This political simulation sequel gives players control of their favorite world-power country to pursue political, economic, and military goals, in cooperation or competition with other nations of the world. As in the original SuperPower, this follow-up runs on a complicated model of dynamic, interrelated factors, and AI that has each computer-controlled opponent analyzing from its own perspective and making decisions in its own best interests. New features in SuperPower 2 include multiplayer capabilities, over a LAN or the Internet, and the availability of editing tools and developer support to encourage creative modding of the core game.
The original SuperPower was one of the most unintentionally hilarious games you could ever hope to play. Bhutan might suddenly decide to invade Uruguay. A border clash might erupt between Lithuania and Botswana, regardless of the minor detail that they don't share a border. Poland might pick a fight with Mexico for no good reason, sending troops overseas faster than you could say "Bush Doctrine." It was like a wacky sitcom except with crazy countries slapping each other instead of mismatched roommates. Nations Behaving Badly.
Unfortunately, everything beyond the unintentional hilarity was tedious and obscure. SuperPower 2 addresses this problem by removing the unintentional hilarity, giving nations preset relationships that keep them from engaging in trans-global slapfights. Which leaves only the tedium and obscurity of the original SuperPower.
At first glance, the game appears to be an epic undertaking, along the lines of Paradox Software's challenging but manageable Europa Universalis titles. When you boot up SuperPower 2, you're greeted with a colorful globe, rotating slowly under a wispy coat of clouds. When you look closer, you'll notice the entire world is divided into its component countries and provinces, with major roads and rivers visible if you zoom in close enough. When you start a game, you can select any country and choose your own the victory conditions (although most of the victory conditions mentioned in the manual are missing). Alternatively, you can lend the proceedings a bit more focus by choosing one of nine scenarios. Try to invade Iraq, lead France into economic health, or lift the trade embargo on Cuba. Most of these are little more than tutorials, however; SuperPower 2 would have fared better with more developed scenarios.
Once you're situated in the game proper, it still looks promising. There are overlays to give you a good overview of the globe, which you can spin adroitly under your fingertips. When you click on a country, there are three buttons to peer into its economic, military, and political conditions. And here's where anyone who tried to play Master of Orion 3 might start to feel a little queasy. Once you've opened these windows, you'll find yourself in a Russian nesting doll of windows, tabs, and displays, invariably tucked behind tiny buttons without hotkeys or cross-links, all crammed with information you might never figure out even if you read the moderately helpful manual. All the while, messages are constantly scrolling past a one-line window, alerting you that four people died in a flood in Lithuania, that Albania has increased its tax rate .5%, and that Surinam just had a bountiful harvest. Occasionally you'll get a terse and marginally helpful warning from one of your advisors.
This sort of complexity and detail can work, as the aforementioned Europa Universalis demonstrated. But SuperPower 2 carries over from its predecessor one of the cardinal sins of game design: it consists almost entirely of making choices whose effects are unclear and miniscule. So much of what's going on is hidden under the surface, with very little feedback about why or even whether something happens, even once you've digested the manual. For instance, you can proscribe languages and religions, which the manual says will increase instability in your country. But in the same paragraph, the manual tells you that allowing multiple languages and religions can also increase stability. So when that stability bar inches oh-so-imperceptibly from 30.6% to 30.7%, not only do you not know why, but you probably won't even notice.
Nor will you care. There's nothing by way of a hook to grab your imagination. Playing Iran's mullahs doesn't feel any different from playing the U.S.'s Republicans. Researching and building a new tank doesn't do anything to flesh out battles beyond a bunch of numbers ticking down for some unknown reason. The new treaty options could have given injected a bit of personality, but instead just provide another thick tangled list that might nudge a slider bar a pixel to the left or perhaps add a few million dollars to a multi-trillion dollar sum. There is no attempt to hide the fact that every country is nothing more than a collection of bald data driven by inscrutable formulae.
And because the game is so devoid of personality, it's not even engaging as a way of experimenting with nightmare scenarios. There's nothing satisfying about taking control of the U.S. and changing it to a military dictatorship without freedom of speech or women's suffrage, only to see your political standing inch to the right and maybe your approval rating dip for a while.
SuperPower 2 has pretty slick multiplayer support in that you just start a multiplayer game just like a normal game, with the difference being that anyone can jump into any country that isn't taken by a human player. But for all intents and purposes, it's not very different from a single-player game since there's not much meaningful interaction among countries. You're left with little to do but cobble together a few treaties to boost your economies. In fact, most online multiplayer games have been plagued with bored newcomers randomly invading other countries or lobbing nukes around just for the hell of it. To add insult to injury, if the host loses an election or if his country is eliminated, he has to leave the game running with nothing to look at but a window that says: "You've been eliminated but don't close this window or you'll shut down the server!" It's hard to imagine that SuperPower 2 will develop much of a multiplayer community.
Finally, it doesn't help that the military element of the game is utterly ludicrous. When the shooting starts in SuperPower 2, any pretense it had towards being a serious simulation goes right out the window. In one of SuperPower 2's most outrageous misrepresentations, it's a simple matter to nuke Iraq's military out of existence and then just roll a few men in afterwards to annex the country. Tiny army icons can shuffle around the globe at supersonic speeds, without any concern for crucial real-world issues like logistics, supply, or interdiction. When armies butt heads, they just tick down their counters like battling cells in a spreadsheet.
In fact, that's pretty much SuperPower 2 in a nutshell: a bunch of pointless hand-waving in a half-hearted attempt to pawn off a ponderous spreadsheet as a game.
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