Genre: Real-Time/Turn-Based Strategy
Publisher: Strategy First
Developer: Battlegoat Studios
Release Date: May 10, 2005
After several months of discrete military buildup, I marshaled the armed forces of Michigan to march into Indiana and capture key urban and military centers close to our shared border. Indiana pressed their defenses north to meet my armies at the state line, and my air units performed as expected, quickly dispatching the opposing air support and laying waste to the columns of troops and armor with precision bombing strikes. It wasn't long before Indiana was rendered largely defenseless and my battalions secured the countryside and smaller cities, isolating Indianapolis, the capital, from industrial and military support. Indianapolis fell only a few short days later. Michigan had conquered Indiana … and Ohio awaited to the east.
And after all that… I couldn't help but think, "Wow." Supreme Ruler 2010 just gave me one of the most gratifying experiences I've ever had in a strategy game. It evoked the long forgotten feelings that I enjoyed when playing highly competitive games of Risk against my brothers years ago… the elation at successfully unifying Europe against the combined efforts of my two brothers (and, of course, the gloating that followed). It was also reminiscent of brutal all-night sessions with any of the Civilization series of games. In my book, that puts SR2010 in exceptional company, a surprise for a preview build of a game coming from a studio I've never heard of and a publisher to whom I've paid little attention.
Battlegoat Studios and Strategy First have been toiling away with what they hoped would become the definitive strategy game. SR2010 goes beyond a simple (or wildly complicated) strategy war game and is what I think could be more accurately called a "global domination simulator." Battlegoat Studios has combined an incredibly complex strategic war game with deeply engrossing empire building in the spirit of the Civilization or Masters of Orion series into one sleek and distinguished product. It sets itself apart from other games that have tried to do the same (and largely failed) by virtue of offering unparalleled depth in a well-executed gameplay package, something, in my opinion, that has only been achieved by the Civilization series (don't even get me started on why I think others failed).
In SR2010, much like in Civ, the player serves as the mastermind of a burgeoning nation state that is destined to become the global superpower. This takes more than besting your opponents on the battlefield like a straightforward war game, but requires you to manage industries, R&D, social welfare, and diplomacy. Like Civ, you can put your efforts into great achievements for your peoples, making great advances in healthcare with the latest pharmaceutical research (shades of the Cure for Cancer in Civ) or plow bales of money into the latest implements of destruction with which to conquer your neighbors. Unlike Civ, you do not do this over the passing of the ages but instead span the years of the near future, and this is where SR2010 really sets itself apart from its peers. Since the game is focused on the near future (where the global collapse has splintered the major powers into smaller autonomous regions, which you have the distinct pleasure of annexing, by force or otherwise), Battlegoat Studios is able to offer a greater level of depth and was able to accurately model economic and social theories that really don't have parallels outside the modern era. Accordingly, it's not a simple game of milking two or three generic resources to fuel your conquests but instead simulates nation building on a staggering array of dimensions, from social spending (want universal health care? go for it!) to meeting shortfalls in essential commodities by trading on the world market. Once you see all this in action, it becomes clear why I prefer to call it a "global domination simulator."
All of this happens, I might add, in real time. While there is the option to play in turn-based mode, most players will (and should) play in real time. If you're wondering how this works, let me assure you that it is actually quite elegant. Most of the major events one associated with turn-based games happen basically the same, but take days instead of turns. During the passing of the day, military units move fluidly, with all the appropriate calculations for combat resolution and movement happening second by second, with all the players and AI acting simultaneously. Once enough seconds have passed, *poof*, it's the next day and you get all the benefits you normally associate with a turn passing – taxes collected, expenses paid out, units built, etc. This mechanic works surprisingly well and feels more realistic; it's not as if the President and Joint Chiefs sit in the Situation Room and wait for Iraq and Afghanistan to finish their turns.
