It’s the dawn of a new era. No more petty squabbling between Conservatives and Labour and you can forget the Liberal Democrats, who have been missing in action for some time now anyway. Raise your despondent heads, people of the UK, to see your new government saviours, your leaders of choice. That’s right, the Awesome Blossom Party (with extra awesome) are in control. Hold on to your political agendas, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
If you play Democracy 3, you will forgive my overly dramatic introduction. It’s hard to keep your ego in check when you’re the leader of a country and can control everything with just the touch of a big button or the gentle nudge of a slider bar. It’s certainly an enjoyable feeling (and slightly deflating when you stop playing and realise you still need to put the bin out – where are my minions?!). Changing policies and implementing new ones just to see what would happen is a lot of fun and it’s mesmerising to tweak one small thing and then watch how many other things are affected, like a line of political dominoes. Unfortunately the lack of progression means the novelty wears off after a while.
Democracy 3 is a simple turn-based strategy game without any animations or gimmicks. The idea is that you are the leader of the country of your choice (UK, US, France, Germany, Canada or Australia) and you must keep your economy afloat and your citizens happy. Everything is laid out in graphs, charts and statistical screens but that’s not as boring as it sounds, trust me.
The playing screen will probably terrify you at first. It appears to be a mass of red, blue and white buttons with a box in the middle showing statistics. But what seems to be an overly ambitious menu that may leave you wondering where the game screen is, is actually a very clever interface that works seamlessly. If you hover over one of the buttons it will highlight that item and show its causes and effects in relation to other buttons. The whole thing is one beautifully designed elegant flow chart.
I’m not normally excited by flow charts but there’s something satisfying about the way Democracy’s interface works. The white buttons are policies such as taxes, laws and funding that can be opened up, examined and then adjusted accordingly. On the policy screen there will be information regarding that policy as well as graphs that show the effects of changing the policy, how much it costs/provides and whether it is popular. What could be a very confusing chaotic mess is actually extremely well presented and easy to use.
The blue buttons provide more detailed data regarding the impact of these policies and the red buttons are situations demanding your attention. Between the various policies and effects/situations are lines with arrows showing the flow of influence and how much influence is being produced by a particular policy. For instance, the alcohol law can have a negative effect on productivity which can in turn have a negative effect on GDP. It’s interesting to highlight a problem and follow the lines back to the (often numerous) causes.
Changing and implementing new policies requires political capital which is generated each round by your cabinet members. How much is generated depends on how loyal they are which is affected by your decisions as they have affinities to different voting groups such as motorists or parents. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on your cabinet. When I discovered a couple of members weren’t as supportive as they could be I immediately kicked them out – I want nothing less than awesome on my team. However firing them both in the same round caused rumblings of uncertainty in the cabinet and the loyalty of my other members began to drop so I ended up with only two truly loyal cabinet members, the ones I’d just hired. I got round this by reshuffling the cabinet and picking all new members but that can eat up your available capital so keeping them happy is the best way to ensure they are trustworthy and effective.
Now and again you’ll be hit with random events and dilemmas. Events are occurrences like earthquakes and hurricanes that might damage your economy and affect voter confidence. Dilemmas are political questions that usually require a yes or no decision, such as legalising euthanasia or extraditing a foreign criminal. These questions are rarely cut and dry affairs in real life so the casual way in which they are handled grates a little. This is also true of other elements of Democracy 3 where the dirty complex world of politics has been glossed over.
It is also far too easy to win. All you have to do is implement popular policies before the election and people will flock to polling stations to vote for you. The American two-party system is in play, regardless of what country you choose at the beginning, but you never feel like you are in direct competition with your opponents. In fact I forgot all about them until the actual election when, looking over the pretty graph of results my eye happened upon an inferior party, none other than my mortal rivals The League of Shadows (still not sure whether it’s a good thing that you get to pick your party names) whose bar barely came half way up beside my own.
So Democracy 3 doesn’t offer competitiveness or challenges but what it does offer could be regarded as more valuable, depending on your view. It works exceptionally well as a social experiment. What would happen if prostitution was legalised and the police force was extinguished? Find out. Nothing is going to happen in real life if you fall into serious debt in the game or you are assassinated by angry capitalists.
Democracys designer, Cliff Harris, says the game is more about proving your policies work than about playing opponents off against each other. And in that respect it certainly does achieve what it’s set out to do though it might have been nice to have some interaction with foreign leaders rather than being confined to your relatively isolated state. The fact that the countries do not have specific set-ups is also disappointing. If it wasn’t for the big patriotic flag in the background of the initial loading screen, you might forget which country you were governing as all the policies and problems appear to be the same.
Visually the game is very pleasing to look at despite the lack of animations and 3D effects. It was a brave decision on Positech’s part that they chose not to hide behind any fancy gimmicks and let the game speak for itself. There is music playing in the background while you make your important career-saving/breaking choices but it is repetitive and I turned it down after a while. No voice overs are present either, only some background sound effects such as cheering when your credit rating is miraculously upgraded and sirens when a crime-related issue pops up. They don’t necessarily add anything but they don’t take anything away either.
The novelty of the game does wear off after a few hours when you start to notice the same dilemmas and situations popping up. There is no real feeling of progression which is such a pull in other strategy games like Civilization where you are always trying to move forward towards a goal. There are mods available for Democracy 3 and likely there will be more over time (Harris happily encourages mod-makers) so maybe these will add another dimension that is missing.
What Democracy 3 does offer, if only for a short while, is a chance to get into the real heart of what makes a society work. In between turns I found my brain conjuring up scenarios and reactions to the choices I’d made in my previous turn and this kept the game fresh for me. Your imagination is key and you can delve as deeply as you want into social mechanics. You might even find out something about yourself in the process. Every turn, I seem to upset the capitalists or the Conservatives or, more likely, both. But The Awesome Blossom Party (with extra awesome) has its principles and we’re sticking to them. Now excuse me, I have to legalise abortion and get rid of that pesky police force that’s costing me so much money.
MLG Rating: 6/10 Format: PC Release Date: 14/10/2013
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of Democracy 3 for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of 3 days on a PC. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.