By Alec Meer on June 20th, 2008 at 12:32 pm.
I’ve done a bad thing. A baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad thing. I’ve made One Of The Most Evil Men In The World president of the USA. Dick Cheney now has the keys to the planet, with staunch support from his Vice-President Lord Krona, who is a brain-washing tyrant from Mars. Or is that Cheney again? I get confused.
It might be an insane, broken system, but American politics is so much more fascinating than British politics at the moment. I may not be able to vote over there, but I can play The Political Machine 2008.
In fairness, my opponent was Jimmy Carter, history’s greatest monster, so I wasn’t up against the Democrats’ strongest candidate. Still, getting elected by endorsing big business, organised religion, firearms and anti-abortion pretty much turned my stomach, so it’s a a triumph against my moral compass if nothing else.
TPM08 is a timely sequel to Stardock’s 2004 original, released to
capitalise on coincide with the Bush-Kerry Presidential race. This prettified, expanded follow-up has, unsurprisingly, enormo-pictures of Obama, Mcain and the Hildog on the front on the box, all rendered as perma-smirking bobbleheads. Cutely, clicking on their giant, bulbous faces on the menu screens makes ‘em wobble crazily. I did this to Hillary again and again, as punishment for her being quite, quite mad.
It’s a turn based sorta-strategy game that shines a light on the relative silliness of US votemongering – your candidate tours the states, drumming up support in each by identifying the issues they care about the most (e.g. Texas is big on war, California gets its knickers in a twist about green issues, Ohio’s worried about outsourcing jobs…). He lies, he connives, he exploits, he smears. That’s the way to do it.
As each state carries a different weighting in the final vote, inevitably both you and you opponent pretty much ignore the low-population likes of Nebraska and Utah. Just like real American politics, half the country doesn’t actually matter. So Cheney spent most of his time buzzing around in a constant, frantic loop between the likes California, Florida, New York, Texas and Pennsylvania, leaving lonely Lord Krona to bother farmers in Nebraska.
It is, as Stardock point out, all about political maths. If your opponent’s given a load of successful speeches on social security, or taken out a nationwide TV ad advocating tougher gun control, simply taking the opposite argument is only going to alienate half the voters who’ve already made their minds up on the matter. Instead, you look out for where he’s weak, what he’s not talking about. Carter reckons higher gas prices are a smart idea, but clearly he’s not going to tell all the SUV drivers that. $500,000 buys me a newspaper ad that reveals his high-priced proclivities, and suddenly he’s less appealing to the state it’s running in. If I can stretch to a radio or TV campaign, word of his petroleum price-hikes will dribble into the rest of the country. It’ll make me too poor to afford that nice new HQ I was planning on building, but the long-term gain is probably worth it. Take that, Carter.
Meanwhile I’m accruing political clout and PR influence by constructing headquarters across the country. The former buys me the support of lobby groups such as hard-right christians or gun nuts, the latter I can spend on agents who’ll increase my awareness, slander my opponent, or, um, dress me better. One of them can even achieve the impossible – increase Cheney’s charisma.
Crucially, most of the game’s activities can only happen in a state your candidate is currently in, so you’re constantly flying him around to crucial battlegrounds. This costs cash, earned back through fundraising, which though it refills the coffers spends valuable stamina points that could otherwise have been used to increase support. It’s a small game, and there are very few things you can actually do in any given turn, but there’s a sense of the monumental, unrelenting clusterfuck the campaign trail must be. There you are in Florida shouting about homeland security, but meanwhile you’re losing California because there’s a radio ad decrying your stance on healthcare. Believe it or not, Cheney is just a man – he literally lacks the stamina to get over to the other side of the country and fight his insidious Medicare corner.
In the end, it was the environment that did it, of all things. Dick Cheney: eco-warrior. It betrayed his own values, it incensed a load of Republican voters, but a spot of tree-hugging was enough to tip just a few more independent voters in The Penguin’s favour, breaking the stalemate. The country – nay, the world is his. Oh God.
The Political Machine 2008 is $20 (about £10) from Stardock, or you can buy it over their new Steam-a-like Impulse thinger (which I’ll probably write something about later). You probably won’t play it for more than a week (though I’ve yet to try the multiplayer, which could well be hilarious), but it’s cute, it’s slick, it’s endearingly cynical about politics and for all its knowing timeliness, it never collapses into gimmickery. My next challenge? Getting Nixon back in office.