You sit there, watching Prime Minister’s Question time and you think, why the Dickens did he say that? I mean you know he’s opposed to that sort of policy and he’s strongly connected to this other group, so why throw a bone towards this marginal seat on a marginal issue?
Play Positech’s Democracy 3 for even ten minutes, and you’ll start to appreciate why. Politics. Politics is why, and it’s even more of a moral and intellectual quagmire than you ever feared…
The game however is not. Democracy 3 is, to all intents and purposes, a leadership simulator. You select your country (obviously the UK for me), your party and then a few specific stats related to prosperity, economic output, debt along with a few interesting social ones, then you’re off.
You’re then presented with a screen full of what at first seems like, a bewildering array of icons of varying colour and symbol. Each symbol, represents an issue or policy and it’s not until you hover over one that the beauty of the display is revealed to you as all the non-relevant icons fade-out leaving you with all the interconnecting policies in a beautifully controlled web of colour and information.
The factors that are linked have lines connecting them in what would probably be best described as an interactive-spider diagram (check the screenshots for a better idea of what I mean). The colour of the connecting line indicates whether it is a positive (green) or negative (red) effect that is being exerted, and the direction of the line, along with the speed the little arrows move along it, indicate just how big an impact it has. It is at once a beautiful, elegant and most importantly functional representation of some highly complex and interwoven detail. You are able to digest huge amounts of information in a single glance; I’ve never seen an interface as brilliant as this before, either in a game or in business. Cliff Harris, the main man at Positech deserve serious plaudits for this, it really is that good.
That, as they say, is not all though. You have the ability to drill-down into each individual policy and find the factors that effect that. You can then trace these factors organically through your society to follow the domino trail and to build up a good picture of just how interconnected everything really is (the answer: very). It even goes as far as to show you sympathetic ministers and voting blocks for each sub-factor. If graphs are your thing, then there are plenty, each beautifully laid out, and each imparting vital information for the particular aspect you are currently exploring.
The organic nature of the interface really is a masterstroke. For example, I want to drill down on gun crime. I click on the issue and all the interconnected icons show up, the rest fading away. Instantly I know that organised crime has a negative (i.e. in this instance increases) effect on gun crime. Policing has a positive effect (i.e. decreases gun crime), but that alcoholism, homelessness and health are also interconnected. If we drill down further into policing we can see that it’s linked to CCTV, intelligence agencies, the economy and GDP amongst others. Selecting any of the individual contributors gives us more information on them, and the ability to see graphical representations of them are just a click away. There’s no need to hunt through sub-menu’s, open up specific graph building suits, it’s just there. It works beautifully.
You need this interface to allow the game itself to work. Without the ability to know what is going on and how policy changes are likely to effect the populace and each other at a glance, you’d never be able to balance all the connecting interests. You’re never going to be able to please everyone, well not until you invent the chocolate and gin cannon anyways, and you’re constantly trying to balance what you want to do against the fiscal realities and the political costs of enacting those changes. Even were you not politically motivated, you would still have to make concessions of a purely practical nature to get things through. Add politics on top of this and you’ve got yet another ball to juggle. It’s often very difficult to keep ministers and the public happy enough to get your decisions through, especially for long enough, for them to start working as planned.
It almost makes me sympathetic of modern politicians. Wait…maybe it doesn’t really, but I’ve now at least got a greater appreciation of just how complicated their jobs are likely to be. Especially on the policy front.
The game aspect therefore comes from trying to achieve whatever goal it is you’re set yourself (be it reducing the deficit, destroying the opposition, bringing harmony to the country or just plain survival) and it’s presented in a very nice way. Every year is split into quarters, with a ‘turn’ being one quarter followed by a mini report. You are then given an amount of political capital to achieve your goals. Each action costs varying amounts of capital, so upping the police force budget for example will cost 6 capital, but abolishing green levies will cost 20 capital, and so on. Complicating matters further are your Minsters, each with their own likes and dislikes and they will react, either positively or negatively to your policy decisions, depending on their leanings. This then directly affects the amount of political capital you will generate on the next turn.
A very clever, though eminently sensible, outcome though is that many changes you have made will take months, if not years to take full effect. So even when things are going your way, you’re also trying to balance long-term interests with the more immediate short-term issues. It genuinely is fascinating and past your first ‘I’ll just click stuff’ play through (with the excellent and unobtrusive tutorial) you’ll be agonising over each decision.
It’s not all sweeping landslides and John Prescot punching voters though (that is, sadly, not an option in-game), there are some issues. As has been stated elsewhere in the gaming media, on the default setting the game is too easy. I’d recommend a difficulty of at least 150% (yeah I know) for it to have just the right balance of frustration and challenge to be interesting. I’d expect on further play-throughs when you’ve mastered the intricacies for that to be pushed even higher, but it’s nice to have the option there. I’d also have liked there to be a way to see easily which policies you can afford to affect with your political capital on the main screen rather than having to drill down into each individual menu. It’s not game breaking, but it can detract from the overall planning and decision processes if you spend a lot of your time just trying to identify what you can affect.
That aside, I see this being a title I’ll return to again and again. There’s just something really satisfying about outwitting your opponents (and in some cases your own MPs) and getting a policy through while, somehow, still balancing the various different interest groups.
Do yourself a favour, get it.
Verdict – Headshot
Platforms Available/Reviewed – PC
PC review copy supplied by Positech. Check this post for more on our scoring policy.