Thursday, December 29, 2005

Democracy Review

Democracy, developed and published by Positech Computing.
The Good: User interface comfortably displays a lot of data, interesting dynamic mechanics, multiple playable countries
The Not So Good: No frills presentation, not exactly action packed
What say you? For those interested, a respectable political simuation: 6/8

Ever since Americans invented democracy, the United States has tried its best to force its form of government on others, obviously because it’s the best. If you don’t agree, we’ll just invade your country and steal your oil. The political system is an arena well suited for a computer game, as users can discover how inept they are at running a country and how difficult it is to appease diverse groups of stupid people. The latest (and by latest I mean it was released nine months ago) simulation to branch into politics is Democracy, developed in fellow coalition of the willing member the United Kingdom. Let’s have some fish and chips and chow down with some Democracy!

Democracy has a no frills, basic 2-D graphical interface. Luckily, there is very little text in the main screen (compared to a lot of management games), and all of the main information is presented in graphical form. The user interface works very well, and is one of the highlights of the game. The game clearly shows relationships between voting groups and policies and is also easy to navigate. It is overwhelming and scary at first, but a well-written tutorial does an excellent job in showing the different aspects of the game and clarifying the parts of the interface. There won’t be any nifty 3-D graphics or special effects here, but Democracy is very playable thanks to its interface. Sound in the game is very basic, and consists of a mouse click noise and background music that runs the gamut from slightly entertaining to deeply nauseating. I just decided to play some MP3s (all legal of course, Mr. RIAA) in the background. Don’t worry about your precious hard drive space being taken up by large sound files in Democracy!

In Democracy, you are the leader of a major country (United Kingdom, France, Japan, Canada, Germany, United States, Sweden, Italy, Austrailia, Russia, Spain, and the fictional country Poland) and try to get reelected by enacting policies. The game is turn-based, and each turn covers three months. The game is somewhat simplified because any policy you choose to pass are automatically ratified: no annoying Congress to get in the way of your plans for world domination. You are trying to appease all the different groups of voters, which can include liberals, smokers, commuters, environmentalists, and the like. A single person can be a member of more than one voting group, such as a liberal religious motorist middle-income drinking parent. The proportions of your population that belong in any single category are clearly indicated in the game, so your primary goal is to enact legislation that appeals to your largest demographics. You can tell how well you are doing with any one group by taking a quick glance at the approval rating, and can also hover over a group to show the policies that are affecting (both positive and negative, and how strongly) their opinion towards you. Most of the gameplay entails enacting policies that cover a multitude of different areas, such as taxation, the environment, education, and the like. Policies are in place at the beginning of the game, and can be altered (such as tax levels) or cancelled, as well as new ones being enacted. Most policies take time to take effect, so the overall results are not immediate. You can have the game restrict you to changing only two policies per turn (this is on by default), which makes you prioritize the areas of the game and makes it more difficult to get everything done you wish, and this is subsequently more realistic. Of course, everything isn’t so straightforward in the political realm, so random events can (and will) crop up, which are isolated actions that can influence the opinion of groups of voters (either positive or negative). These events can either be totally random or a result of some of the policies you’ve enacted. You are also required to address dilemmas, which are choices to make on things such as same sex marriage, the UN representative, and the nuclear test ban treaty. Usually, you’ll end up making some group mad as a result of your choice, but you try to pick the lesser of the two evils. The game also displays important occurrences (such as high pollution or tax evasion) called situations that have a greater effect on voter opinion. The game suggests ways of remedying the situation by enacting the appropriate policy. Before your next election, you must pick two promises from a list to keep during your next turn. Failure to keep these promises will result in lower voter support your next term.

Democracy is an entertaining game, assuming you’re at least slightly interested in the political simulation genre. The user interface is very helpful in determining the appropriate actions to take in order to remedy a grave situation. The results of your policies are logical, and the game clearly shows the difficulty in pleasing the majority of your voting base. The events and dilemmas provide enough randomness to make playing the same country more than once a viable option, and the different countries themselves lead to different paths down the political brick road (which is paved with lobbyist money). Democracy is intended for those people who are interested in the premise of the game; there will probably be no gamers who will develop into fans of political strategy because of Democracy, but for fans of the genre it delivers intriguing strategy that doesn’t seem arbitrary or abstract.