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Preview: Supreme Ruler: Cold War

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If you've ever wanted to know if there was a distinction between simulation and game, Supreme Ruler is the perfect example. This hugely in-depth game lets you play through the Cold War (for our younger readers, that was the 50 years following 1949 of angry nonsense between two totalitarian ideologies equally malevolent towards the individual's happiness) from the viewpoint of any country in the world. Even Andorra.

The key trait of Supreme Ruler is illustrated by the fact that it's in-depth enough to let you build individual factories in individual towns, including Croydon, a large town near London. It's immediately apparent that there is no way any individual human mind can hope to gather all the information necessary to make the perfect decision in this situation. That's fair - Civ has that limitation too.

However, it's also apparent that the game shares Fate of the World's informational obfuscation so that you can't even tell if you're making a decision that's even vaguely near the correct decision; you actually might be better off acting randomly in this situation, the depth of your ignorance of the game's informational structures is so huge. That's not to say this is a bad simulation; it's amazingly comprehensive and strives to model economies, societal movements, terrain, resources, and so forth, so perfectly that it could be the nearest to a good total simulation of the world's economy that's publicly available; it's just that this might not lead to it being a good game.

You can literally play as any country in the world, ranging from Andorra to Zimbabwe. Playing as Andorra, you'll probably be just watching as the game plays; playing as the USA you'll have more decisions to make than anyone could ever understand, from funding insurgencies in communist-aligned states like Yugoslavia to trying to butter up West Germany without France getting pissy.

At the top right of the screen is a little blue-red bar; the more blue you are, the closer to the US and the more red, the more damn pinko commie you are; there's no neutral in this era. Near that is another familiar bar; Defcon, tracking how close the world is to nuclear war. We're assured that is possible to have non-nuclear world wars in the game, if you somehow manage to keep Defcon down.

We couldn't keep track of everything you could do in the game; there were actions involving diplomatic relations, allies, finances, production, research and about a million graphs. Each of these has a hundred sub-menus and options; as we said, you can literally control the construction of factories manufacturing goods down to a very local level. Of course, no human mind can rationally retain all this information and act on it; so AI advisers are available to manage each area, or the whole thing, should you wish it.

We also got to see a more limited scenario with a specific goal, based around the Korean War. Here you could play as either North Korea or the US and the aim is to be able to play through it in an evening. This showed up one of the major flaws with the game so far; the lack of detail in battles. All tanks look the same, as do all troops and vehicles; it's obvious that, unlike Sengoku, all the work here has gone into the simulation engine not the appearance.