“…light-hearted but fanatically gripping entertainment.”
As the race for the White House hots up on the other side of the pond to this writer’s locale, the world waits to see who will soon become the most powerful leader on the planet. The contest is different this time of course, with some candidates in the running being more controversial than any of those that history has known before. Some people may feel perhaps that in this new tide of unusual prospective Presidents’ their time may be on the horizon as well. For those of us who don’t have the backing of multi-billion dollar corporate empires in our name, or a legitimate claim of citizenship for that matter, The Political Machine 2016 is on hand to give us a go at winning the Presidency from the comfort of our own homes.
The Political Machine 2016 is a simulation of the weeks of campaigning that lead up to the all-important presidential vote. With all of the methods of the real-life race at your disposal, your ultimate goal is to win state-by-state support for your party and end up in the oval office. With a fast pace and a semi-satirical attitude, the game makes the gruelling slog of the real deal seem like a distant myth, offering instead a competitive, strategic and simplified battleground upon which to play the President game. Despite its overall simplicity however, there is a surprising amount of depth and detail packed into the game, with numerous options at your disposal at every turn.
Before you can get stuck in for the long fight, you need to choose a candidate. All of the names you would expect to see in the news are there for you to choose from, but the most satisfying option is almost certainly creating your own leader-to-be. The aesthetical options allow you to create your ideal bobble-headed figure to stand up to Trump, Cruz, Clinton or Gore as you seek to capture the hearts of the American people. The choices for customisation put this feature well above many of the AAA character creation systems you might come across, putting much more stock than you would expect into allowing you to form your perfect avatar. One you have the canvas however, it is time to add the depth.
Each potential candidate in the game has a number of characteristic ratings, as though they were names on Top Trumps cards. These range from their monetary wealth to their credibility and charismatic talents, covering everything in between. These parameters set out the very basic definition of your character prior to the start of the game, and determine their energy, funds and chances of success in the campaign events to follow. You are also given the opportunity to set out their initial standings on an incredibly wide range of popular issues. These include fighting ISIS, the rise of Russia, nuclear energy and the war in Iraq among numerous others. The combination of your avatar’s characteristics and opinions give the game a feeling of legitimacy that you do not expect to see from it at face value. As a result, by the time you get down to the main gameplay experience you are already sold on the credibility of the simulation.
The main game is a little less in depth than the character creation, but only on the basis that it would be impossible to program in every possible option and eventuality. Having chosen your candidates to play as and against and a difficulty level and timescale for the game, you are ready to make your first moves. The basic parameters of what you can do each turn (the equivalent to one week of the race) are based on your campaign funds and your candidate’s energy. Each move you make depletes your energy bar by a set amount, so picking a candidate with a lot of energy can be a distinct advantage. Having funds in your pocket is equally important, as travelling the country, recruiting good help and pushing your political agenda does not come cheap. You can raise funds in supportive states if these begin to run low, and the more you rest your candidate the more energy they will earn to spend. Getting off to a quick and hard-hitting start in both of these areas can secure you that early lead though, so it is worth considering this in picking your ideal leader.
On each turn there are several options available to you. You can make a speech, which gives you a lot of political clout, create an advertisement for lasting local awareness, set up base camp in a state to maintain voter relations, raise funds, hire notable characters or seek endorsements. Each of these can have different results and cost different levels of money and energy, but a combination is certainly the best way to throw the biggest punch. Whilst the game does set out the benefits of each of these options, the ones which appear to make the biggest differences are speeches and endorsements. Speeches raise major awareness of your campaign in that state and have a visible effect on your prospective percentage of the vote there. This clout can in turn be used to gain endorsements from national groups, which can gain you countrywide support. The other options make a difference too, but do not make as big of a visible sway to your campaign as these do. This is perhaps an area in which the game could either use some balancing or a greater, visual prompt for the success of failure of the specific move.
As in the real-life race, each state holds a different amount of significance when the final vote count comes in, and a useful set of overlays help you decide where to go next. Targeting the states in which the vote matters most is important, but you must be careful that your opponent does not snipe your party’s popular states whilst you do so. Covering the states across your campaign is key to winning, more so perhaps than what you choose to do when you get to them. A lack of attention in one area can lose it, whilst too much attention in another can become a critical distraction. Travelling does of course take up energy, so planning ahead can be key, but it is important to be ready to change your schedule at any moment. Sudden events and opportunities can pop up on the map which can make or break your campaign. In these instances you often have to race your opponent to the marker and hope for the best. A TV interview for example gives you the opportunity to give a speech on a national scale, whilst political opportunities can turn up useful figures in the local are who can help by giving a bonus to a specific aspect of your campaign there. These events help the game to play out differently every time, meaning no single strategy can win you every election race you choose to play.
A few weeks into each race, you can also seek to give your campaign its biggest boost of all by choosing your running mate. This is an opportunity for less charismatic leaders to pick a talker to have at their side, or for poorer individuals to bring on board a major financial backer. If you need more funds, more credibility or even just more awareness, your running mate can offer that all important leg up. Once you have picked your winning combination, you are able to move this person from state to state each turn as well, and allow the AI to rally support for you rather than being in two places at once. It feels however as though there is room with the running mate feature to allow you to do more with them in the game. Aside from moving them around, the options here feel limited, and this is a great point in the game for some deeper strategy to come into play.
When the final vote comes in, The Political Machine 2016 does offer a sense of glorious victory or crushing defeat. It is at this point, when you have done all you can, that you realise just how well the simulation has allowed you to make the important calls throughout your campaign. Whichever way the voters sway, you feel as though you have achieved a lot in a small space of time. If you win, your victory encourages you to play again, and if you lose, a similar drive forces you to attempt to achieve the more desirable result. The replayability of this game then is endless. You can pick a different character and a different strategy every time, with different parameters in the mix and different strategies at play. And that is the key here; every play though is different, meaning every play through is as fun, exciting and intense as the last.
The Political Machine 2016 is not the most in-depth, or even the most serious political sim you will ever play. It is however one of the more fun ones you will have the pleasure of having a go at, remembering that it is not only a simulation but also a game for people to play. Nevertheless, it achieves depth is customisation and strategic play, offering unlimited replayability with a different experience on the table every time. Well rounded character creation and customisation changes the parameters of each challenge, and whilst the simplified representation of the election campaign does not cover every single one of the bases it does offer plenty to be appreciated. The perfect game for the would-be Presidential candidate who doesn’t want to try too hard, The Political Machine 2016 is well worth it for the money and is guaranteed to offer you some light-hearted but fanatically gripping entertainment.
- A solid simulation which remembers all the while that it is also a video game.
- Impressive depth in customisation options and strategic gameplay.
- Unlimited replayability is possible with different opponents to face each time.
- Well rounded character creation allows you to create a very detailed political candidate of your own to throw into the arena.
- Equally as enjoyable and fun as it is challenging, offering a great all-round experience.
- Not the most in depth political simulator on the market.
- Doesn’t quite manage to cover all the bases of a legitimate US campaign run.
- Some gameplay elements seem to have far less impact on your campaign than others, but it is not always made clear what your best options are.