Superpower – the political game in which nuclear annihilation is inevitable

Reminiscing on the weird, trigger-happy political simulation games of the early noughties

A nuke goes off in Afghanistan in superpower 3

THQ Nordic’s recent tenth anniversary showcase came with a lot of cool announcements. Destroy All Humans 2, another Sponge Bob Squarepants game, and we’re even getting a serious attempt at a new Jagged Alliance strategy game. But I don’t think we’re talking enough about the real star of the show: Superpower 3.

A geopolitical simulation in which you can control any nation on earth. Real-world data and realistic scenarios. Character creation. Statistics! This game has it all, but where did it come from, and what do we know about its predecessors? Strap yourselves in, readers.

Let’s be honest, the original Superpower and its more popular sequel, Superpower 2, were as niche as they came. Released in 2002 and 2004 respectively, the post-9/11 terrorism-obsessed zeitgeist didn’t suit its Cold War inspiration, and it certainly came well before simulation games – geopolitical or otherwise – commanded more widespread interest. These weren’t even on Steam until Superpower 2 debuted in 2014, ten years after it first came out.

I played Superpower 2 a surprising (in hindsight) amount when I was younger, and it left such a weird impression on me that I ended up rebuying it twice by accident – I found it in a second-hand shop, bought it, and then forgot I had it and then bought another second-hand copy.

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It was a buggy mess, and exemplified the old-school design philosophy of the early ’00s. Nothing explained itself, the UI was functional but not accessible, and the devs weren’t interested in holding your hand.

What I remember most about it was that, without fail, my sessions would end with someone getting nuked. I don’t recall if I ever did it myself (maybe once, just to see what would happen), but more often than not the AI would generate enough beef with me to just up and bomb me out of the blue. Sometimes the AI would nuke another nation, and mutually assured destruction would happen without my input.

Either way I got to watch the world go up in flames more often than I think I’d be comfortable with now, 17 years later.

Superpower 3 comes to a PC gaming scene completely unlike the one in which its predecessors released. You have other series, such as Realpolitiks and Democracy, that have attempted to fill the void since, not to mention Paradox’s grand strategy design, which has brought large-scale, deep simulations into the mainstream.

SuperPower 3's stats screen

I find myself completely unsurprised that carefree use of nuclear weapons, not to mention the Trumpian vibes and military jingoism, should be front and centre in the new game’s trailer. As a strangely important part of my history as a strategy gamer, I’ll probably take it for a spin to see what developer Golem Labs has learned over the last couple of decades.

Maybe this time, I won’t get nuked. Maybe.

More like this: The best grand strategy games on PC

Superpower 3 is due out on PC via Steam “soon”. A more specific release window hasn’t been given.