Wednesday, December 08, 2010

World Supremacy Review

World Supremacy, developed by Malfador Machinations and published by Shrapnel Games.
The Good: Territory-based economics, random maps, varied units, tactical battles, competent AI
The Not So Good: Tedious interface, unclear financial flow, drawn-out games due to sequential turns and lack of adjacent unit support, prohibitively expensive research options, one victory condition, no online matchmaking, no tutorial and superficial manual
What say you? Uneven mechanics, limited features, and a wearisome user interface make this turn-based global domination game too much of a risk: 4/8

A lot of grand strategy games include diplomacy, giving the player the false impression that talking ever solved anything. I mean, you spend billions of dollars on the military and you want to talk about your feelings? Those nuclear missiles aren’t going to launch themselves. Lucky for those realists among us, World Supremacy throws out any notion of “teamwork” and “cooperation” and “working together.” Take that, stuff I learned in Kindergarten. This turn-based game features battles over randomly generated worlds, both in a large-scale strategic sense and a small-scale tactical sense. Let’s find out if World Supremacy is indeed supreme.

The graphics and sound for World Supremacy can be best described as “simple”. The best aspect of the game is the maps: the developers borrowed (stole) aerial photographs and satellite images from Google Earth and imported them into the game to give it a more realistic feel. Of course, it would have worked better if the units in the game were more than simple 2-D sprites that lack animation, but at least the military hardware is easy to identify at a glance. Combat is also underwhelming, as World Supremacy uses one explosion to rule them all. On the sound side of things, there are a couple of effects and some background music, but nothing too special to write home about. World Supremacy is simply a functional game with visuals that serve their basic purpose: no more, no less.

World Supremacy is a game of world domination. There is no diplomacy, no negotiation, just war. The game is turn-based, where each side takes a turn in sequential order. The game supports between two and eight players, and there is only one victory condition: total victory. There is no alternative to complete domination, which tends to drag things out even when triumph is certain and allows for stalemates between evenly matched sides. World Supremacy doesn’t contain a campaign, simply skirmish matches on random maps against the AI or human opponents. Unfortunately, finding human opponents is a bit of a task, as World Supremacy lacks online matchmaking: you must know the host’s IP address in advance, and the game also lacks play by e-mail. In addition, randomized maps cannot be sent over the connection, so you can only use the default maps or ones that have been shared before the game begins. New games have several options: contiguous nations, same initial resources, neutral nations, and the starting levels for technology, country size, forces, and money. World Supremacy features some large maps: there is hardly ever combat on the first turn, as you will expand your borders the first couple of rounds. World Supremacy does not feature a tutorial to ease new players into the admittedly simple mechanics, but the manual doesn’t expand upon the very basics: the actual instructions take up a page and a half, with the remainder describing interface screens and units but no specifics on game rules. World Supremacy does have good support for modifications (most game properties are contained in text files), and the random maps are a nice addition. Still, a $30 product should feature more well-rounded features.

One of the disappointing aspects of World Supremacy is the interface. It’s not all bad, as there is a comprehensive list of all known regions and encountered units to assist in strategic planning, along with rankings for the current state of the world. However, it goes downhill from there. When a unit is selected, a window pops up on the left to allow for multiple selections, and it displays how many units of each type is currently chosen: handy. However, you have to deselect all units (by choosing the red “X” in the interface window) in order to select any unit in another province, even if you click directly on top of the second unit. While this sounds like a minor issue, it’s an additional step that becomes annoying when you are dealing with a large empire comprised of many provinces. There is no comprehensive list of all units, and you cannot box-select units in the same province for faster processing. World Supremacy does include a “next unit” button, but it uses the same order each time, so you have to go through the same aircraft that might have moves left over but you want to stay put. There is certainly some additional polish that could be applied to the interface of World Supremacy.

