For The People review

For The People: Fantasy Politics is a new political-themed Facebook game from Rocket Surgeon Entertainment that went into open beta this week. The game aims to provide players with a fairly realistic depiction of life in office as the presidential campaigns start to accelerate towards election season.

For The People begins with the creation of the player’s avatar, which may be male or female and customized extensively using a series of sliders to manipulate features and colors. The game gives the player a rather lengthy, unnecessary and condescending tutorial as to how to use these sliders that doesn’t really explain anything in great detail — none of the sliders are marked, so the player is informed that they should “play around” to see what each of them do. This is fine for things where there is a gradation of options such as hair/skin/eye color, but for settings with discrete options, something like a dropdown list would have worked much better.

Once the player’s avatar has been created, the tutorial continues — again, this is unnecessarily lengthy and does not really explain anything in enough detail, merely giving an overview of the interface. Once the tutorial is over, the player is simply thrown into the game proper without any guidance, though there is a help menu in the corner of the screen which may be referred to at any time.

Gameplay in For The People unfolds in several sections. While in their office, players may invite lobbyists to enter and discuss various issues. The issue under discussion may be immediately agreed to if desired, but the player will receive greater rewards if they can get the lobbyist on their side through negotiation. This is accomplished through a simple card game. Upon beginning negotiation, the lobbyist’s mood is depicted through an emoticon, and this may then be manipulated by playing various cards — up to three per “round.” If the lobbyist ends a round with their mood in the red, they will storm out, so the majority of the cards the player ends up playing are “improve mood” cards, leaving little space for those that provide additional bonuses or benefits.

Once a meeting has been successfully completed, the issue passes into the player’s “Agenda” tab, at which point they can debate it in front of a committee they chose to represent at the beginning of the game. Again, this takes the form of a minigame where cards must be played to sway unfavorable committee members to the player’s side of the fence. Rewards are then given according to how decisive a victory was attained, and the player is invited to share their political clout on their Timeline. Players may also solicit “sponsorship” for their committee debates from their friends — the more friends who sponsor the player’s effort, the greater the impact on their final result and, thus, the greater their rewards.

Elsewhere in the game, the player may take part in local debates, which again use the “card game” format but this time require judging the mood of the audience and going along with what they apparently want to hear while diminishing their opponent’s arguments. It’s all very abstract for the most part, and thus quite difficult to judge which are the “correct” answers for any given situation.

This is something of a pattern for the whole game, really — everything is so abstracted and explained in so little detail that it becomes utterly bewildering very quickly. The developers have clearly put plenty of thought into how to create a realistic but game-like depiction of the political process, but somewhere along the way the clarity of that vision has been lost, leaving the game feeling somewhat directionless and confusing at times. The player floats from screen to screen trying out things to see what happens but never really getting a concrete sense of what is actually going on or how well they are doing. A “political clout” currency supposedly measures how influential the player character is, but since this seems to be earned in various quantities regardless of how successful meetings, debates and votes are, it’s not a particularly ideal measure of progress. It may also be spent on items in the store, though “lifetime clout” is tracked separately from the amount the player currently has “on hand.”

The game monetizes through its hard currency, which may be used to purchase various items through the store, some of which require varying amounts of lifetime clout to unlock. The majority of these items appear to be purely decorative to be placed in the player’s office, though it’s also possible to purchase new cards to use in the various minigames. Hard currency may also be exchanged for soft currency, which is required alongside energy to play various cards and perform actions.

For The People has its heart in the right place. It’s taking the subject matter seriously despite its cartoonish 3D graphics. Unfortunately the way the game is structured and the rather poor explanations given to the player in both the tutorials and the help menu make it a lot more obtuse and inaccessible than it really needs to be. The game is far too abstract to make any real sense, and this will likely put a lot of players off. It’s worthy of praise for trying something new and a bit different, but its player help and tutorial facilities in particular need some significant revamping before this becomes a game that can be recommended without question. For now, it’s an interesting curiosity with a good degree of regrettably unrealized potential.

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An interesting, original idea for a game that is, in its present form, far too abstract and obtuse for most players to understand.