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Land Of The Reasonably Priced by FullAuto Written on 5th June 2006

Format: PC.
Developer: Positech Games.
Publisher: Positech Games.

The cornerstone of our society. The very lifeblood of the people. A tradition in this fair land that has existed for hundreds of years. I am, of course, talking about muff-diving.

Um. Disregard.

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Land of the Rising National Debt.
Democracy, rather, is a game focusing upon the form of government we all know and love. Except for dictators, obviously. A mixture of political sim and strategy, it kicks off with you in the seat of power of a country, chosen from a rather Euro-centric list. The aim of the game is to stay in power. You do this by improving your country and pleasing at least fifty-one percent of the electorate.

The state of the country is represented by fourteen different qualities, including but not limited to; equality, unemployment, GDP, crime, literacy, etcetera, etcetera. These are an indicator of what sort of shape your country is in, but just because these babies are all in the green does not mean all the voters are happy with you...

The electorate is composed of many different groups such as capitalists, farmers, commuters, drinkers and of course one voter may belong to several different groups. The possibility of a wealthy environmentalist conservative farmer who commutes to work raises some questions in my mind, but what do I know, eh? Each group is affected by policies, crisisisisis and dilemmas as the game progresses in turn-based fashion, each turn taking three months, with an election every few years.

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"This is a victory for our policies!"
Policies are divided up into groups such as Tax, Economy, Foreign Affairs (not what you think), and each policy affects one or more groups of voters and/or national qualities in a positive or negative fashion. As a simple example, introducing school prayers (ah, those were the days, six of the best) makes the religious like you and the liberals hate you (insofar as liberals can hate anything). You start off with only twenty or so policies in place (it varies from country to country), but there are more than seventy to implement, should you see fit. The number of changes you can make per turn is limited by your political capital, which is limited in turn by your popularity. Most policies can be implemented to different degrees, or cancelled. You can vary the level of taxes, or the monetary amount of subsidies and grants, legalise all drugs or just some drugs...you get the idea.

Crises are random events that pop up to really incite the mob to burn you alive. They range from pirates sinking a fishing boat (well done on decreasing the military budget) to an outbreak of mad cow disease (well done on, er, decreasing the budget for livestock psychiatric assistance). Each crisis comes with a graph showing its effect over time and some even have a nice little list of possible solutions, though some you just have to suffer, which I thought was rather apt.

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Pie charts. Erotic.
Dilemmas arise almost every turn, and concern laws, social issues, appointing UN representatives and the like. The short-term effect they have on voters is often fairly obvious, but some of the long-term consequences are not. Because this is government, nothing is done quickly and efficiently and decisions take months, or even years, to implement. This came as an unpleasant surprise to me on my first go.

Thinking to curtail the national debt, I cut the rail budget and giggled myself silly, heading into the election confidently, only to have the rail workers go on fucking strike. This lost me the election, by a margin narrower than a fly's bollocks. Needless to say, I was not pleased, and when the Stalin mod comes out I'm going to have the fucking lot of them shot.

You have to plan ahead. You have to look at your decisions, and weigh up if you can neutralise the negative and emphasise the positive before the next election arrives. Some policies are so long-range that they don't really pay off until several terms of government have passed, meaning you have to go elsewhere to get enough goodwill to be re-elected. It's a tricky balancing act, on several levels. Increase existing taxes, or introduce new ones and you increase funds for new policies, but inevitably piss some voters off. Decrease taxes and you have less ability to help the sections of your country that need it most.

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Capitalists. They only love money.
The interface is nicely designed, though it gets a little crowded if you have a lot of policies. If one hovers one's cursor (uses mouse with little finger stuck out) over any policy/voter group/national quality, lines spring up, green for positive, red for negative, linking whatever you selected with everything else that influences it. Do it to GDP, for instance, and everything and everyone concerned with the GDP is highlighted. Hover your cursor over the conservative voter group, and you'll see lines linking them to public schools and bumming each other.

