Nothing pollutes social media quite like the armchair pundits we call our friends and family (though abysmal user-made e-cards are right behind). In fact, between simplistic image macros painting Romney as Hitler and Obama as Stalin and a constant stating of the obvious as if it’s revelatory (Herp, what’s that guys? Fox News favors the far right candidate? THE DEVIL YOU SAY! Derp.), it makes me hope nobody I know ever votes again.
Videogames are a nice retreat from vapid politics (usually). The Political Machine 2012 bucks videogames’ usual apoliticality and puts you in the middle of 2012’s heated presidential election. You choose a candidate and running mate and play against AI or a friend through Steam to battle for The White House.
You can choose either Republican or Democrat for your candidate. No, you cannot choose a third-party candidate at the time of writing—maybe in an update or in the unlikely event some DLC is released. A bummer for Libertarians, like myself, or for Green Party supporters, like stoners. You can pick from the usual suspects—Romney and Obama—or you can choose from VPs Biden and Ryan, or other political figures like Condoleezza Rice, Al Franken or even Ron Paul, the Firefly of politics in that the only people who care about him spend entirely too much time on the Internet.
If you played a previous Political Machine game you may find some of the fun characters to unlock are missing—FDR, Taft, and Lincoln to name a few. Unlockables have been stripped from this game for some reason. Thankfully, the create-a-candidate feature allows for a bit of creativity, allowing you to create a bobble-headed caricature of your very own with political beliefs and ideologies that mirror your own—or not.
To test the game’s multiplayer I played with our own Paul Franzen. Paul taxed his imagination with the Create-A-Candidate mode and made Paul Franzen (D-CT). I played as Hans Leatherman (R-NH), Republican leatherdaddy for freedom!
The game is turn-based, but to minimize boredom and maintain a reasonably fast pace turns run concurrently and are timed, so you’re never waiting more than a few seconds for your next turn.
During your turn you can build various buildings to either increase your cash-per-turn; enhance your political clout, which you can use to get endorsements from the NRA or ACLU (or spoofs thereof); or build up your political capital, which gets you helpful supporters like the Smear Merchant, who makes your opponent look bad, or Speech Writers who make you look good. Once you’ve built these you can choose to spend the rest of your daily energy either taking out ads, giving speeches if you’re strapped for cash, or hobnobbing with your rich supporters and raising some funds if the coffers are looking particularly bare.
Paul and I spent about an hour touring the U.S., trying to convince the general public that we would balance the budget and hand-deliver baby (flying) unicorns to their door, while also informing them that our opponent was a job-hating holocaust denier who cannot achieve sexual climax unless he believes you are destitute and choking on your own tears. We just kept campaigning, never once letting any silly garbage like “the truth” get in the way of our quest for the White House, smearing each other without the slightest concern for the facts—just like a real politician (subtle social commentary).
In the end, Paul won, because the residents of California are a bunch of pinko communists who apparently want a man who thinks Crystal Skull is the best Indiana Jones film to lead them. Screw those hippies.
The United States electoral college works pretty well for the purposes of this game but, believe it or not, it was not originally created with the idea of videogame balance in mind, so you may want to utilize the game’s randomization options. These options randomize electoral college votes for each state and what their most important issues are. Without randomization, you’ll find a majority of the game is spent talking about how much you hate unemployment while constantly telling California how much you love it and how pretty it looks today. Turn on randomization and you could find yourself actually talking about some other things, like gun control in Wyoming or obesity in Iowa. Be warned though, this is not for the faint of heart. Randomization could make the game more fun, but you could also end up in a country where the majority of political sway is held by—God help us—Vermont.
Political Machine 2012 is the game equivalent of New Year’s Eve glasses shaped like the new year you’re celebrating. It’s reasonably fun at the time, but has limited appeal and is bound to be obsoleted and replaced with a barely more relevant version in the near future.
A review copy of this game was provided to us by the publisher.