You’d think that the way to make an accurate, engrossing geopolitical strategy game would be to emulate the real world as much as possible. Make a detailed world-wide map drawn from satellite data, create a database of modern military equipment for every tiny little country all over the world, plop down natural resources where they have been discovered in real life, create cities and roads and rails and factories using real maps and census data as a guide, and then just sit back and let players have fun. The real world is an exciting place, after all, and real-world leaders have tremendous challenges to overcome. Should make for something fun, right? If Supreme Ruler 2020 is any indication, no, it doesn’t.
That bit about making maps from satellite data is true enough in SR 2020’s case. The developers have attempted to create an accurate hex map of every last forest, river, coast, and mountain in the world, and in that respect they’ve done pretty well. The map isn’t the prettiest thing, especially when the player is zoomed in all the way micromanaging his military or the placement of his roads, but from a distance, once the borders come into focus, it looks convincingly real.
A similar obsessive attention to detail has been devoted to every other part of the game. There are unit types representing nearly every model and make of jet fighter, armored car and jeep. Every nation has, down to the last soldier, accurate representations of their real-world military strength. Borders have been meticulously delineated. Resource distributions are plotted hex-by-hex and have a wide range of values; you can have a depleted deposit of coal or a huge vein containing enough to last for centuries. There are tons of new units and technologies to research. Players can tweak their policy in a thousand different directions, from setting the tax rate to concluding diplomatic details to coordinating trade policies. SR 2020 is a game heavy with statistics, sliders, tech trees, percentages, and enough graphs and charts to placate any accountant.
Not all of this detail is the direct responsibility of the player, though. In fact, the day-to-day running of various bureaucracies in the player’s government can be delegated to the AI in varying degrees. At the broadest level, players can specify goals for the AI to pursue. For instance, telling your economic advisor to lower taxes or your trade advisor to focus on maximizing exports. Or, players can roll up their sleeves and tackle the most minute details of every aspect of the game. There does seem to have been some kind of attempt on Battlegoat’s part to make their database of a game somewhat accessible.
As with any game this large and complex, there are bound to be problems. Supreme Ruler has all the problems of an overambitious game and then some.
The first cardinal sin of SR 2020 is its interface. Organizing the vast reams of production statistics and military expenditure figures is key to providing players important data about their progress, their deficiencies, and how their actions are influencing their nation. A manual and a tutorial can only do so much: players have to be able to experiment and easily see how things are going on their own time. With SR 2020 this is a task made needlessly difficult by the burial of important buttons and figures behind mountains of ill-organized tabs and convoluted menus. Descriptions of the significance of almost every action you can take in the game are pathetically small, which means that the game can’t really tell you what the hell you’re about to do or the effects it will have on your nation.
Another issue is the AI, which is maddeningly frustrating to deal with. Unless you either completely disable it or let it completely take over the running of your country, you’ll have to constantly travel back into the deepest, darkest reaches of the game to fix things the AI messed with. You’ll also have to deal with the consequences of the AI working against itself or actively stopping your policies from being executed if you push the wrong button or forget any one of the millions of rules that you have to remember to keep your economy, military, and political systems from blowing up in your face.
The biggest problem with this game is that there is simply way too much crap in it. Unit types are an excellent example. There are dozens of tank models, dozens of armored car models, dozens of airplane models, dozens of missiles, and dozens of every obscure class of destroyer and cruiser. It’s absurd to expect players to know the benefits and weaknesses of every model, or to expect them to even compare the relative merits of two models, when they are required to do so much already. And what does the addition of two hundred types of humvee do, exactly, for the game? Boiling down these units into simpler categories would get rid of a lot of the clutter and make managing military forces competently a lot easier.
Of course, if you want to play against any one of the other five people unlucky enough to own the game, you need their IP address. No matchmaking multiplayer is provided. I never played it myself because frankly I was too sick of the game to force myself to play it any longer. I’ve failed you, but I am only flesh.
Supreme Ruler breaks down and winds up becoming a chore because the developers took mounds of totally unnecessary detail and buried their game in it, and then tried to abstract it through ineffective AI. Playing the game is a frustrating exercise in trying to understand all of the dizzying array of systems that govern every aspect of the game’s progression while simultaneously attempting to figure out how much of it is important, and how much you can rely on the AI to take care of. The developers thought they could accurately scale the detail and allow every player to decide for himself how much of it he could stomach, but their entire approach breaks down because the AI can never be relied upon to do as good a job as the player would. Then, of course, the player is left either sitting in his chair while the AI basically runs his country or sweating bullets over every tiny statistic. Neither approach is any fun, and in both cases the act of playing Supreme Ruler 2020 never amounts to much more than being the steward of a bloated database.