. Moving patrol points is simple.

      • Darloth says:

        While this is true, it certainly doesn’t have the unit AI of say, a Gettysburg game.

        While I think it would be prohibitively expensive to sim on so many individually tracked units even on a good modern CPU, the individual unit AI in SupCom / FA -is- dumb as a rock.

        Essentially you have to aggressively macromicromanage – you need to tell everyone what to do at all times, but you get acceptable tools for doing so, and then they’ll keep doing it… but if anything changes, they are all just dumb robots without even a shred of simulated battle nous.

        • Gap Gen says:

          Yeah, I noticed I had to set targets by hand otherwise my air armada would ignore the AA picking it out of the sky and get shot down while shooting at energy storage.

        • BlueTemplar says:

          I wouldn’t be so sure of that… Zero-K has individual unit AI for a lot of its units, and there can be quite a lot of them before the game starts slowing down…

          • jonfitt says:

            How have I not heard of Zero-K before?! I couldn’t find any RPS posts on it.
            I watched the trailer, but tell me more. Is it closer to TA or SC?

          • BlueTemplar says:

            You kind of answered your own question. As for why no game journalists are covering it, is probably because it’s a free/libre/noncommercial/open source project, with all the good and bad that this entails. There’s also the legal issue with most Spring mods starting as OTA mods and including TA models and sounds (and maps?). Complete Annihilation was renamed to Zero-K circa 2010 and has been since circa 2009 replacing TA models with new ones (though it looks like they forgot about the anti-sub ship and the Surfboard). Balanced Annihilation, the other popular Spring game, has alternate models in the works :
            link to balancedannihilation.org

            Zero-K has been Greenlighted, but the devs don’t feel that the game is ready to be released on Steam, partly because the Steam release of another Spring game Evolution RTS did not go well, and they don’t feel that Zero-K is “newbie-proof” enough :
            link to steamcommunity.com

    • fish99 says:

      Honestly SupCom/FA has way less micro-management than the average RTS. Units absolutely do react to threats and you can automate almost everything.

  13. SlimShanks says:

    If anyone wants to see what this game is really capable of, I would highly recommend looking up Gyle’s casts of it on youtube. You may be shocked by how deep, yet subtle the strategy is.

  14. sorian says:

    It is nice to see people still enjoying my mod so many years later. :)

    • LionsPhil says:

      Sorian AI is great, certainly gives the game a new lease of life over the stock AI without making it ridiculously playing-against-a-hyperactive-teenager harder.

  15. Barteaux says:

    Best RTS I’ve ever played. And also thanks to Sorian for the mod. I still play the game every now and then.

  16. Thrippy says:

    Surprisingly sturdy sticker price for a seven year old game. Digital download is $14.99 rock solid all year round. Steam says I got the SupCom bundle for $9.99 in October 2012. All hail PC game longevity. Will likely be on sale again during Turkey/Christmas Steam and Amazon sales.

    • LionsPhil says:

      It probably helps that honestly nothing’s yet superceded it.

      • BlueTemplar says:

        The issues that Forged Alliance Forever has is that they don’t have the SupCom1 source code, so they’re limited in the ways they can improve the game… while Spring/Zero-K keeps innovating to this very day :
        link to zero-k.info

    • Volcanu says:

      It was available in a humble bundle (well, the SupCom Gold edition that includes FA and the base game) for as little as $1 earlier this month….

      I notice you can also pick it up for £5 on Gamers Gate at the moment…..

  17. fish99 says:

    I’ll defend FA to the day I die. To me it’s the best RTS I’ve played, just beating out AoE2. Great mix of simulation, action, scale, and deep economy.

  18. nigratruo says:

    Forged Alliance is easily the best RTS I have ever played, I have played pretty much all the RTSes out there, even the ones that should be called Real Time Tactical, because they are just so tiny in scale and have nothing to do with strategy at all.
    Having thousands of units rocks, also the huge unit variety beats any other RTS, and then you got water, air and land, 4 Tech levels in each one, no limiting research tree.

