June 17, 2024
Global politics is made spreadsheet in Democracy 4: Console Edition. Will you rise to glory or suffer an ignominious exile? The Finger Guns review:

The United Kingdom’s general election is coming up in a month, which is a remarkably coincidental time to be reviewing Democracy 4. As the conservatives wax lyrical nonsense, Sir Keir Starmer allegedly bores everyone to sleep and Nigel Farage appears *yet again* to make us suffer his voice of anti-reason, the thought naturally always manifests: “surely I could do this better?”.

Democracy 4 has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, I absolutely could not, apparently. Can you turn conservative Japan into an Ayn Rand liberalistic bastion of freedom? You can… try. Can you make Italy forgo its ties to religious orthodox ideology? One can attempt. Can you remold the USA in a totalitarian despot simulator, complete with wire-tapping, police drones up the wazoo and unlawful, infinite detention? Yes, as it turns out, and quite easily too.

Democracy is hard, being an autocrat is easy. So are the political games as expansive and investing as House of Cards? Or does the whole “leading a nation” schtick fall like said house of assembled numbers and suits? Time for a cabinet reshuffle, I suspect.

Karl Marx The Spot

Like me, your first thought about Democracy 4: Console Edition is likely “how does it play?”. Well, it’s something akin to a glorified Excel spreadsheet, which immediately will delight and utterly dismay equal numbers of people. I’m no Excel enthusiast, but it’s surprisingly engrossing, for a time. You select from one of a handful of nations (given the name, they’re all democratic, who knew?), each with their own properties and difficulty.

The USA? Easy to meld one way or the other, though its soaring debt may have you scrambling. Canada? Socialist paradise, nightmare to get inflation down, however. You can adjust sliders for overall difficulty, debt balancing, innate liberal/socialism tendencies to help ease you in at first. Unless you’re actively going against almost every community in a country’s ecosystem however, I found it relatively lenient, even at 150% difficulty.

Taking on the role of inspiring (yes I am, I’ll hear nothing to the contrary) leader means forming a cabinet and enacting policy. Your cabinet can be based on experience, loyalty, campaigning ability and a mix of all these attributes. A loyal cabinet will give you more political power – a number that dictates what policies you can introduce. However, a loyal cabinet may not be a good cabinet *cough Britain cough*.

Moreover, they all have different voter bases. Enacting green energy policies is wonderful for the environmental and youthful devotees, but a sizable pain in the neck for motorists. Push voters and cabinet members too far, and they’ll leave their post (I always fired them first, resignations are for the weak), or provide you minimal political power.

Democracy 4: Console Edition review

Trump Your Opponents

Once you’ve shuffled and reshuffled your cabinet more times than lettuces have outlasted prime ministers, you need to do exactly what actual politicians don’t: enact policy. Democracy 4: Console Edition is all about menus. There are pages detailing voter profiles, policy changes broken down into sections, campaign appeal and various overlays detailing events or global shifts that impact your government.

Want to be the ultra hard-liner juggernaught that breaks crime over their knee like Bane on Bruce Wayne? Hit up the law and order menu and go to town. Bringing in new policies is good fun and there’s a wealth of them to choose from. They flick from every end of the political spectrum and you can mix-and-match your priorities however you please, provided you have the political support to win the next election.

However, there are a couple of issues. First is that, after your first term in almost any campaign, you’ll have enacted most of what you’ll be attempting to do. You can even play on after a term limit as the party leader, but there’s always a plateau that gets reached. At this point, I always found myself either purposely trying to get deposed, or just starting a new run.

The options you have available are great, especially if you’re attempting to overturn a decades-old political system, but eventually you’re only left with everything you don’t want to do. You can’t become a complete dictator, and foreign policy options are too limited, sadly. Even so, solving the obesity crisis in the USA, only to be voted out because it enraged the wealthy made me genuinely chuckle.

Democracy 4: Console Edition review

Blair-ing The Rhetoric

The other issue I had was finding some of the necessary options and sliders required. I want to build a socialistic haven where the rich are so disproportionately taxed they all jump in their planes (which I’ve taxed, too) and leave. Yet, I can’t find the one relevant toggle that will tip me into the pure socialism part. Instead, it’s buried under a system of clicks that looks like this:

GDP -> Education -> Science -> Education -> Schools -> Science Teaching -> Slider

Did I mention that you find said GDP category on the very last page of the menus? Some are so well hidden into layers upon layers of clicks, it might as well be an Excel maze. The tutorial is fairly good at explaining most things, but this element is a complete mystery even Sherlock Holmes would struggle to solve. Oh, and if you can find how to appease the “Secular Schools” option, please let me know. Half an hour of searching, never found.

Aside from these problems however, the running of your government is engaging. The menus are colourful and there’s plenty of text descriptions, diagrams and percentages to keep the mathematically inclined satisfied for days. When I successfully turned the UK into a country-wide version of Big Brother by placing CCTV on every corner with no Police or enforcement powers whatsoever, I winced and laughed as the crime rate hit over 90%.

That’s where the intrinsic joy of Democracy 4: Console Edition lies. You never see the action, but you bask in the glow of the fires you’ve lit from afar. Which, as it turns out, is exactly what most political leaders do, who’d have thunked it? Also, sacking your cabinet one day before an election day apparently isn’t a kosher thing to do? Voted out quicker than Boris Johnson enjoying some cheese and wine.

Democracy 4: Console Edition review

Biden My Time

Realistically, the question you need to ask yourself regarding Democracy 4: Console Edition is “do I like menu-management and do I want to become an authoritarian political maniac with none of the consequences?”. If the answer is yes, you have your perfect game right here. If the answer is no, then go and watch a political debate, get riled up and come back to the question.

I played a good half a dozen campaigns across different nations, each time endeavouring to mess something up, or end up another bizarre extreme of the leadership spectrum. After about seven or so hours, I did start to tire with it somewhat. The in-game events, referencing real world dilemmas and scenarios, became repetitive. The massive wods of text description for policies nothing but filler to click through.

Yet, I can’t deny I had the masochistic pleasure of destroying a country’s economy by just subsidising everything. What’s a 200 billion deficit to me? Here’s a free electric car. Oh, and I shut down the airports too, for the environment. Sorry EasyJet, we won’t miss your non-existent leg space. I digress, but that in a nutshell is where Democracy 4: Console Edition is great – the little hilarious anecdotes you’ll make along the way.

Even though Democracy 4: Console Edition is an Excel spreadsheet morphed into a colourful set of menus, it’s tantalisingly engaging. Whether falling foul of commuters for refusing to ban petrol car sales or being ousted from Canadian leadership for attempting to wire-tap homes, democracy is an entertaining beast to tame. The real question is whether outlasting a lettuce as a government is that easy after all.

Democracy 4: Console Edition is available now on PlayStation 4 (review platform), Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.

Developer: Positech Games, The Polygon Loft
Publisher: Auroch Digital

Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.

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