Now let's talk about where the game really shines … depth. SR2010 has the single most awe-inspiring tech tree I have ever seen; I read in the Battlegoat forums that there are over 2,000 different units in the game. The player, though, will not see all 2,000+ units since each region works its way up through unit designs that are appropriate for their neighborhood. Players starting in what once was the United States will be working with typical American armaments (M1 Abrams tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles, etc.) while former Soviet regions will sport the appropriate military gear (T-72 main battle tanks, MiG aircraft, etc.). This diversity of firepower extends to practically every weapons platform in every modern military today, including Chinese, Indian, Israeli, Scandinavian and Arab designs. The level of realism this imparts is ratcheted up a notch by the fact that Battlegoat even accounted for various arms deals over the decades, which is why the Iranian military starts with (but is unable to produce) American-built F-14 jets.
The tech tree is not limited to just military units but also various military upgrades (depleted uranium rounds, anyone?), general technologies for industry, science and medicine, social theories and more. Normally, a tech tree this deep would be too much for any but the most committed players. Space-based futuristic strategy games like Masters of Orion 3 tend to have me running to the in-game encyclopedia to constantly look up what quantum-phased spectralite crystals or some other nonsense is used for, but with a near-future setting and modern technology, any military junkie who spends too much time watching the History Channel or reading Tom Clancy books (like yours truly) should feel right at home. While I don't know what the aforementioned fictional crystal is good for, I do know what recycling is, and I understand why GPS satellites are used.
So what we have on hand here is a game with unparalleled depth – a gargantuan tech tree, economic modeling, and more. How do we manage it? Only the most obsessive-compulsive players will attend to every nuance and action personally, and for the rest of us, there is a cabinet full of ministers to help you along. In the spirit of realism and accuracy, you can sack and replace any minister you don't feel is doing a good job. Armed with the ministers and a staggering array of buttons, sliders, and menus, you can carry out your very own political agenda. Feel free to try out trickle down economics or heavy social welfare spending – I personally maintained high spending on health care to meet my own political views and found it a sobering experience to slash social spending to rein in the budget during my wars. This may be the most demanding, and quite possibly the most rewarding, part of the game. Success here is what will fuel your military campaigns or even entice some neighbors to voluntarily secede and join you because your country is so superior. Alternatively, you can very readily lose the game by being a poor and ineffective leader as I learned during an attempt at uniting Central America under my control; inflation and unemployment spiraled out of control, my industries floundered and I found myself bankrupt and at the mercy of my neighbors.
This is a good segue into a chat about the demanding learning curve. The build came with some fairly extensive tutorials, but they were essentially static/non-playable slideshows which failed to hold my interest. After getting my assets handed to me in a failed attempt at Mexico, I went back through the tutorials and the manual, trying to figure out where I went wrong. Eventually, after another pass I managed to get far enough along that I was able to learn from my mistakes, adapt and improve. After crossing that threshold point, the addictiveness of the game kicked in and I was constantly telling myself, "thirty more minutes," when I should have gone to sleep hours ago.
All right, so now some nuts and bolts. The graphics are better than average for the genre, but don't expect DX9 pixel shaders here. The landscape for the map comes from NASA satellite imagery, which gives it an authentic quality, but is a bit muted and pixelated when zoomed in. While this could have been prettier, it didn't distract from the action, and the interface was nicely organized and did not consume too much precious real estate on the screen. Some of the veritable galaxy of icons and buttons were a bit nondescript and took some getting used to, but they became second nature after some play time. The controls are fairly standard and should come naturally to anyone who has played any strategy game in recent years. The audio isn't particularly exciting, but again, it doesn't have to be. On these points, Battlegoat Studios did not reinvent the wheel or set a new standard for strategy titles, but they did create an excellent game with graphics, audio, interface and control elements that are adequately suited to the gameplay, which is where Supreme Ruler 2010 really excels.
I can easily say that Supreme Ruler 2010 surprised me. I have picked up, played and summarily moved on from many strategy games that could not hold my interest, but here I was with an incomplete preview build of a game from a company I've never heard of that gripped me with the steely claw of game addiction not felt since the last installment in the Civ series. For genre fans, I'd recommend learning more and getting ready to put in a preorder. For those who simply like brilliant games, I'd do the same. Invariably, there are gamers who only want the latest and greatest pixel shaders and surround sound to dazzle them through some sort of high-action experience, and this game is likely not for them, but I sincerely hope they have friends that can show them what they are missing in a game like this.
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