    FA is a breath of fresh air to all the other RTSes that follow the standard old scheme how a RTS should be built.

    Nowhere else is the offensive / defensive game play better developed and balanced. You have to be a real general to win, think strategy and examine the opponents strategy for holes and exploits.

    And it is the only RTS that accurately models all projectiles and objects in game. This comes at a price: In 2007 when it was released, most computers were way too weak to run it. I had an overclocked dual core, at 3.6 GHZ and it barely run and with larger battles, it slowed down.

    Most other RTS are built to run fast, have mediocre graphics and no realism, while a nuke explosion in FA still looks super cool (and killed any graphics card back in 2008).
    It is pretty sad that Supreme Commander 2 was a castrated version of Forged Alliance, looking much worse, and having fewer units and having a ton of possibilities removed that FA was great for.

    But then, who still plays SupCom 2?
    Forged Alliance will keep you busy for years, it is like real war: Only after while you start to become experienced and with so many units to learn and manage, it never gets boring. Finally a game complex enough to last and keep us interested.

    And interesting enough, the only game that has the strategic zoom (not this joke of a zoom that is useless like any other RTS out there) AND using your second monitor as a map monitor for overview.
    See you on the battle field!

    And watch out, I’m known for my unorthodox strategies, expect the unexpected!

    • BlueTemplar says:

      And yet you haven’t played ALL the RTS out there. Because that even besides SupCom1/FA and Spring games (which you don’t mention, so I suppose you haven’t played them?), I doubt that they’re the only ones that accurately model all projectiles and objects in the game, and have a “real strategic zoom”. They certainly aren’t the only complex games out there. “Graphics”, “Realism” and “Cool” are too vague notions.

      About as many players play SupCom2 on Steam as SupCom 1 :
      link to steamcharts.com

      • nigratruo says:

        I have been gaming for 32 years now and I can assure you that I have see tons and tons of RTSes. I would very much like to hear examples of other RTS that calculate accurately AND have strategic zoom AND have no unit caps AND have a resource system that is more realistic. I have not seen them and don’t know that any other exists, maybe you can show an example.

        The statistics on Steam are misleading because everybody playing on Forged Alliance Forever (which is pretty much everybody) does not show up on the steam statistic. You have to start Forged Alliance through steam to make it count, which FAF does not. Supreme Commander 2 has been losing players for a long time and surely will not be played almost 10 years after it got released, like Forged Alliance is. SupCom 2 is your average RTS, that keeps people for a while, not nothing epic and definitely nothing “one of a kind”.

        • BlueTemplar says:

          The line of Total Annihilation / Spring games (including Balanced Annihilation, Zero-K, Kernel Panic, etc…). See my other comments on this page for more information.

          There’s also now Planetary Annihilation.

          There’s a LOT of different games out there so I wouldn’t discount the possibility of the existence of other games like this. Incidentally, I happen to know a game in a different genre (4X, with real-time combat), where you have pseudo-newtonian movement and movement of all projectiles tracked : Sword of the Stars :
          link to classic.xfire.com

          I see about 75 players on average playing SupCom1 vanilla in the last 24 hours, about 375 for SupCom1FA (375+75=450). FAF website shows 2536 unique players for the last 24 hours. So even if we assume FAF players spending on average 8 hours per day playing FAF (2536/24*8=845 average players), that still makes non-FAF SupCom1 players about 1/3 of the whole SupCom1 population.

          While SupCom2 does seem to be slowly losing players (especially comparing to SupCom1:FA) :
          SupCom 2 has been released 2 years and 4 months after SupCom1:FA. It has now about 400 average players on Steam. 2 years and 4 months ago SupCom1vanilla + SupCom1:FA had about 150+600=750 average players (not counting non-Steam ones). Even considering the release gap, SupCom2 is still not negligible.