Also on: PC, iOS
I probably went into The Political Machine 2020 with expectations that were probably a little high. Not only have I had a lifelong obsession with politics that goes back to when I was very little, I have a couple of degrees in it, and most of my jobs have had a political angle in some way. On top of that, I have fond memories of playing the 2012 and 2016 versions of the game — only ever the free version, mind you, but it was still enough to get me eager to play the 2020 edition.
It should probably tell you everything you need to know about The Political Machine 2020 that I probably had more fun with those free demos of the game than I did with this one. Sure, they were PC games and this is ?just? a mobile game, but that?s no excuse. Even at a superficial level, the game is pretty lacking in content. You pick from a very limited pool of candidates (though, to the game?s credit, you can at least create your own), you buy the odd statewide ad, you pick from an equally limited pool of VP candidates, and…well, that?s pretty much it. Occasionally the game throws you some interview opportunities, and you can tap the screen to pick up money and ideology points, but there?s really not a lot to do here.
And if you?re looking for anything deeper than that — say, if you?re a political junkie looking for a fix — you really won?t get that here. The game is incredibly shallow (though not, as the previous paragraph probably indicates, in a good way), and everything feels like it was designed by someone with a passing familiarity with politics.
Take the media interviews, for example. Playing as a Democrat, I got two media invites: one from a Tucker Carlson parody, and another from a Ben Shapiro stand-in. Even if you set aside how completely illogical that would be, the interviews themselves made no sense, and there didn?t seem to be any connection between my answers and the audience reaction. Like, even though those are both extremely conservative outlets, I was able to go on, pick some relatively left-wing answers, and walk away with a positive audience impression. I mean, I?m a big believer in reason and being able to convince people of the rightness of my position, but even I?m not going to imagine that a Democrat is going to be able to win over Fox News viewers that easily.
Similarly, the polling and the results made no sense. In one playthrough, despite the fact I was playing on the hardest difficulty and intentionally trying to drive my candidate into the ditch by adopting wildly unpopular positions, my numbers continually went up. Another time I was playing through the game as a Republican on medium difficulty, and it had me winning the entire Pacific Coast, Hawaii included. For reference, in 2016 the Democrats won Hawaii and California by their largest margins in the country. And, lest you think this was just a one-off occurrence, in one of my simulations playing as a Democrat, I won Utah and nearly the entire Deep South, including Mississippi (which last voted blue in 1976).
Let me put it this way: I?m Canadian, and that made even me raise an eyebrow.
And, I?ll reiterate again, there?s barely even anything to do! I touched on this a little earlier on, but The Political Machine 2020 doesn?t give you a whole lot to do. The AI automatically flies the candidates around the country. The AI sets up campaign headquarters. Your surrogates are mentioned in a news scroll at the bottom, but they have no bearing on the campaign — or, again, any connection to real life, which was driven home for me when one of the news items stated that Pete Buttigieg — easily one of the most famous gay politician in the United States — was campaigning against LGBTQ rights.
There are, to be sure, ways to increase the options at your disposal. For only $20 — more than the game costs on Steam! — you can buy an additional few candidates for each party. While I?ll admit that I didn?t take the game up on that irresistible offer, there?s zero chance that it makes the game deeper or more engaging in any noticeable way.
Again, I?ll freely admit that my expectations may have been a tad high, and that for someone who?s far more into politics than is healthy, it would?ve been hard for The Political Machine 2020 to compare to the real thing. But this game barely even tries. Rather than offering players a chance to play a real-life real-time strategy game, it reduces politics and campaigns to nothing more than clicking a few random icons for points and cash, and it?s impossible to see how that could possibly be seen as a good thing.
Hitcents provided us with a Political Machine 2020 Android code for review purposes.