Review: Supreme Ruler 2020 (PC)

Supreme Ruler 2020
Developer: Battlegoat Studios
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Genre: Strategy
Release Date: 6/17/2008


Like everybody else, you probably sit at home, watch the news and then start wondering how everything in the world could get so bad. You probably start thinking up quick fixes that in your opinion could turn this whole mess around. You want to bring the whole world together. You want people to be at peace.

On the other hand, maybe you are sitting at home, watching the news, thinking that a good solution would be to blow everybody else up before claiming their land and unifying the Earth under your own regime. So you always wanted to be an armchair dictator? It’s now time to step up and put your theories to the test, because this is just what Supreme Ruler 2020 has to offer.

While it does provide you with an opportunity to reorganize today’s world to your liking using one of the available modes, the meat of the game – two of the three main modes – are about a fictional “future” version of the Earth. According to the developers, in about twelve years from now, the world as we know it will fall apart, causing every nation on the planet to separate into smaller entities: Canada’s provinces and territories have gone their separate ways (You can play as the territory of Nunavut!), the United States are not as united anymore, and some of the biggest cities in Europe decided that they could very well stand on their own, including Rome, Moscow and Paris. Hell, even Siberia has been divided in different regions, such as Central Siberia and Eastern Siberia. It’s not a very complicated story, but it’s an open-ended game, and it does give you a lot of slack to come up with your own scenarios. If you ever wanted to know if you could turn North Dakota into a mean military machine that can take over the whole continent, here’s your chance. Still, if you prefer a more conventional story, the game offers several scenarios that follow a basic outline if you play them in order, and eventually asks you to reunite some of the divided countries under your own rules.

Here’s a tip before you start choosing which new entity you want to play as: the smaller it is, the easier it is to defend. I know for a fact. Defending Cuba was way easier than when I started as Quebec (how patriotic of me). You tend to forget that the province has this whole snow-covered, unused land up north, and it makes a great and easy entryway once you piss off Greenland.

Supreme Ruler 2020 is a hardcore simulation that basically shows you how it would be to rule a country. On that side, it is very effective. The game goes very deep in every aspect of managing resources, money, land and quite simply everything that composes a nation. You can build new residential areas, military installations and industrial complexes among others. Once you have these built, it opens up the ability to produce an amazing array of stuff, like more consumer products to export, more population that can vote you out of office (or not, you can pick Cuba as your starting country if you want!) and of course, military units. If this is all too much of a hassle for you, ministers can help you deal with the day to day operations, like managing petroleum, water, finances, defense strategies and pretty much everything else that you should usually be able to perform yourself in the game.

As you can see, there is practically no stop to what you can do with your piece of land. That’s great in theory, but the problem is that getting to the point where you are in a position to do them is difficult, and at times, nearly impossible.

The menus are neatly organized, yet unintuitive. Sure, everything is placed by categories – such as land, defenses, diplomatic relations – but once you open these categories, you are faced with a mess of buttons, so many of them that you are at first overwhelmed by the insane amount of sub-categories and actions found within the menus. The icons have simple drawings on them, but you have to place your mouse over them to get the tooltip that will tell you what they’re supposed to do. With the mind-blowing number of actions available in the game, there’s no way you can remember everything by simply looking at the drawings. That wouldn’t be a problem if the tooltip text was helpful, but from time to time, you stumble upon a description that does not really enlighten you about its supposed use. Even worse, despite all these buttons, you will sometimes find out that none of them can carry out the simple action that you are demanding.

An example would be the way it manages the alliances between your nation and the rest of the world. It is simple enough to strike an alliance with another country: just select the country, look at your diplomatic numbers and if it’s green, select “Formal Alliance” from the list of available treaties. On the other hand, I was never able to find the button to call the alliance off once I needed it, which means that I had to watch helplessly as my two “allies” – Alabama and Massachusetts – were at war with each others, and at the same time, threatening retaliation on my country because I was funding their enemy.

This brings me to my next point. You see, I found an “End Alliance” button, which stands right at the bottom of the threat e-mails your allies/future enemies send you. It stood next to a button prompting me to wait it out and not take any action, and another one that could simply ignore the e-mail. The problem is that every button seemed to have the same effect. The “End Alliance” button just erased the e-mail and never ended any alliance at all, no matter how many times I tried it. I don’t know if it’s a bug or simply my ministers undoing my actions, but it’s not a good thing either way. If it’s a bug, then it’s a pretty big oversight since it seems to be the only place where that button can be found. If it’s my underlings trying to tell me it’s a stupid decision, then who cares? It’s MY stupid decision! Let me get my ass kicked if that’s what I have coming. Neutralizing my bad moves goes against the very core of what a simulation should be like.

