The landscape for election simulators is a relatively barren one. This saddens me, for as the world’s foremost West Wing fan, I would like nothing better than to battle it out on the political scene. There are many games that give politics a secondary priority, but few video games give elections their due. But here we have The Political Machine 2012, a game dedicated to all things electoral.
The Political Machine 2012 focuses on the campaign for president by the two US major party candidates. Sadly, this is the only scenario the game allows. There are no independents, no primaries, no senatorial campaigns. The focus is purely the presidential election. During the campaign, you’ll move your candidate around the country. You’ll raise money, makes speeches, create ad campaigns, and try to influence each state to vote for you. The game uses a complex algorithm (based on actual 2012 polling data) to determine how your conduct influences each state’s Republican, Democratic, and independent voters.
Each campaign begins with a selection of candidates. You’ll have your choice of the heavy hitting like Mitt and Barak, or you could choose someone like Donald Trump or Sarah Palin. There is also a create-a-candidate feature, where you can choose their features (yes, I’d like to wear a suit of armor) and issue positions (sure, I’m in favor of video game violence). There was some wonkiness with this… hats cut directly through hair and noses passed through helmets. In general, I could create an awesome looking candidate, but there was some weirdness to it.
The game has a distinct board game feel to it. You’ll move your candidate around the map each week, expending stamina with each action until you can move no more. Then your opponent will do likewise. As the game progresses, you’ll build up influence and gain endorsements of various national groups. In addition, you’ll acquire assistants like speech writers and voter intimidators that you can send out into the country as a tactical maneuver. You’ll also get to select a running mate about halfway through who will gain you funds and push the polls.
One of the most amusing parts of the game is the interview process. Knockoffs of Chris Matthews and Stephen Colbert will grill your candidate on a couple of issues, and your answers will influence the polls. These are wonderfully well thought out parodies, and were a personal highlight. Also exciting, the electoral battles can come right down to the last week of the campaign, and you’ll have the thrill of watching the states one by one cast their lot with one candidate or the other on election night. Even an election I won handily was filled with the sadness of losing the two states I had campaign the hardest to win.
While PM2012 is a passable election simulator, it does feel rather hollow. The landscape is vacuous. Campaigns are normally influenced by senators and party big wigs, and they are completely absent here. And a lot of the activities seem empty as well. To give a speech, you go to a state, select an issue, and your position, and then see the effect on the polls. To raise money, you hit the raise funds button. The actions just don’t have any sort of weight to them. And a key moment of any presidential campaign is the debate. The lack of debates was a glaring absence.
Just like with real politics, I got to the end of this game wishing I’d had more. It’s fun for what it is, but it lacks depth and weight. It’s at a bargain price though, and if you really want to see if you have what it takes to get elected president, you could do worse than The Political Machine 2012.
- Candidate creators- I want more helmet
- Interviews are entertaining
- Election night jitters
- Lacks Weight
- No debates? Really?
- Very similar to 2008 version