The Political Machine 2024 review for PC

Platform: PC
Publisher: Stardock Entertainment
Developer: Stardock Entertainment
Medium: Digital
Players: 1-4
Online: Yes

There’s one thing I’m sure of when it comes to The Political Machine 2024: it’s unquestionably better than The Political Machine 2020. Mind you, the 2020 edition of the game was a flaming pile of garbage so that’s hardly an achievement, but still, this is a better game in every way imaginable.

Once I get beyond that, things get a little murky. On the one hand, it still feels pretty shallow, and I remember the 2012 and 2016 editions – even just the free versions – being way more engaging, with way more options. That said, if you look at the reviews for The Political Machine 2016, people were complaining even then about how it wasn’t as good as previous games, so maybe it’s less that the games are getting more and more shallow and more that playing a game every four years or so gives you a skewed sense of how it used to be.

Regardless of how The Political Machine 2024 compares to previous editions, it’s hard not to feel like the game could be a lot more interesting. As it stands, here you pick your politician (or create your own, if none of the current crop do it for you), and then basically the game runs its course. You can fly your candidate around the country, opening campaign offices, giving speeches, and running ads, but it feels like it all happens in a vacuum. There’s not much feedback on how people are responding to your campaign, save for a running poll at the top that has little bearing on anything. Random events sometimes happen, and you get a small boost if those align with your broader messaging, but it all feels pretty lifeless.

The only time you get to jump in and make real decisions is during debates, but even these feel disconnected from the rest of the campaign – and, for that matter, your decisions don’t seem to make a difference. During one of my simulations I had the candidate take positions that were completely at odds with their actual policy (think Elizabeth Warren advocating for a wall between the US and Mexico), and there was no discernible hit to their popularity. In fact, if anything, it just seemed to make the candidate more popular, since the studio audience went crazy for the responses.

Similarly, it often felt like there was no connection between what your candidate says in debates and how the opposing candidate reacts. There were a few moments where one candidate would say something and get booed, only for the opposing candidate to say the same thing and get wild cheers. Likewise, there were a few instances where my candidate would take one position, then my opponent’s response would be to attack me for a totally different position – like when I had Vivek Ramaswamy advocate for the free market, and Pete Buttigieg responded by saying my candidate was ignoring the free market.

Outside of the debates, the game mostly feels like pointless busy work. As I said, the campaigning here is repetitive and kind of mindless: each turn you travel from state to state, using your energy to give speeches, run ads, hold fundraisers, or build campaign headquarters. While the challenge level varies depending on how much energy and money you have, none of it ever feels like much more than clicking the same buttons over and over. In past years it felt like you were able to engage in what you were doing, but here it feels lacking. The game tries to mix things up a little with Political Action Cards, but for the most part, they also feel like useless actions that don’t have a huge impact on the game.

The sum total of all these problems and nitpicks is that The Political Machine 2024 feels kind of pointless and weightless. You don’t have to look far to see games that cover similar ground but have a lot more depth to them. The Democracy series, for example, features all kinds of variables to consider as you guide your country towards the next election. Thinking more broadly, you have series like Tropico and Victoria, that may not focus on elections, but that still allow you to dig deeply into the goings-on of your country. There’s Suzerain, which may be more of a Choose Your Own Adventure-style visual novel than a political sim, but which still expects you to make plenty of political decisions and live with the consequences. Even a game like I Am Your President, mediocre as it was, had some semblance of cause and effect. The Political Machine 2024 has none of that.

Which is unfortunate, because there’s no reason why it has to be this dull. It’s a step up from The Political Machine 2020, but The Political Machine 2024 is still far from being the in-depth election sim it promises itself to be.

Stardock Entertainment provided us with a Political Machine 2024 PC code for review purposes.

Grade: 6