PC Game Review: Supreme Ruler: Cold War
Duck under your school desks and cover your heads with Chris Steelgrave Mohon as he reviews Supreme Ruler: Cold War.
- Paradox Interactive
- BattleGoat Studios
- cold war, turn-based, north america, central and south america, strategic, europe, asia, mid-east
Developer: BattleGoat Studios
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
The Beginning...of the End?
1949. World War II is over. The American GI and the Red Army stand victorious over a defeated and divided Germany. Old power structures have toppled, replaced by budding superpowers flexing their muscles in the shadow of a new era dominated by the atomic bomb. The hot war between colonial powers is over, but rather than a new era of peace, the world faces a struggle which will dominate global politics for the next forty-odd years. Welcome to the Cold War.
Supreme Ruler: Cold War bravely takes on this titanic struggle between conflicting superpowers and ideologies. It’s a worthy endeavor, a big, complex, in-depth offering that is more a simulation or History Channel epic than just a game. In fact, having lived through most of the Cold War, ducking under school desks during bomb drills as a child and watching military convoys roll down I-10 in 1972, I’m not sure which was more difficult….surviving those times or learning to play SR:CW. I’ve seldom encountered a more challenging learning curve in a game, so the first thing you should know is that this game will require an investment of your time before the fun ever starts. After struggling with SR: CW for a month in order to write this review, only recently did BattleGoat Studios finally release a tutorial. For a game/simulation/lifestyle choice of this complexity, that is an inexcusable, glaring mistake. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a complex, grognard-worthy gaming simulation, but for crying out loud, give your customers a break with a tutorial or two, okay?
So, having gotten that off my chest, let me say that there is a lot to like about Cold War. When you first fire up SR: CW you experience a God-like view of the world’s military units moving to and fro, with a kaleidoscope of cities and boundaries and factories and fleets and...well, everything! This is an era which is shockingly underrepresented in gaming, so there is a lot of new territory to explore here. SR: CW allows you to attempt to dominate the globe as either the USA or the USSR, or you can play as a lesser power, siding with either ideology or going your own way, explore a scenario, kick around in sandbox mode, or invite friends to join you in multiplayer. As a Supreme Ruler, you have the ability to affect every aspect of your nation, from diplomacy to technology, military builds, your economy, engaging in the Space Race and the Arms Race, all while keeping the DEFCON level in mind as your hand slips closer towards that big red button on your desk. Foreign aid, espionage and propaganda are tools you can use to influence the economic stability or political leanings of other countries, with espionage being an especially viable (and fun) option. Your choices are seemingly endless, but the other side of that coin is there is a lot to keep track of! This can be quite overwhelming in a real-time simulation. Fortunately, one of the more helpful game features is the ability to appoint AI ministers to oversee whatever parts of your game you care to entrust them to. You can tell your underlings to focus on certain objectives or builds and feel reasonably comfortable in turning your attention elsewhere for a time. This is a great relief to your workload as President/General Secretary and is a very welcome feature. Your Ministers are competent and will seldom make a fool of you, but they lack your genius, the unique skills that put you in the Big Chair. So don’t forget to check back on them from time to time to ensure they haven’t gotten into any mischief. You know, like selling guns to Mexican drug cartels or chasing interns around their desks. That kind of stuff. Yeah.
When the Cold War begins to heat up like August in Phoenix and you’re feeling as jumpy as an over-caffeinated pit bull with a sore tooth, your focus will naturally turn towards your fleets steaming offshore your enemies coast, your tanks straining at their leashes along border territories and your bombers circling endlessly with their nukes snug in bomber bays. You have a satisfying number of unit choices at your command, and the clash of arms is well represented in SR: CW. But be aware, this is no sissy AI that you can run over on your road to world domination. The AI is intelligent and very capable of counterattacking you where you are most vulnerable, and their builds are smart and well-representative of the various sides. Besides the sheer task of learning the game, the AI is the most challenging aspect of Cold War and you will know you are in a fight. One thing I like is that the enemy doesn’t automatically shoot off nukes at you just because they have them. Nuclear war is a matter of escalation and political choices, and along the path towards global thermonuclear madness lays a series of conflicts and tense exchanges which fall short of pushing the red button, yet move the world ever closer to that possibility. Very much like what really happened and well, well done in this game.
The military units are impressive in their variety, and the technological advances only add to this. However, in case you missed it, combat happens in real time, and the sheer number of units involved on each side, coupled with the huge, worldwide scope of this game can lead to a lot of clutter and confusion. In battle, so much is happening so fast that you can quickly feel like a bystander. At times it is like watching a violent weather system on Doppler radar, with everything moving quickly and in several directions at once. Plus, the interface is a learning experience in itself and it will take some practice before you begin to get comfortable. Don’t wait for the heat of battle to learn where to find things, not unless you’re planning on restarting. Once conflict begins, you will be busier than an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant next door to a Weight Watchers franchise on double coupon day. You’ll be stampeded before you know what happened. This is not to say that the game is unmanageable, it’s not. But once open warfare breaks out, things happen quickly and it’s not the time for a coffee break.
Press the Button...the Red One
Supreme Ruler: Cold War is a well done simulation of an era and manages to capture the tone of the times and recreate the tense situations that occurred as the superpowers challenged each other across the globe while avoiding direct conflict. It is relatively bug free and played easily on my four year old Dell. While some have complained of the graphics, I found them to be functional with attractive geography and, for the most part, well-done unit icons. The sound manages to gather a rare thumbs-up from me, as it is subtle but conveys the era and situation. Gameplay is smooth technically, and as stated before, the AI is a tough and viable opponent, probably more challenging than some of the folks you play multiplayer with.
Most of the negatives of the game revolve around the steep learning curve, the sheer number of things that are happening, and the confusing ground clutter that will accompany battles, making it difficult to keep track of the ebb and flow of a battle. Very little direction is given to the player in regards to what he should do at any given time or what strategic goals he should pursue, and at times you will feel like a spectator. You have a huge amount of control over your digital nation and military, but when you are talking about a game of this size and depth, that can be a negative as well as a positive, and you may walk away frustrated more than once. I cannot in all fairness label this game “fun”, but as a military/geopolitical simulator of an era that continues to shape our world today, it’s worth your time if you have the time and enjoy truly complex games.
One last thing….and you owe this to yourself….if you find Supreme Ruler: Cold War on your hard drive, at some point save your game….and push The Button.
You know you want to…
Review written by: Chris Mohon, Staff Writer
Chris “Steelgrave” Mohon is a life-long wargamer, staff writer and grouchy moderator who is writing this by flashlight from his Cold War bunker while eating cold Spam from a can. Someone should let him know it’s safe to come out now.
(Editor’s note: we sent out more Spam to him)