The More Things Change…
Politics is my day job. Seriously. All day, every day, I deal with the mudslinging, posturing and tit for tat media battles that make up the modern political process. As such, I am both the best and the worst person to review something like The Political Machine 2012. On the one hand, I am totally the target audience: both a gamer and a political junkie. On the other hand, I know too much, and I am pretty jaded on the process itself. Even so, this is the exact sort of game that’s bound to fly under the radar, and Jeff sure as hell isn’t going to play this, so I’ll give it a shot.
Ultimately, this review comes down to one sentiment: If you have played either of the first two Political Machine games, you have played The Political Machine 2012. Apart from some new customization options, a political roster update and a (very slightly) shinier coat of paint, this is the same game as Political Machine 2008, which was pretty much the same game as Political Machine 2004.
In case you haven’t played the Political Machine series before, here’s the quick and dirty: The Political Machine is a turn based political strategy game in which the player takes a candidate of their choice across the country in an attempt to win the Presidency on election day. In order to accomplish this goal, the player must set up various types of headquarters, deploy various kinds of political operatives, make speeches, buy ads, fundraise, and appear on news shows. The game has a softly satirical edge to it, featuring fake version of real news shows, but actual issues (such as Obamacare, the Fast and Furious scandal, and a military strike on Iran) are included in the game.
In practice, the game is easier than it looks on paper. There are really only so many actions you can take, and tried and true election strategies work here, as they do in the real world. Electorial College protip: focus on Florida and Ohio, and if you are a Democrat, make sure to hold on to the northeast and California.
The game runs well, with no apparent bugs, and it looks fine. So, if any of what I just said interests you, and you haven’t played the series before, I recommend The Political Machine 2012 without reservation. It’s only $10 on Steam, barely enough to buy off a crooked Congressman.
Now, if you HAVE played either of the first two games, I have a hard time recommending the 2012 edition. What you have here is a virtually identical product with a slightly updated political roster to the 2008 edition. Stardock completely dropped the ball when it came to innovating or improving upon their product.
In the last four years we have seen lightyears of improvement in gaming, but The Political Machine is still the same old game. Don’t expect any new features. In fact, expect fewer politicians than in previous games. No historical scenarios, no deep customization, no new news shows (they still have a fake Larry King???).
This game is begging for improvements. It’s a great concept for a game, and it’s so well put together. There are just about a hundred things that could help spice up the formula: debates, advisors, historical elections, the advantages of an incumbent president, new news shows, web outreach, etc. Hell, how about the influence of outside groups (more relevant than ever in today’s world.)
Nope. Instead, it very much feels like a couple of sad saps over at Stardock looked at a calendar, realized a presidential election was underway, and had to take The Political Machine out of a closet to be dusted off and optimized for Windows 7.
But hey, I’m sure we can look forward to at least a few new bobbleheads in 2016.