Friday, July 29, 2005

Supreme Ruler 2010 Review

Supreme Ruler 2010 PC, developed by Battlegoat Studios and published by Strategy First.
The Good: Very comprehensive, large number of detailed maps
The Not So Good: Some AI issues, poor sound, sometimes unwieldy, too complex for the simple minded
What say you? Questionable AI is eclipsed by the sheer mass of this thorough and satisfying game: 6/8

“Gee, Brain, what are we going to do tonight?” “Same thing we do every night, Pinky: try to take over the world!” If you’ve ever had aspirations of world domination, but never had the startup capital, Supreme Ruler 2010 may be the game for you. Featuring modern-day weaponry, Supreme Ruler 2010 is a strategy game where you control all the aspects of a government, from economic to military, with aspirations of dominating your part of Earth.

The quality of the graphics depends on your frame of reference. For a wargame, the graphics are well above average. For a RTS, the graphics are below average. The gameplay takes place on a satellite map of your section of the world, and all the units, cities, and buildings are represented by two-dimensional sprites on this map. The special effects are few: some of the buildings are animated, and there may be an explosion or two, but you won’t be seeing Lord of the Rings action here. Honestly, for a game that mostly focuses on large-scale strategy, I’m not taking issue with the graphics. I much rather have simplified graphics than confusing three-dimensional models that eat up RAM and jumble together. I’m not the type of gamer that requires top of the line graphics to make the game, just as long as the graphics support the gameplay, I am happy. The sounds in the game are primitive; during battles the sounds will just be a conglomerate of seemingly random gun sounds that will continue until the battle is resolved. This game will not win any awards in sound design. Your ministers do not have voices to acknowledge orders, which would have given the game a little more personality and not feel like a computer simulation.

Supreme Ruler 2010 did not skimp on the maps, however. There are 45 scenarios that take place in every region of the world, from state battles (such as Jacksonville vs Miami vs Tampa) to regional mêlées (such as eastern Europe). All of these maps are meticulously detailed, with all major and most minor cities present with real world installations: examples include Mayport Naval Station in Jacksonville, MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, and Crystal River nuclear power plant. It must have taken ages to research just the map information. There are also nine missions available, each with a specific goal (such as preventing the invasion of a particular country). You can also enter campaign mode, where you play a series of linked scenarios. For example, if you defeat the rest of France, then you can take on western Europe with your new nation. The game can be played in both real-time and turn-based modes, although since the action can be a bit sporadic, real-time play is recommended. There is also multiplayer available through Gamespy, although other players are hard to find.

The cabinets are various aspects of your government where you control everything about your country. Each of these departments can be fully controlled by an AI minister, whom will follow the orders you provide, such as “balance the budget,” “improve relations,” or “sell excess raw materials.” They are…
Your operations department controls your units initiative (their automated behavior level), DEFCON level, and rules of engagement. Higher DEFCON levels are much more costly, but units receive bonuses and are produced faster.
The defense department is responsible for building the military units required to forcefully take over countries. There are an insane number of different units in the game (estimates run as high as 1500), which are broken down into basic categories: infantry, tanks, recon vehicles, artillery, anti-tank vehicles, anti-aircraft vehicles, fighter-interceptors, strike and attack fighters, strategic bombers, land, air, and naval transport, assault and combat helicopters, frigates and destroyers, cruisers and battleships, aircraft carriers, and submarines. The “1500 different units” corresponds to having slightly different attributes and different names, but the same in-game icon for each group (there are about 300 icons in the game, you can do the math). You can also build military installations and missiles, which are treated as a separate entity in Supreme Ruler 2010, and are required for some units.
The state department is all about diplomacy. After the game has been patched a couple of times, the AI is much more receptive to agreements, as long as their citizens like you. Everything can be exchanged in a proposal, from the extradition of wanted criminals to a set amount of oil. Obviously, doing diplomacy with human opponents would yield much more delight than dealing with the AI. Problems with the diplomatic model arise when AI countries are in an alliance with you: they tend NOT to attack a common enemy if they have declared war on you, and just be content with sitting with all their military units that could be blowing stuff up. Jerks.
Your treasury department controls the tax level of your country, broken down into eight categories (sales, income, corporate, property, import and export, employment insurance, immigration fees, user fees, and pension fees). Here you can analyze the overall budget of your country and prevent going into too much debt. As in real-life, you do not lose if you go into debt, but you’ll run into problems if you can’t pay the interest on the debt.
Your commerce department controls the trade and production of the game’s eleven commodities: agriculture, ore, petroleum, coal, uranium, timber, fresh water, electricity, consumer goods, industrial good, and military goods. Everything in the game requires these commodities: your population requires electricity, fresh water, and consumer good, and some commodities require OTHER commodities. If you are short of a specific resource (which every country is), you have two choices: build a manufacturing plant if you have the specific land types that can support it (meaning no coal mines in Florida), or trade for them. You can also choose to export excess materials in order to get more money or balance the trade deficit.
The interior department is twofold: social services spending (health care, education, etc.) and researching new technologies. Research is also double-jointed: you must increase your technology level and research new unit designs. Supreme Ruler 2010 has possibly the most complex tech tree of any game ever published. I mean, look at this thing!

