‘m sure it happens to us all at some point. You’ve played computer games for so long, you’ve shot so many zombies, jumped to so many platforms and scored so many 30 yard screamers that you’re eventually dulled. Everything starts to feel a bit samey. That’s why when Si said “Fancy reviewing a geopolitical simulator?” I almost leapt at the chance, just so I could experience something different. Crazed with power and dreams of world domination, I jumped in.
Masters Of The World 3 sets its stall out as an accurate portrayal of the world we live in today and gives you the opportunity to take control of a country and shape it’s political destiny. Every aspect of policy is at your control and you’ll need to make decisions based on a wide range of areas, such as economic, social, military, domestic, foreign, ecological, and so on.
The game tries to give you a helping hand when starting out by including a tutorial that sets you a few tasks, such as passing a law regarding taxation of deforestation and stopping a nationwide strike. Really it’s a drop in the ocean compared to what you’ll face when starting the full game but it gives you an inkling that this is going to be a complex experience and it’s your first taste of the voice acting, which we’ll come back to later.
A word of warning though; the tutorial seems to have a nasty little bug. At one point you’re asked by the voice-over to attack a particular city in Afghanistan to free them from terrorist insurgents. I tried this on 4 separate occasions, each time failing to complete this particular stage but also managing to annoy the other countries to the degree that Saudi Arabia started attacking me and the UN passed resolutions against me due to my actions. It wasn’t until I checked a guide online that I realised that the city I was supposed to attack was a completely different one to the one I was told! Very frustrating, especially during a section that’s supposed to teach you the game.
After the tutorial you’re thrown into the big, wide world. There’s two routes you can go down, you can either play a sandbox style simulation or alternatively take part in scenario style objective based games instead. The sandbox is definitely the place to go before you attempt the more difficult scenarios because you’ll need to get to grips with the deeper workings of the game and stumble your way through a menu system conceived in the very depths of hell.
I’m no expert in UI design but there must have been a better way to approach the menu system than the convoluted clusterfuck of options we have here. Everything is a button within a tab within a submenu within a menu of a right click. For an already complex game it seems like it was a willful act of evil on the developers behalf to add another layer of difficulty to it by making it unfathomable to navigate. There’s one scenario I can’t complete because no matter how hard I look, and I’m pretty sure I’ve now clicked every single option in the entire UI, I just cannot find one particular thing that’s subtly yet explicitly mentioned as the mission starts. I can’t help but feel that adding some form of searchable menu function would have been invaluable here.
Even at the lower difficulty levels the scenarios can be soul-crushingly difficult. Based on real world issues, don’t go into any of these thinking they’re a walk in the park. I was pretty confident of diffusing the decades old Israel/Iran conflict (my exact words were “I’ll slap in a UN resolution, that will sort it”) but my methods were scuppered on several occasions, leading me to a very un-statesman-like sweary rant as the Israeli Prime Minister appeared on my screen to tell me war had been declared for the umpteenth time.
As is real life politics, Masters Of The World is mixture of a delicate balancing act and bullying. You’ll be inundated by requests and demands from your government and advisers, all of which demanding that you succumb to their requests. For example the Health Service needs more funding, but where do you take the money from? Cut research projects and stifle innovation? How about pulling troops from Afghanistan, saving money but leaving the country dangerously unstable and ripe for the pickings of a terrorist group. What about raising taxes? May work, but don’t expect to be around come the time of your next election.
Foreign policy is equally difficult. How would you deal with the leader of a rogue African state? Would you try to engage them directly and negotiate away any issues? Address the UN for a solution? Or how about sending in the CIA and creating a spy network, digging up dirt on the troublesome tyrant in charge and using that against them? Worst case scenario, how about authorising an assassination?
From a graphical perspective the game isn’t going to excite anyone. The whole thing has a decidedly low res feel to it despite being played on a relatively high specification system. While the likenesses of the world leaders are relatively good, ‘Jack Obama’ a particular highlight, some of the faces of the advisers are the stuff normally reserved for horror films. One in particular looks like his face is being sucked down his throat. As a general rule they range between ‘not bad’ and ‘mildly disconcerting’, with a select few occupying ‘Good god, have you been in an accident?!’ territory.
The graphics are a true creative masterpiece though when compared to the sound, which across the board is awful. The background music is a MIDI monstrosity that sounds like it was born as a result of a drunken night of passion between two lifts. This pales in insignificance when compared to the voice over acting though. It’s so bad, so incredibly awful, as I write this I’m debating if I’ve missed ‘the big joke’ and it’s some kind of prank and I should be laughing along. There’s women who are quite obviously men talking in a high pitch. There’s voices that sound like the person has no control of their tongue and it’s just flapping away in the mouth as they try to speak. There’s a chap who asks you to decriminalise cannabis who sounds like the sort of guy who has people locked up in his basement. I’m amazed the voices made it in unless, perhaps, they’re some attempt to soften the tone of what is an undeniably very serious game.
It’s difficult to summarise Masters Of The World, and even more so to give it a score. On one hand you have the awful presentation, the so-bad-it’s-good voice acting and the complete lunacy of an interface, but then the other side is a simulation game so incredibly deep it’s difficult not to admire. There’s also the fact it’s a genuine challenge in an age where games are regularly bemoaned for being too easy. Whether you think the positive aspects of the game justify the £40 price tag is a point of debate for yourself.
It’s moments like my failed attempts to diffused the Israel and Iran situation which will determine whether or not you will enjoy this game and it will depend on how you would personally deal with such an event. If, like me above, you blunder into this game thinking that a few mouse clicks later you’ll have reunited North and South Korea and now everyone’s getting on fabulously then you’re going to be massively frustrated. There’s a complex engine at work here that takes into account over 600 variables per country to determine what makes them tick. Certainly, with enough time, care and attention you may well be able to perform incredible feats of diplomacy (and a look through the forum shows that people have done some quite fantastic political events) but if you’re thinking that this should be easy because you’re pretty good at Civilization or Total War, I suspect you’re going to be in for a shock.
To approach Masters Of The World you’re best off forgetting the notion that this is a ‘game’ in the traditional sense and instead immerse yourself in a very challenging simulation of the world we live in and the delicate issues that surround us, some that we’re privy to and others that we’re not. If you can do that and you have a deep interest in the political landscape then you’ll take a lot of enjoyment from this product. If you can’t then you should steer your attention elsewhere. All considered, Masters Of The World is certainly a curio in the current state of gaming and will certainly generate interest amongst a certain niche of gamers.
MLG Rating: 6/10 Platform: PC Release Date: 11/3/13
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a digital copy of Masters of the World 3 for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of three weeks on a PC. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.