Moving on!

Everything is related. The graphics display this clearly. You cannot wiggle Widget A without Widgets B and C wiggling in sympathy. So you must counteract Widgets B and C with more widget-wiggling in order to get the benefit from the wiggling of Widget A. Ad infinitum.

Enough with the widget analogy.

There are some small flaws, mistakes with spelling and grammar, no pop-up boxes when there should be pop-up boxes, but nothing particularly important. There are no whiz-bang 3D graphics, I'm afraid. No antistroboscopic lighting, no hydrodynamic water fluctuation modelling, no realistic antigravitational testicle simulation, no nothing. There are graphs. There are pie charts. There are sliders. You do not get to throw your political opponents three hundred feet in the air and set fire to them, before letting them land in the latest crumple of ragdoll physics, however cool that would be. The main interface and quarterly report make your popularity, budget, and important issues crystal clear. This is where you will be spending most of your time, so this is good. Each loading screen gives you an amusing quote from a political figure, including the "Our world is safer with nuclear weapons." gem from 'Mad' Maggie Thatcher.

The music ranges from inoffensive to annoying, and can be turned off and quickly replaced with tunage of your own. The sound effects are minimal, though you get a nice round of applause or booing with several issues, which I enjoyed (shouting "Who's in power now, you cunts!?" is optional, though).

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You kill one messiah...
With no fancy graphics or sound to fall back on, Democracy has to deliver on the gameplay front. And it does. Admittedly, on the default settings it is a piece of piss. You can annoy plenty of people, betray whole sections of society, totally fail to deliver on your manifesto and still be re-elected. Rather realistic, I feel. But if you up the difficulty, it soon becomes a lot more challenging. Voters begin to hold serious grudges, and remember when you fucked them over three years previously. They take the promises you make seriously, and with the global economy no longer as stable as it was, who are you going to disadvantage in order to stabilise the national economy? Pleasing everyone is impossible, and displeasing some groups is very dangerous for your health (my own fault, really. I shouldn't have legalised fully automatic weapons).

It's not all roses. Games of this ilk need depth, and buckets of it, and Democracy is not quite there. There is a fair bit of repetition where the dilemmas and crises are concerned. Not very many of them are nation-specific, either, so you'll find the majority of the issues coming up whichever country you play, though the different sizes of the voter groups in each country's electorate does mean a slightly different approach must be used. Apparently the game is simplicity itself to mod, so you can add your own policies, countries, crises, you name it you can have it, with little trouble. But the game doesn't model quite enough to be encyclopaedic. There's no sign of population growth, increase/decline of the voter groups, relations with foreign countries...the list goes on.

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"If re-elected, I pledge never to fail my pledges...thank you!"
But there is still an awful lot there, and it will take a while of playing to master. A random unfortunate incident can mean Game Over and for once, that's not an unrealistic inclusion in a game. Inner cities can riot, the wealthy can take their business elsewhere, farmers can throw eggs at members of government (no change there then!), the right-wing nutters can carry out protest marches...there's a lot that can go wrong, and just as much that can go right. Some of the political achievements are absolute bastards to get.

Democracy is not an essential purchase, but it is a game worth buying. It's fun, and it'll educate you more fully on the workings of politics and economics ("No, Mum, it really will help me with my homework."). Considering Positech Games is one bloke, Democracy is a brave move against the embedded corporate structure of the games industry. It is entirely free of flash and glamour, and it's available for fuck all ('fuck all' currently equates to 12.19 and various amounts in those weird foreign currencies). It is to be applauded for being honest, and relying solely upon its gameplay. There is an update available, adding the EU and Portugal to the list of countries, as well as several dilemmas, policies and crises, and no doubt there will be regular updates to come in future.

Democracy, in this instance, truly is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve. If we, as gamers, continue to vote with our wallets as we have done so far, then we will get the gaming industry, and by extension the games, we deserve.


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