Saturday, January 10, 2009

Supreme Ruler 2020: Global Crisis Review

Supreme Ruler 2020: Global Crisis, developed by Battlegoat Studios and published by Paradox Interactive on Gamer’s Gate.
The Good: Lots of new scenarios, random events increase unpredictability, better AI, additional unit groupings, more futuristic technologies and units, small graphical enhancements
The Not So Good: Lacks innovative upgrades, some improvements simply result in more micromanagement
What say you? A solid list of improvements but nothing drastically important: 6/8

As far as writing reviews goes, doing expansions is pretty easy: just remember what I complained about before and see if they fixed it. The expansion up for today is for Supreme Ruler 2020, a deep and potentially confusing grand strategy game that takes place in the near future that I enjoyed in its original form. Of course, all games could use another layer of polish and additional features (as long as they are meaningful and not money-generating garbage), and that’s where Global Crisis comes into play. How has this expansion improved upon the near-future world in conflict?

Most of the changes in terms of graphics that Global Crisis brings to the table are interface related. Units are now branded with a country flag for easier identification, rather than the simple own/allied/neutral/enemy color that was used before. This makes it easier to spot units as a whole, although things still devolve into a jumbled mess during large conflicts. Cities now also have icons that better indicate relative population and importance. Also, zooming out will highlight the capitals with color-coded stars that indicate relation status with your country: one glance diplomacy is a plus. New units (and some older units) also have swanky new models. Overall, standard and acceptable stuff for an expansion.

The most obvious addition that Supreme Ruler 2020: Global Crisis (saying the full title makes my review longer) brings to Supreme Ruler 2020 is the additional number of scenarios, frankly something that should have been included with the original release. We get twenty more single player missions that usually highlight a specific country’s offensive or defensive operation in the near-future game world. These more specific objectives (like survival or complete control of a particular opponent) brings a more directed game experience than the more open-ended campaign from before. Also, there are ten scenarios designed for multiplayer games. While you aren’t able to engage in multiplayer domination with people who don’t have the expansion, you can always take on the new missions and fire up GameRanger with those who do.

The new scenarios also feature scripted and random events to make things more unpredictable and interesting. The random events that Global Crisis introduce include both positive and negative consequences and inject a feeling of possible impending dread similar to the Europa Universalis series of games. Coupled with this new feature is the adjustable “world volatility” of the game: you can adjust how aggressive the AI nations are and how quickly they will declare war and such. This is a good feature that will allow those people to want more action to satisfy their bloodlust and those who want a more gradual buildup of stress to be happy as well.

Are ten unit groups not enough? Well, lucky for you Global Crisis introduces battlegroups that can be accessed through a list in the user interface. This feature is really only helpful for those who really like to micromanage their forces and have an outstandingly large number of units at their disposal. Personally, I found ten groupings to be plenty as I normally just worried about three or so waves of friendly troops at a time (maybe that’s why I stink). With all of the behavior settings that you can use in the game (for things like aggressiveness and acceptable losses), battlegroups seems like a extraneous feature.

Because the technology tree of Supreme Ruler 2020 wasn’t confusing enough, Global Crisis adds over a hundred new technologies that takes the ceiling all the way to the year 2070, introducing exotic units and facilities like dark matter power plants and last anti-air sites. With all of this new content, research is still a jumbled mess, as prerequisites are not clearly marked at all and you can choose a “goal unit” and have the game automatically research all of the requirements for you automatically. It’s just easier to have the AI minister just control this aspect of the game for you.

Unit can now be traded between nations, a feature that I never really took full advantage of in other games where it was present. However, this apparently happens a lot in real life, so the feature is welcome and I’m actually surprised it wasn’t here before. You can designate a base that will receive newly acquired units, so this cuts down on having to manually transport them to friendly soil, a typical annoyance in most strategy games. The AI has gotten an overhaul in Global Crisis, as it now actually engages in amphibious invasions! The AI as a whole is a better and smarter opponents, which makes the usually steamrolls of Supreme Ruler 2020 a thing of the past in Global Crisis. This expansion also includes a host of small improvements that you could classify as typical “patch”-type things, like requiring uranium to make nuclear weapons (who knew?!).

Supreme Ruler 2020: Global Crisis lacks that “wow” factor that needs to be present to make a great expansion. This is a good expansion, as all of the changes are either positive or meaningless, but there are no new additions that significantly alter or impact the gameplay. All the new scenarios are definitely welcome, but there aren’t any radical new features that specifically warrant an expansion pack over a series of free patches, especially with the ability to edit your own scenarios. One could also argue that the additional scenarios should have been there from the beginning, since Supreme Ruler 2010 certainly featured them. The computer opponents are more competent this time around, actually putting up a fight and able to mount a coordinated naval attack. While the addition of more futuristic technologies and units that use these technologies is welcome, the result is more research to worry about, and the tree was confusing enough as it was before; Global Crisis needs to ability to automatically research prerequisites in order to make the research tree at least somewhat manageable. The inclusion of random events is nice (including the ability to alter how frequently they occur), although it’s hardly unique. Add in some minor interface improvements and extraneous battlegroups and we have a decent but underwhelming package. I would feel better about Global Crisis if it was half the price, but such is the standard $20 tag of expansions. People who extensively played Supreme Ruler 2020 will be able to justify getting this expansion, but Global Crisis lacks that key new feature that makes it a must-have.