Developer: BattleGoat Studios
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
The Cold War was something of an enormous mess, let's face it, and there's an argument to be made that might suggest that so many things were happening that nobody really knew what the hell was going on at any precise moment. In that respect, wargaming newcomers are likely to feel the exact same way when confronted by Supreme Ruler Cold War. At least Civilization II had a logistics bible that you could finger through painstakingly. This game is about as welcoming as a Siberian snowstorm and with the complete lack of in-game tutorials (a feature that games such as this would do well to implement as standard) it means you're dropped straight in at the deep end from the very start.
It's sink or swim really and, although you'll be temped, I strongly advise against hitting the Big Red Button (yes there is one) until you know for absolute certain what it will do. On my first pass I thought I'd be annihilating America's Eastern Seaboard...but instead I managed to lose the vast majority of my bases in Indo-China. Nothing makes sense at first, it is a baptism of fire for all but the most hardened of wargamers.
The trouble is, that we've become so used to games no longer requiring instruction manuals that to have to actually use one is now actually a game-breaking experience. Battlegoat have, however, acknowledged this and their forums suggest they're busy working on a few tutorial videos to help newcomers get stuck in. It's a welcome response, and hats off to them, because although the first few hours of one's time with this game might seem more intimidating than lining up at a urinal next to John Holmes, that's only because this is a game of so much depth that it makes the Mariana Trench look like a sand pit. In short, if you like you strategy games to be complex and rewarding, if you've taken a keen interest in anything to come out of the Paradox stable of late, Supreme Ruler Cold War is well worth sticking with.
There are a number of game modes - both offline and online - to wade into, from short Scenarios that are perfect for relatively quick games with specific objectives, to larger Sandbox games that see you playing as pretty much any country you like within the Cold War setting, to the Campaign itself, which sees you essentially taking on the role of US president or Soviet dictator and, with the weight of a superpower behind you, running a forty year gamut to see who comes out on top.
If you're the sort of person obsessed by pixels and power, gorgeous graphics and eye-popping animation, well you probably won't particularly go for this game. Jamming your finger into your eye produces cooler visuals than this...but that's really not the point. The presentation might be a bit lacking; the interface may well be a confusing jumble of buttons and tabs that reveal innumerable charts and graphs; yes...the right hand side does contain a ladder of notifications that never seem to end; no you won't find Michael Biehn acting his post-Terminator socks off in any cutscenes (because there are none!). But Battlegoat have managed to capture almost every facet of international relations in a £30 game.
And that's pretty impressive.
The key to this game is really finding out which niche most interests you, and there's a lot to choose from. Supreme Ruler might just offer up the best representation of global economics I have ever seen from a game and, although there is an RTS combat element to the game (more on that in a bit), when it comes to the campaign it's really all about getting other countries on your side, whether that's through intimidation, economic dependency and/or trade, technological superiority, ideological comradeship, whatever the method, it's all about exerting influence and affecting the loyalties of those around you.
Occasionally, though, war will break out in certain territories - hell, you might be the one to kick it all off - and diplomacy will fail. When that happens, things are actually relatively familiar. Depending on how far you zoom in, you can take control of individual units like your average RTS, or hand out general instructions for that particular theatre of war. High level alerts will pop into the sidebar on the far right, marked clearly so you know what's important , and what's marginally less important. It's all relatively scalable and, again, you can be as hands-on or hands-off as you like depdning on how far you've zoomed in or out.
You don't have to do everything and that's kind of the point. Battlegoat fling everything and the kitchen sink at you and the sooner that you realise that you don't have to do it all, and stop trying, the better. You see although Supreme Ruler Cold War might be somewhat lacking in visual appeal, its AI is actually really quite impressive. You can't just build an army of Kirov airships and hope for the best in this game, you actually have to plan ahead and think. Moreover, that world map becomes a series of stepping stone headaches. You can't just march an army through someone else's back yard and shrug it off. There are consequences to consider with absolutely every little thing that you do.
Thankfully, you have the computer at your disposal too. You can appoint ministers and aides to take care of things that you have no interest in taking care of. Can't be bothered to fix the economy? Have someone else do it. If you want to just concentrate on running espionage missions, you can delegate pretty much everything else. If you have no interest in the military and fancy dealing with number crunching and the space race, get someone else to oversee production and deployment. You're a supreme ruler, after all. You can do what you want.
Of course, if you want to try and get your fingers in absolutely every pie, the temporal controls will be your best friend. There are periods where nothing much really happens at all, but to be honest on my first Campaign run, I found those moments few and far between. There are useful buttons to help speed things up if there's a lull in the hysterical paranoia, and also slow things down if you inbox is full and there are so many things going on at once that your pulse has made your forehead look like the Nile Delta.
There's so much content on offer here, up to 16 players can get involved online in multiplayer and the opportunities for replayability are really are pretty endless. The AI constructs that Battlegoat have built are truly impressive, and they have worked on at least trying to prioritise the information that the player receives, rank by importance and geography. But at the end of the day, the chances are that you already know whether or not this is a game for you. One would hesitate to call the game 'friendly' and, although the manual does provide some help, you simply don't want to be poring over an onscreen game guide for hours after you've just bought a game.
If you can get into the game, if you can see past the dots and throw yourself into its labyrinthine processes, there's a lot to enjoy and, once you do, it's fiendishly addictive. But cultural conditioning, and a complete lack of inbuilt accessibility, will surely turn many off the idea.
- Absurd amount of content
- Ridiculous amount of depth and choice
- Months of replayability
- No in-game tutorial
- Lamentable graphics
- Harder to get into than a bank vault
The Short Version: Wargaming veterans might just have found their new favourite game. Supreme Ruler Cold War manages to capture the global socio-political mess of international relations of its time period, but in doing so provides a game that's sophisticated and very, very clever but also just as confusing and convoluted as its subject matter. There's an utter gem of a game in there, but it could use some serious refinement.