A lot of political simulators find ways to take the insanity of the government and condense it down into easy-to-digest, overly simplistic casual games that don’t force the player to use their brains enough to warrant playing it. Democracy 4 took a swing at better representing the unapologetically complex systems at play in western democracy. While what they have achieved has every right to go down in history for its attention to detail and overall design, they managed to burden players with the exact opposite issue that’s at risk when developing political simulators.
The minute you get past the character creation phase of the game, you’re bombarded with at least four dozen buttons you can click and an onslaught of tutorials that all would give the most detailed research papers a run for their money. Positech Games thought of everything, but they skipped the step where they weed through the content that’s just filler. Designing a game is a lot like writing a best-seller: you have to have the ability to 1) recognize what isn’t important so you can throw it out, and 2) take what is important and make it as concise and condensed as you can.
Because of the sheer number of things to consider and juggle, the game is a bit of a developmental marvel. However, if I can successfully complete a full playthrough of the game while avoiding 60% of its content, how necessary was all of that effort? At what point do the extra elements on your peripherals stop aiding the experience and begin harming it? This is simply an indicator of flawed design, and such flaws can end up costing a studio quite a bit of money without actually improving the final product.
However, if you manage to look past the unnecessary complexities, the technical and stylistic aspects of the game are truly on par with some of the biggest developers and games in the simulation genre. Animations and transitions are seamless. Great care has been given to provide ways to limit the number of things on screen that you need to pay attention to, which drastically increases the readability of everything. Want to know all of the different elements that a policy is affecting in your government? Simply hover over the policy and follow the helpful graphics. Want to see how you can improve your rating with a certain group of the population? Same process. While the game is a bit too complex, they surely found the optimal ways to simplify it all as best they could.
When it comes to the details, Positech did their due diligence. It’s incredible the vast array of systems and elements they integrated, but if my experience with games has taught me one thing, it’s that the fact that pretty much all of the elements work without flaw is even more astounding. There are a few small things that could use improving. For example, I found a recurring bug that rendered the GUI unusable, and the only solution was quitting the game entirely and opening it back up. Pictures of that bug below. The tabs at the top of the main game screen also deserve some labels instead of just pictures. Until you’ve played around quite a bit, it’s not entirely obvious what each one does.
Other than that, it’s rare to see such a finished and functional project as a Steam Early Access game. At this rate, the game should be ready for a full release in no time. While there are certainly some questionable decisions in the design process, if you enjoyed previous Democracy games or don’t mind the overflow of content, this game is a hard-hitting example of what is possible when developers take time in their development cycles and put the necessary testing into their games.
This first impressions article is based on the Early Access, PC version of the game. A code was provided by the publisher for this purpose.
Brandon is a young writer who loves going deep into games to explore meaning, purpose, and life. He believes that there’s nothing better than getting lost in a world full of characters to love and lessons to learn. He has a special place in his heart for single player games such as Mass Effect and Life Is Strange, but he also blows off some steam playing some of his favorite multiplayer games, like Paladins.