What a strange beast the console real-time strategy game is. Sometimes you wonder why developers even bother. 'Just stick to making it work on the PC', you think. Don't waste your time forcing round PC pegs into square console holes. It's never worked, and it never will.
This well-worn argument suffered a severe dent on the release of Halo Wars, the Halo-themed Xbox 360-exclusive RTS; the intuitive radial menu and stripped down gameplay made controlling multiple units with the 360 pad feel less like holding a bunch of thorns than previous console RTS games did. SupCom 2's Xbox 360 incarnation doesn't quite match the excitement of Halo Wars, nor does it include anywhere near as comprehensive online functionality, but it does a great job of making real-time strategy on console intuitive.
The crux of developer Gas Powered Games' effort with its sequel is to make SupCom's huge mech-tacular scope and scale less complex - that much is obvious. There are fewer units, the levelling up system has been chucked out in favour of a tech tree in which you spend research points to upgrade your units and structures, and the user interface is more accessible and easier to manage. But SupCom 2 is still bloody huge as far as RTS games go. You still have to gather resources - in this case "mass" and "energy" - build bases, and make the most of the strengths and weaknesses of the three playable factions: UEF, Cybran, and Illuminate. Best of all, though, the brilliant Strategic Mode, which lets you zoom out - all the way out - and view the battlefield as if some kind of god looking down on little blobs shooting each other with smaller blobs, makes the cut. SupCom purists may baulk, but what made the first game great - loads of robots blowing the crap out of loads of other robots in huge battles - is faithfully reproduced here.
SupCom 2's about metal, metal and more metal. It's a game that's packed with more mechs, tanks, planes and giant stompy robots than perhaps any other. It's a game where armies of literally hundreds of units pew pew each other into oblivion, where explosions and twisted metal shower the battlefield. It's a game that can snatch victory away from you with a single nuke, one that tears through the air and slaps your base in the face with a radiated glove. Given all the carnage that goes on, you'd think that SupCom 2 would be a thrill-a-minute experience. It's not. It is, in fact, the opposite: a strangely considered, thoughtful RTS that distances the player from the coalface. As its title suggests, you are a supreme commander, not some battle-scarred squad captain.
What's impressive about the Xbox 360 version is that it's pretty much exactly the same as the PC version. You can't have as many units at once, and the multiplayer is down from 4v4 to 2v2, but in pure gameplay terms it holds its own. Everything you can do in the PC version you can do here, from quickly building structures and units to sending them off to engage the enemy on multiple fronts. Setting engineer units on "patrol mode" makes the job of micro-management easier, leaving you to concentrate on the exciting job of reducing your enemy's base to rubble. Groups of the same kind of unit can be controlled in isolation, or you can select all of the units you've got with one button press and send them off to cause some havoc. There is a degree of automation in SupCom 2 that you're just going to have to accept. This, for some RTS fans, will give them the fear, but at a time when the likes of Relic are evolving the RTS into squad-based dungeon crawler territory, SupCom 2's detached perspective is a refreshing tonic.