Wednesday, April 18, 2007

President Forever 2008 + Primaries Review

President Forever 2008 + Primaries, developed and published by Eighty Dimensional Software.
The Good: A comprehensive simulation with a range of possible strategies, primaries add a whole new dimension to the gameplay
The Not So Good: Desperately needs an interactive tutorial, sorting data should be easier (or even possible), fixed at a low resolution with archaic graphics and sound, no autosave
What say you? An in-depth simulation aimed at political buffs: 6/8

As another election year draws ever closer, more attention is being directed towards the person who will become our next president. Hillary? Barack? Rudy? Doug Stanhope? For the first time in 80 years, no incumbent president or vice-president is running (apparently Dick Cheney’s pro-gun stance is too much of an issue), so the elections are wide open. The possibilities are intriguing, and this brings us to the latest version of President Forever, covering the next election and the primaries beforehand. President Forever and its international clones have been around since the last presidential election, and the newest version has been released, hoping to cash in on the impending flurry of political activity. Will President Forever 2008 be re-elected, or is it a one-term wonder?

The graphics of President Forever 2008 are simple at best. Most of the action takes place on the main map screen, which is displayed at a fixed resolution of 800 by 600 pixels. This low windowed resolution makes it difficult to select small states at modern desktop resolutions. The game is devoid of much flair or animations during gameplay: the display is just meant to be functional. The game's data tables should be better organized as well: you can't sort any of the columns of data, which makes ordering the data in any fashion you'd like impossible. The developers did get pictures of all the major candidates in the game, however. Still, the ability to change the resolution would go a long way in making the game seem at least a little bit up-to-date. There is hardly any sound in the game as well: a total of twelve sound effects are all you'll hear during gameplay, consisting of selection sounds and the like. It's plain to see (and hear) that the graphics and sound of President Forever 2008 are terribly outdated, and their ancient nature almost impedes the gameplay.

President Forever 2008 (+ Primaries) lets you control one of the presidential hopefuls in the 2008 or 2004 campaigns. There are plans to release scenarios in the future covering 2000, 1992, 1980, and 1960. There are lots of people to choose from; although the list is not completely up to date, most who filed with the Federal Elections Commission are available (and hopefully more will appear later). If you don’t like any of the choices, you can create your own candidate using the straightforward editor: creating a new person takes about ten minutes. The major party candidates have the overall goal of winning the presidency through the electoral college, but the minor party candidates have different objects (5% of the popular vote), which makes playing them at least a little bit worthwhile. There aren’t alternative objectives given for Republican or Democratic candidates, however, so if you choose to control Tom Vilsack, good luck winning. The biggest addition to the game is the primaries, which makes playing much more interesting, as you don’t know for sure who you’re opponents will be, and you must campaign against other members of your party first.

The first thing you’ll do is pick your theme: the three issues that will be the focus of your campaign. The relative importance of each issue with the American people (and individual states, if you select them) is indicated and don’t change very much through gameplay, so picking the three most important national issues is a decent strategy. Each candidate has a platform, a stance on each issue, which can be changed but will result in uprisings among your voters. The issues don’t have the dynamic importance seen in The Political Machine, where a swing in the important issue of a campaign could turn the election. You can use several people or organizations to help your campaign. Endorsers, either organizations like the NRA, newspapers, or governors, can be recruited using political influence points (that you have a set number of); they grant you a special bonus to help you out if you fit their ideal the best. Foot soldiers can be recruited in individual states; they are a very important aspect of the game, as they campaign for you automatically and get more voters out on election day. You can also hire independent celebrity crusaders that will travel the nation campaigning on your behalf. You can’t directly control their behavior, but they do follow your overall strategy. Your strategy is basically which states you want to fight over. The game gives a list of your current percentage points in each state and translates into a prospect (good, poor). You’d want to pick the states that are close and forget about the ones where you’re far ahead or far behind. This is a neat tool and it makes it easy to use ads and direct your automated workers around. The problem with this window is that all of the data is sorted in a set format (during general elections by prospects and during primaries by primary date) that can’t be changed; this makes ordering things by electoral college votes impossible.

Everyone has access to public polls, but they are subject to error. So, in really close states, you might want to pay to get better information. You can also conduct research to gain insights into specific issues (to enhance the effectiveness of a speech or advertisement) or gain scandals against opponents. Good or bad media events can be spun to raise or lower the profile of the article, influencing the momentum of the issue. You can reach voters through advertisements in the newspaper, on radio, or television; they are expensive and should be targeted at the key states you are assaulting in your strategy. You’ll spend most of your time scheduling your candidate’s activities. You can barnstorm in a selected state to increase your awareness, perform a policy speech to set your stance on one specific issue, raise funds, or develop your stats through debate preparation, developing your campaign, or working on your knowledge of the issues. You are limited in the number of activities you can run each day (each week during the primaries) by your command points, and you must rest periodically or you’ll deplete your energy points and make a gaffe.

In all, the campaigns of President Forever 2008 (+ Primaries) play out very realistically, and I can say with much certainty that this is the most realistic presidential campaign simulation available. The options available in your campaign are varied, and being able to choose multiple candidates extends the replay value of the game (as will the additional scenarios when they are released). Plus, having more people adds another layer of difficulty to the game (although you can set difficulty as well): sure you can lead Giuliani to the presidency, but what about Sam Brownback? Having to balance research, recruiting foot soldiers, hiring crusaders, developing ads, and visiting the people makes for an interesting simulation. The depth of the title makes it less approachable than, say, The Political Machine. President Forever 2008 really needs an interactive tutorial: while the manual is nice, it took me several games to remember to do everything I needed to in order to be successful. The lack of flashy graphics and the large learning curve will deter some people away from the title, and there are some issues with the low resolution and user interface that makes the game harder to manipulate than it should be. Still, fans of political games will feel right at home in President Forever 2008 (+ Primaries), as the game offers the depth, realism, and replay value that makes a good simulation.