Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Release Date: June 2, 2004
I recall the last election year. I bought a program called “Decision 2000”, which was pretty cool. It was a real-time update of the voting structure of the last election. By the way, do you know what an “election” is? It’s what you find on a Chinese blidegloom. But I digress…
Anyway, this program was perfect for political junkies like me. You could download the latest poll results, the latest speeches, and so forth, so you could really follow the election.
I was very excited when my illustrious editor assigned “The Political Machine” to me. I am, as previously mentioned, a news and political junkie. I follow the polls, I watch the speeches, I TIVO the conventions, and I am very interested in which moron is going to rule the country for the next four years, so the idea of becoming the campaign manager for a presidential race was very intriguing. Then I played the game. If this weren’t an election year, this title would never have been released. This is one of those “novelty titles” that come along to capitalize on a current trend. Rest assured, you’ll be able to buy this title for about 3 bucks after the election.
The best thing about “The Political Machine” is the cover art. It makes one think of Aliens vs. Predator. If this game had been more like “Aliens vs. Predator vs. Kerry vs. Bush” we might have something here, but alas, such is not the case.
You begin your quest for power by choosing from a list of Presidential hopefuls who run the gamut of history. I began with the campaign game, which pits you against past winners. I chose, for ca-ca’s and ha-ha’s, Hilary Clinton. What the hey, it’s a game, right?
Once you have chosen your candidate, the map screen opens. This is your regular, standard, dull, run-of-the-mill, red and blue map we see on our TV screens every four Novembers. Whee. Your candidate then has a number of stamina points to spend each week. One game turn equals one week of actual campaigning.
Your points are used to travel from state to state, build a campaign headquarters, give speeches, place radio, print, or TV ads, or buy political power through special interest groups. You can also hire operatives to either bolster your own campaign, or sabotage your opponent’s.
Now, this could all be very interesting if it were presented in one of two ways: First, if it was done realistically, with actual photographs, sound bites, and headlines, or second, if it were done with tongue firmly implanted in cheek. I was really hoping for the latter, but would have settled for the former if need be. Alas, the developers seemed content to slap this together as quickly as possible and boy howdy, does it show.
If the graphics had been less cartoonish the game may have something positive to present itself, but as you can see from the screen shots, “The Political Machine” is a parody of itself.
Whenever you place new radio, print or TV ads, the screen simply tells you whether you were running a negative or a positive ad, and what the issue is. Would it have taken that much effort to write some humorous headlines, some scathing attacks, or anything entertaining? These days, there is no such thing as a civil campaign, and this game sugar coats everything. You would think this is more like a race for Senior Class President that the leader of the free world.
When you appear on the special Television appearances (With such irresistible titles as “Hard Hitter”, “Barry King Live”, or “60 Seconds” [wow… SNL has nothing to worry about]), you are presented with over simplified multiple-choice answers to over-simplified questions. Where are the blitzes? Where are the Media ambushes? Where’s Ross Perot?
Speaking of Ross Perot, Independent candidates are non-existent in this game. How can this be? Many pundits credited Ralph Nader with spoiling the ’00 election?
And where are the scandals? Don’t tell me the developers of “The Political Machine” are so optimistic about the process, they are willing to ignore any hint of scandal in these elections? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t really need the down and dirty on every candidate, but come on now, if I were running against Thomas Jefferson in a media-age election, how could I NOT mention his slave-ownership and, shall we say, ravenous appetite for the affections of said slaves? I think not. A race for 4th district alderman in Iowa has more oomph to it than this vanilla display of good sportsmanship.
As a matter of fact, every issue not directly related to the presidential candidate’s platforms is missing here. If Ms. Clinton does throw her bonnet into the ring in 2008, do you really believe that no one would talk about her being a woman? No one would notice that Condoleezza Rice is black? To say “yes” to either of these questions would be an exercise in sheer naiveté.
I think I just hit on the key issue I have with “The Political Machine”. This game is so naïve!!
I think, however, as a teaching aid in Middle schools, this piece of software could be amazingly effectual. It does break down the differences between the Electoral College and the Popular Vote. (Can you say Florida in 2000?) It shows, albeit in simplified form, how much time, effort and travel goes into making a run at the White House. It demonstrates how expensive it can be to mount a campaign, and it does skirt on the behind the scenes lobbying that can so often sway an election.
About a third of the way through your campaign, you are asked to choose a running mate. This decision can either be very helpful or very belittling, depending on your choice. When running as Hilary, I have so far chosen Bill Clinton as her running mate each and every time. What the hey, I’d love to see Bill as the First Lady. Or would it be First Man? First Hubby? First Big-Haired-Waitress-Loving-BBQ-Eating-Intern-Pincher? But again, I digress…..
Sound-wise, “The Political Machine” has nothing whatsoever to recommend it. The music is substandard “News at Noon” fare, with heavy brass and timpani thrumming out of your speakers. That’s about it. Dull background music, next to no sound effects, and an overall slapdash feel. This is where the game could have used some more paint and polish. Sound bites are de rigueur in the media these days, so where are they here?
As mentioned before, the graphics are just thrown-together still images. The most taxing animations are of little 747’s flying hither and yon. (I’ve always wanted to use that expression).
Replayability is almost limitless, but in the case of a dull game like this, who wants to replay it? It’s like going back for a second colonoscopy the week after your first. I mean, you CAN, but in God’s name, WHY??
This game is multiplayer enabled, but no one ever seems to be on the matching service. This is a big clue for you. If you can make a game play over the net, and still no one plays it, then I say you have a real loser on your hands.
In the final analysis, I am going to give this game two different scores.
First, as a gamer, I give this game an abysmal 1 out of 10. It is dull, uninspired, graphically inferior, sound deserted, and ultimately, unsatisfying.
However, if this is marketed as educational software, specifically at the Middle- and High-School level, and not targeted at the gaming community, this could be an exceptional introduction to the world of National Politics, indeed. It could also serve well those who don’t quite “get” the way elections in this country are run, won, or lost. On that slant, I give it a solid 7 out of 10.
As A Game: 1.0/10
As Educational Software: 7.0/10
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