The Political Machine 2016 review for PC

Platform: PC
Publisher: Stardock
Developer: Stardock
Medium: Digital
Players: 1-2
Online: Yes
ESRB: E10+

I’m definitely a hardcore political junkie. I’ve been one for pretty much my entire life. My first job ever was in a political office. I got my degree in political science. As my mom is fond of reminding me, I was once sent to the principal’s office for being too disruptive in class, after I started telling off my classmates for not being politically aware; I was 7 at the time.

In other words, The Political Machine 2016 seems like it should be right up my alley. I may be Canadian, but that doesn’t mean I don’t find U.S. politics — and, especially, elections — endlessly fascinating. And thanks to a combination of the Fourteenth Amendment and Citizens United, this is probably the closest I’m ever going to come to actually having anything to do with a U.S. election, so I should be all over it, right?

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Right…to an extent. I enjoy The Political Machine 2016 for what it is. The opportunity to guide someone like Elizabeth Warren or Al Franken to the White House is pretty awesome, to say nothing of the create-a-character option. What’s more, it’s neat to go on news programs and answer questions that are almost literally ripped from the headlines, and to travel from state to state giving speeches and running ads and doing fundraisers, and to pick a running mate, and to do a lot of those other things that make campaigns seem like so much fun. In that respect, this game is amazing.

That said, I can’t help but wish there was even more to it. Like, it’s fun creating an in-game avatar and seeing how well I fare in a run at the White House, but any similarities between me and the character I created were almost entirely accidental. Rather than giving you free reign to thoughtfully weigh your options and come up with a platform that reflects your belief system, The Political Machine 2016 allocates you a fixed number of points, and forces you to divide them up amongst a wide array of topics. Basically, that means you can be firmly pro-choice, or a supporter of Black Lives Matter, or a staunch environmentalist (or, alternatively, you can be a gun nut or a homophobe or a climate change denier), but not all three at once. At best, you can make it so that your character leans mildly to one side or another on a range of contentious issues, but the moment you want to become more firmly in favour of one thing or another, you basically shut out the ability to feel that strongly about anything else. Considering we’re in a period of seemingly ever-increasing polarization, such forced moderation — while something that would be welcome in real life — comes off as a little strained.

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On a related note, the game doesn’t give you nearly enough opportunities to defend or highlight your positions. Sure, you get to give generic speeches on a regular basis, but the real fun comes when you get to go on TV shows — thinly-veiled 60 Minutes and O’Reilly Factor parodies — and defend a position. The problem is, these opportunities come around only once or twice (occasionally three times) in the course of a campaign. Considering how fun they are, it’s unfortunate that there aren’t more of them scattered throughout — and that’s without even thinking of the missed opportunities for things like debates and rallies.

It’s quite possible — probable even — that I’m overthinking the whole thing, and that I’m vastly overestimating the number of people who want to get down in the weeds with the minutiae of a political campaign (though if sports management sims have an audience, I’d think a political sim would too). For most people, who just want to beat Trump/Clinton from the comfort of their computer, I imagine that The Political Machine 2016 will do just fine.

Grade: B+