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The Political Machine Review

Developer: Stardock Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: August 10, 2004 Also On: None

In an Election Year, it’s all about choices. Well, the decisions are all made for you, in some cases, such as the “vote for best beer� commercials, where the winner is not you, I assure you. It seems that everyone sells out to the Election Year theme. Even an internet company, Netzero, has opted to join in the fray. In 2004’s presidential election, Ubi Soft joins in on the fun with a political simulator, for the millions of political junkies out there, including me.

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It’s a bold move by Ubi Soft to release a game in an Election Year as bitter as this one. The only way for it to succeed, however, is if it reached across both aisles, and didn’t show political pandering. Geographical balancing is also an important part of the game. Republicans have an advantage in the South and Great Plains, where religion, guns, and gay rights are major issues. Democrats have an advantage in the Midwest, Northeast, and Pacific Coast, where the economy, education, healthcare and the environment are major issues.

This makes the game a bit lop-sided, oftentimes throwing larger states such as Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania into the Democratic column, on top of the solid support that they already have in states such as New York and California. It is, however, hard for Democrats to do well in the South or Great Plains, without great strides, so it allows the Republican candidate to focus more on picking up, than defending, states.

I found that the game was balanced, for the most part, giving things such as abortion an advantage to pro-choicers, and on the subject of the Iraq War, an approval from both Independents and Republicans, despite public opinion polling showing that a majority of both Democrats and Independents oppose the Iraq War now. Nonetheless, this game was in development a few months ago, and as the war has dragged on, it has become less popular, so this oversight is forgivable in the sense that they couldn’t foresee the turn in public opinion.

The first match in the game (if you play as a Democrat) is against Condi Rice, the current National Security Advisor. For Republicans, your first challenger is Democrat Wesley Clark, former presidential candidate and four-star general. Condi Rice is looking to become the first black and female president, while General Clark is looking to become another president from Arkansas, born in Chicago.

Right click to move your candidate to a state. Build headquarters’ to raise much-needed cash ($10,000 per week, per hq), increase awareness, research top issues, create ads, etc. Use political operatives to smear your opponent’s record, spin doctor’s to defend your claims in states where your platform might not be friendly, etc.

The Electoral College will determine who wins a seat in the Oval Office. You need 270 Electoral Votes (EV) to win the White House. For those that aren’t familiar with politics, you shouldn’t be playing this game, since it’s all about knowing what states are competitive, which ones have the highest EV, and where best to place your VP, who increases your awareness in a target state.

The game does seem a bit unfair in some areas. First, a candidate isn’t guaranteed his home state, or his running mate’s home state. I beat Arnold, as John Kerry, 384 to 154, including the states of California, Indiana, Virginia, Ohio, Florida and Utah. I also lost the popular vote by 3 million votes and won the Electoral College, due to the targeting of high-volume EV states, with a victory of 340 to 198.

Fantasy Setup allows you to set a political scenario. You decide if the economy is weak or strong, your level of awareness, opponent’s difficulty, foreign relationships, wealth, endorsement/operative cost, etc. You can also randomize state population, wealth, issue importance, and percentage of Republican and Democrats per state.

Some things that I would have liked to have seen in this game include the following (add these to the sequel Ubisoft). I would have liked to have seen a primary calendar, where I could have played as Howard Dean against John Kerry, John Edwards, Dick Gephardt, Wesley Clark and the other former candidates. As I said, your running mate needs to play a greater role in the campaign, possibly having the ability to campaign at the same time as the presidential candidate. While I don’t expect a running mate to secure a state, he/she should at least make it competitive. Television ads should be carried on cable news, instead of just local markets and the level of attacks should extend past “my opponent opposes creating jobs/healthcare/Social Security/etc.”.

The Political Machine is the best game in the political simulator foray to date. While this doesn’t say much, being that we haven’t ever seen one really, it is a step into waters that assures, with its success, games like it, which will expand on the idea of running a campaign. The online play, along with Fantasy Setup, allow for hours of non-stop political strategies.

This is a wet dream for political junkies. Passing up on The Political Machine would be like passing on a date with Britney Spears. For the budget price of $19.99, I don’t see how you can go wrong with The Political Machine, which could quite easily be the best simulator of Election Year 2004.

Graphics: 7
Sound: 7
Gameplay: 7
Creativity: 8.5
Replay Value/Game Length: 9
Final: 7.5
Written by Kyle Review Guide