You receive updates in the game via e-mail messages, informing you about things such as your current approval rating or renewing a bond. Supreme Ruler 2010 has realistic line of sight, which makes stealth and reconnaissance units important for once. Your country has dynamic borders, which move according to the locations that your military units successfully occupy. Tied with this is the supply model, which is very interesting. As you acquire new territory, initially the land is unsupplied, so units can run out of ammunition or fuel. As time passes, the supply slowly increases along roads and railways and then branches out to unconnected regions. This supply model prevents the complete annihilation of a country in one war, as the units must wait for the supply to catch up to them. This is much easier than having supply trucks drive around the map, which is a slightly less than excellent method that other wargames have implemented. You units CAN receive very detailed orders, such as bombard, patrol, repair, or entrench, but most of the time you’ll just mass units and right click a destination. There are some problems with the game. It is extremely difficult to group units, especially those in reserve. Putting units into groups requires clicking on each individual unit in a large list, and then clicking on a group icon: you can’t even control group from the dialog box. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but when you’re trying to organize 200 units in real time while the enemy is taking your capital, it is a large problem. Games can have different victory conditions, mainly being a certain score, control of the entire map, or a vote. Winning a unification vote is extremely difficult, because you are not provided any information on how to improve your relations with citizens of other countries in order to sway their opinion. In one game, I had an approval rating of 40%, so theoretically 40% of my own population would vote for me, plus lesser percentages from other regions. However, checking the polls reveals that significantly less than 40% of my domestic vote went to me! Maybe I’m missing something, but most scenarios that end with a vote result in the AI winning. Controlling the entire map also reveals that most games will eventually devolve into a regional war between several sides. War is inevitable, and the AI will declare war even if it’s not in their best interest (when they are winning a unification vote with only a few months left). Sometimes the AI can be too unrealistic and too trigger-happy.

Supreme Ruler 2010 is a game that strives to be the end-all global strategy game, and it almost succeeds. In a game this size, there will be some aspects of the gameplay that will not appeal to everyone, and in Supreme Ruler 2010, these mainly have to deal with the AI opponents. Sometimes, it can feel like your country is operating on autopilot, but I contrast this game with Superpower 2. In Superpower 2, changes you made had absolutely no effect on the game. In Supreme Ruler 2010, changing any aspect of your government has immediate and long-term effects that can alter the game. This is a satisfying feeling, that you’re actually doing something. If you’re interested in a modern global strategy game, definitely check this one out. The developers have promised good support of the game, and most of the issues will probably be resolved in time. For the first outing of a developer, this is an ambitious game that delivers on most counts.