World Supremacy features a pleasing array of military hardware designed to destroy opposing military hardware. There is a complete variety of land (infantry, tank, artillery), air (fighters, bombers, helicopters), and naval (cruisers, destroyers, carriers, submarines) units to choose from. These units differ according to movement, sight tange, hit points, combat ratings, and assorted special abilities. In addition, there are a number of fixed installations for producing units and providing very small bonuses towards region defense. World Supremacy features a good mixture of units that support varied strategies and counter-strategies. You can order your units around using the cumbersome system I mentioned earlier. The usual suspects are included: move, attack, bombard, transport, amphibious assault, and decommission. I don’t know why you need a separate “move” and “attack” order, though, as you can simply “attack” friendly territory. Still, there are comprehensive options when it comes to choosing units in World Supremacy.

World Supremacy takes a simple economics system and makes it as hard to understand as possible. You get cash for each province you own, the amount of which is clearly displayed on the map. This money is used to purchase new units in territories where you have constructed a factory and to supply existing units, a great system that is buried beneath unexplained confusion. The problem is the secret order in which the game executes each turn is kept a mystery. Unit upkeep and new production is executed simultaneously, along with getting new money from each of your provinces, but you are never given a balance sheet. Are you spending your per-turn income, or your surplus cash? World Supremacy never says. The game never displays detailed economic data in a satisfying way, so you’re left scratching your head as to why you couldn’t afford that new technology or additional tank. And what determines what gets purchased and what doesn’t? Again, neither the game nor the manual explains what’s going on with your money.

Poor design and feedback extends to the research portion of World Supremacy, where you can purchase a chance to research a new technology in eight categories. New techs are unimaginatively named “I” to “III” (like the epic “Air Transport II” the military keeps talking about), and you can choose between a 25% or 50% success rate, the latter of which requires more money. Problem is the techs are really expensive (hundreds of millions of dollars) and have a very low chance of success; you are better off simply purchasing new units. In addition, if you don’t successfully research a new tech, it stays in your order queue. So was I charged the $300 million for the tech, or did I not have enough money for it, or did I just not get the correct die roll? The world will never know.

When opposing units are in the same territory, a battle is initiated. The battles are tactical in nature, taking place on a square grid and giving one unit at a time an opportunity to act. They aren’t the most sophisticated things in the world, but you do have a couple of interesting decisions. First, you can move or fire, but not both. You also have to keep your units out of the range of enemy units; while the weapon range for each unit is displayed on the unit information display, it is not clearly displayed on the map when a unit is selected, making it difficult to figure out whether your units can take damage if angles are involved. Stacks of the same unit attack as one, a simplification I am not sure I agree with. The background terrain servers no purpose, as you only have to pay attention to ranges and movement abilities during combat. While a diversion from the global map, the tactical battles are still not fully satisfying.

The AI opponent seems capable enough, as it does use appropriate force against territories you are weakly defending. And defend you must, as World Supremacy offers little in the way of competent defenses: the fortifications you construct are weak at best, and you can’t call in support from surrounding territories to help repel an assault. This results in a lot of constant swapping of territory until somebody out-produces the other side. The use of sequential play only serves to exacerbate the problem as the same territory will commonly trade hands back and forth each turn. The end result is longer games that take much longer than necessary to complete.

World Supremacy tries to provide a slightly advanced approach to the classic strategy game Risk, but fails in several key areas. First off, the user interface is cumbersome, requiring a lot of clicking to simply select a group of units and offering redundant commands. The economics are also opaque: you are clearly shown your current funds, income, and supply costs, but the order in which these debts are executed in conjunction with current purchase orders is hidden. Upgrading units through technology might be a nice idea, but research costs too much money and has a low chance for success; it’s always better to simply produce new units instead of investing in small, insignificant upgrades. I like the variety of units with special abilities and attributes that widen your strategic options, and the simple tactical battles offer some limited depth. The AI is a decent opponent that looks for weaknesses in your defense, but can be steamrolled with superior production. The sequential turn-based gameplay of World Supremacy fabricates extended matches, where individual territories constantly swap sides because of irrelevant defensive bonuses and plentiful adjacent provinces that require you to spread out your forces to an alarming amount. World Supremacy does feature some random maps, but lacks other important features, such as a campaign, online multiplayer matchmaking, alternative victory conditions, and a tutorial. If you’d like a slightly more advanced version of Risk, I would recommend Castle Vox over World Supremacy and its tedious interface, limited features, covert economics, pointless research, and tiresome gameplay.