Politics and games have never mixed easily and perhaps surprisingly there haven’t been many political games released over the years. However The Political Machine is looking to change all that with its comedy take on the US elections which allows players to battle for the presidency.
Gameplay (4 out of 5)
This is a much improved version of the game which was first released in 2004. This time around you can choose from a wide variety of political characters, both past and present. There are also a few fictional characters thrown in or you can create your own. You can choose from various scenarios from fighting a US election campaign back in 1860 to a modern day 2008 campaign. There is also a European Union scenario and one based on the Galactic Civilisation series of sci-fi games in which you can play as an alien leader.
The main campaign is of course the current 2008 presidency competition. Campaigns run over a period of 41 weeks and each week equals one turn for each player. You have to build up funds, political capital and public relations which you can then spend on various boosts for your campaign such as adverts, speeches, endorsements and individual characters like spin doctors who will boost your popularity in the state they are placed in.
The campaigns are fought on a big map of the United States divided into the various states and you can filter your view to see how things stand, where the money is and a host of other pertinent information. If you want to win you’ll need to travel around the country and strategize carefully about where to concentrate your efforts. As with the real political system in the US it’s not about winning the majority of states or the popular vote but rather winning that magic number of 270 electoral seats. This means states like New York, California, Texas and Florida are by far the most important to win over.
When it comes to policies you are able to make speeches and run ad campaigns which explain your own position or criticise your opponent’s position. There is a guide to the likely reaction in each state so you have to choose your policies carefully or risk alienating the all important independents. There are also various pop-up events such as chat shows where you can choose from a multiple choice list of answers.
The game is relatively simple but there is a great deal of strategy involved if you want to win and as you play through the main series of campaigns against the AI you will find that the ability to react to what your opponent is doing is vital.
Graphics and Sound (3 out of 5)
The art style is fairly basic. Characters are small caricatured versions of the original occasionally appearing as big headed 3D models with basic animation. You’ll spend most of your time viewing the overview map or reading text about the voters of each state. The 2D map and text menus and pop ups are well designed and the host of available overviews makes finding the information you need fairly easy.
The sound is also fairly basic with a few effects and a bit of background music. Interviews are text based and this was a missed opportunity to have some fun with presidential voices.
Replay Factor (2 out of 5)
The main campaign sees you take on six opponents with increasing difficulty and it is initially quite an addictive affair which is difficult to stop playing. A single campaign can be comfortably completed in an hour or two but you’ll find yourself starting the next one immediately eager to improve your performance.
In terms of replay factor this will keep you entertained for several hours. There is an online multiplayer option which allows you to face a human opponent. However the basic principles once you understand them make for a repeat experience which can become overly familiar. After a couple of days I was bored with the game.
The learning curve is quite high to begin with though and it is likely to take you a few games to master.
Overall (3 out of 5)
The game really depends on comedy to work and it strikes the right tone here with several nice gags about past presidents and American politics. The obvious problem with this approach is that as you play through the game many of these gags are repeated and inevitably begin to lose their impact. Overall this is a very fun title with an obvious topical appeal. At just under $20 it represents good value for money, and for strategy gamers with an interest in politics it’s a must buy.