In a game made famous by its colossal, stompy super units, it's easy to forget the humble engineers. Do so at your peril. They are the unsung heroes of Supreme Commander 2, and you can wipe Hard AI off the map using nothing else. It's one of my favourite tactics - here's how it works.
Before you start, turn nukes off. They may be spectacular, but they ruin Supreme Commander 2. They force you to devote most of your starting resources to researching defense silos, removing any choice you might have over the way you specialise. Thermonuclear war is a chore.
You'll have to play as the spidery Cybrans to pull this one off. There's a small upgrade nestled in the middle of their Land unit upgrade tree that gives gives all engineers lasers. It's rubbish, but upgrade them correctly and you'll find yourself in control of a devastating force capable of obliterating a Hard AI.
Your first move should be to build four mass extractors, three power generators and a research station, and then move your two engineers and your commander to a forward position. Set down a land factory and give it anti-air capabilities to kill those pesky air scouts, then put your first research points into Rate of Fire on the tech tree for land units. Order your land factory to start producing engineers and order all of your idle engineers to start buffing the factory. This'll speed up production.
Hard AI's love to send a trickle of units at you to harry your production, it's easier to think of them as free resources. Your commander and the anti air turret on your land factory should take care of any early patrols and every kill they make earns you research points. Have an idle engineer vacuum up the scouts' remains to gain a healthy mass boost. Use this to build more engineers.
As soon as you can, research the ADV Adaptor and then, finally, the Light Pulse Laser. You'll only need to gain four points of research from your starting position to arm your engineers, but your lack of any other defenses makes this the hairiest part of the game.
Well done, you've made it. Your engineers are armed and barely dangerous, but you should have enough to repel any early attacks the AI throws your way. Next you'll want to research Regeneration, Health and Repair Rate. The repair upgrade will turn your engineers into a robust defensive force. Engineers do several things automatically if you leave them idle: they shoot anything that comes in range, they vaccum up the remains of anything they kill and, when there's nothing better to do, they heal each other. With increased health, regeneration and repair rate, engineers can heave each other back to full health within seconds of a firefight ending.
If your enemy has gone for air superiority you'll want to grow your force of engineers under an umbrella of protective laser fire. Throw down a few anti-air turrets and invest in Rate of Fire and Training on the structure tree and you'll be able to repel most air assaults. By this stage you should have enough resources to start building more land factories as well. Order them to build more engineers. Then order those engineers to buff the new factory. You can see where this is going.
By now the AI should be throwing some more serious units your way, but you should have enough engineers to take down any land-based super unit. Twenty engineers can eviscerate a King Kriptor easily, just make sure they're not standing too close when the super-unit blows or you'll lose a few.
Build more factories as and when you can afford them, order them to build engineers and check the 'repeat order' button. They will now continue to build engineers until you run out of resources or the world ends.
It's time to sit back. Once in motion this strategy takes on a life of its own. Your engineers kill attacking forces, vacuum them up and use the spare parts to build more engineers. The small cluster you started with becomes a huge, mindless, ever-growing blob that kills and assimilates anything in its path.
The best thing about engineers is that almost all of the land unit upgrades on the tech tree also apply to them. This means that every time you put research into Training, your engineers become tougher, and their lasers more powerful. There are two other important upgrades you'll need to help you win the fight. The first is Jump Jets, the second is Power Detonate. Research these next.
You now have an army of flying bombs. Once you've researched Jump Jet Distance you should be able to drop engineers into the heart of enemy territory and press Ctrl-K to have them self destruct for massive damage. Send clusters of four or five engineers into different sections of the enemy base and blow them up to soften up the buildings, and follow up immediately with everything else, then watch as the engineers land, and then expand, obliterating the enemy base in a frenzy of red laser fire.
Then, after the chaos comes the peaceful calm of victory. Listen carefully, though and might just hear the AI crying oily tears of robo-shame.
Developed any strategies of your own? Share them with us in the comments below.