Speaking of my underlings, it seems as if the game could play itself as long as I didn’t mess with the ministers’ decisions. In fact, that’s more or less what happened for the first hour or so. I only had to answer “Yes” or “No” when another country or region wanted to conclude an alliance. As for the rest, I simply agreed with what the rest of the government said and everything was swell. In fact, it’s only when I decided to take matters into my own hands that everything went to hell. What it says to me is that this is a game meant mostly for very intense strategy gamers. That is fine with me if that’s the market that the developers were aiming for, but it probably won’t translate into mass appeal. In other words, if you want to play this game, you’d be well-advised to read all the walkthroughs and FAQs available on it if you want to enjoy yourself. Otherwise, you will feel overwhelmed and completely left out by a game that might be a little too expansive for the beginners. Still, can I really blame a game for being ambitious? Just be aware that the difficulty level is through the roof if this looks like the kind of game you’d play. At the same time, if you do manage to feel comfortable with it, you will be able to enjoy this game for a long, long time.

When you start digging a little deeper into SR2020, you notice that despite everything it offers on the land management side of things, it is still at its core a military strategy game. I’m saying that because no matter what mode you decide to play, you have about an hour to make what you want of your country before the first war starts somewhere in the world. From there, the whole situation degenerates into World War III, leaving you no choice but to participate. The only problem is that as a military strategy game, it is much less effective than other games that let you control an entire army. Most of the time, the army seems to go against your orders, and when you do find how to direct them, it still feels very unreliable. That would be because your defense minister also has the right to decide what the units can do, which leaves you with a dilemma. You can deactivate the minister’s right to manage your units, which has the side effect of stopping the automated unit productions. Your other choice is to try to let the minister have his way with the army, which once again makes you feel as if the game is playing itself.

All in all, I think that the designers of Supreme Ruler 2020 had many ideas in mind for this game, so many of them in fact that some aspects of the game suffer because you just can’t spend too much time fiddling with them. They crammed so many options in this one that you will often wonder just what you are supposed to do at the moment, and once you figure it out, you won’t be sure how to do it. This is one of the rare cases where I truly recommend reading some walkthrough or FAQ before playing the game. It won’t really spoil the game because it is completely open-ended, but it will really give you a hand with some of the most complicated aspects of the game, which means anything past making an alliance or reading your e-mails.

Finally, on the superficial side of things, I must say that the game looks good from far away, but that the 3D models are very unimpressive when you zoom in. It is a game that could have been feasible from a graphical point of view nearly five years ago. At least, the menus and their icons are well-done and the 2D art is satisfying. As for the sounds, the in-game music is completely forgettable, and even if it wasn’t, it ends up being drowned by the many sound effects of war, which you can hear even if the conflict is taking place 10000 kilometres away from your region. The sound effects are convincing and effective, but it gets tiring and annoying to hear guns firing and bombs exploding for hours at a time. As you can guess, the second time I played the game, it was with the sound off and my own music on. Thankfully, none of the above are required to make a good strategy game, but it doesn’t hurt to have some icing on the cake.

The Scores
Story: Mediocre
Graphics: Mediocre
Sound: Mediocre
Control and Gameplay: Above Average
Replayability: Unparalleled
Balance: Poor
Originality: Decent
Addictiveness: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Bad
Miscellaneous: Unparalleled

FINAL SCORE: Above Average

Short Attention Span Summary

I’m not quite sure what to make of Supreme Ruler 2020. I always thought that ruling the world (or at least trying to) would be simple and fun. It turns out that it can be fun, but it can also be overly complicated. Quite simply, this is a game for advanced users, the kind of gamers that have been playing simulation games all their life, that know politics and military strategies as if they had actually been involved in a government before. If you are a first-timer, or if you simply want to rule by destroying your opponents, then it’s not going to work. There are other, simpler games that can accomplish that. However, if you ever wanted to show someone how you would run a real country, and you are willing to invest quite a bit of time, then you might have found your perfect match. Everybody else, approach with caution.

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