Yesterday, a game I had very much been anticipating finally released: The Political Machine 2012. In case you’ve missed it, The Political Machine is a series of turn-based strategy games by Stardock (Sins of a Solar Empire, Galactic Civilizations) that themed around the American Presidential race. Your candidate flies from state to state, giving speeches or raising funds; building different types of headquarters to generate one of the three resources at your disposal; or doing interviews on popular news program parodies like The Coldcut Report or the O’Malley Factor. It is a simple enough game, but it’s turn based nature really make for an addicting experience. I have owned every iteration of the game since its original 2004 release.
The first thing to notice about 2012 is the return of the bobble head graphic design. I rather like this aesthetic to help dampen the seriousness of a game about politics, and I think it lends itself better to customizing the exact look of your own politician. The game, as a whole, is nothing special to look at, and a lot of the sequences that don’t take place on a large map of the United States, like the interviews, feel recycled from the previous game in the series.
One of my favorite features from The Political Machine 2008, Campaign mode, is sadly absent from the 2012 version of the series. The Campaign mode allowed you to take any modern candidate (or one of your own creations) and try to best some of the greatest politicians in US history. George Washington may not of had a formal stance on Gay Marriage or Green Jobs, but as America’s number one progenitor, he will surely give you one hell of a campaign. It is really a shame too, because the mode gave you something to strive for and compare yourself to, and also provided a lot of unlockables (in the form of past Presidents) to really broaden the pool of politicians to pick from. 2012 feels very lacking without it, and it makes me annoyed that I can’t steal the Tea Party’s endorsement from an actual Founding Father.
Another missing feature, the Scenario mode, also continues to paint the picture of 2012 as a bad rush job. In The Political Machine 2008, there were two alternate scenarios: running for election in the European Union and running for election in the American Civil War. While the former was a little silly and I would have preferred keeping the focus on the US and US history, the latter was a nice change of pace with its much, much different social issues.
Lastly, the character creator is just as good as past iterations and provides just enough customization to create some very interesting choices. My first two were Vault Boy from the Fallout series and Albus Dumbledore from Harry Potter (complete with wizard hat). Customizing the looks of your character really increases the fun factor and replayability, and certainly makes multiplayer more interesting (which I have yet to test in this game). The key thing about creating your own politician, however, comes with the ability to tailor the stats and the issues you think are more interesting to your liking. With the very accurate issues 2012 includes, this can lead to some very interesting campaign runs.
Skip this game if you own any of the previous versions, especially 2008, unless you have to have the new issues to play with. 2012 takes away more than it adds and offers nothing new for the series other than updated issues. This game is a patch for 2008 at its best and a complete lack of respect for series fans at its worst.
Buy if you only buy games on Steam and are not willing to track down the 2008 version. It really is a fun game series that offers a lot of strategy and a good amount of replayability. Sure, this game isn’t as big a value with its lack of several key modes, but it is still affordable and fun. Definitely check the series out, even if you hate politics.