Rogue State offers a nice balance of legitimate challenging and outlandishly bizarre. As the leader of a small nation, you’ll have to make tough decisions; either run your nation as a democratically elected official or as a selfish dictator. While I wish there had been a little more, there is a surprising amount of content to be enjoyed here. Choices you wouldn’t consider important might break your career between all the nations and citizens you have to keep happy. Plus, there’s a country of sentient chickens. The game gets a couple extra points for that alone.
WHAT WE LIKED
º The outlandish humor makes horrific situations playfully inconsequential.
º It’s fun balancing the approval of nations and citizens while you govern.
º The yearly press conference makes for an interesting change of pace.
WHAT WE DISLIKED
º Some of the events repeat on later playthroughs and becomes repetitive.
º Voice acting is a little too forced and methodical to be really enjoyed.
º Some negative effects seem to come out of nowhere and without provocation.
I’m not sure I would make a good leader. This was my thoughts as I made trade deals with the glorious nation of ‘Chickenistan’ for their goats. It comes down to communication, and I don’t speak Chicken. As my economy tanked, and my approval ratings dropped like a rock, all I could think of what how those sneaky Chickens would use my missteps to their advantage. Now, that may sound racist- but it’s actually animalist.
Rogue State is obviously a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously but does provide a difficult challenge to those who want to take a stab at being the head of state. You’re elected supreme leader of Basenji (which I guess makes you a nation of dogs) after the nation has overthrown the previous government. You’re left to decide which way you take the developing land- from dictatorship to democracy. Sure, you may want to be a liberal bastion of pot smoking hippies- but what’s to stop the other nations from steamrolling over your little drum circle?
The game has a system that looks complex at first but becomes a breeze shortly after learning the ropes. You’re able to make policy changes, such as your rules on alcohol, minimum wages, and death penalties. The more you alter them, the more you’re bound to upset one group or the other. If you approve public executions, you’ll make the nation’s ‘Patriots’ happy, but the ‘Liberals’ will not be pleased. You might want to make them happy by enforcing a livable wage, but then the ‘Captialists’ will be on your bad side. Allow businesses to run on the Sabbath, and suddenly the ‘Fundamentalists’ start sharpening their knives. Obviously, making any group happy is a hard task, and the game quickly becomes a game of “who do I want to piss off less?”
Since the previous party left the hall a mess, you’ll have to take your modest income and rebuild your nation. You can do this by cranking up the taxes on individuals, or trading with other nations. No matter what you do though, you don’t want to end back up in a recession- otherwise you’ll start to see even more rioting in the streets. So, do you focus on rebuilding your commerce, your education or just slap a bunch of uniforms on loyalists?
Every day begins with an event, with you needing to make a decision. It might be an oil spill off your beautiful tourist-filled beaches or a dead cabinet member, but each time you’ll have to make a decision that may destroy your reputation. You may discover that you’re building that brand new hydroelectric dam on top of an endangered species of rodents. These decisions could negatively affect either of the four main big groups and might even look bad abroad; so choose wisely. Once you start sliding, it’s hard to recover from the political tailspin.
Once you’ve built your infrastructures, laid out your policies and settled all of your trade deals, then it’s time to build your defenses. You can invest your money into soldiers, or you can dream bigger by throwing a ton of it into developing weapons of mass destruction. These choices are well designed, and usually leave you debating your morals against your self-preservation. I’d like to think we’d all try to be as altruistic as possible, but it seems the game is played best with a dash of Martin Shkreli thrown in.
One of my favorite moments in your yearly address to the public, where you get to lay out your plans for the nation. That, or you could just go with what the public wants to hear and do your own thing regardless of what was said. Again, these conferences might be the reason I wasn’t very successful as a leader, as the more peaceful the speech, usually the less approval you’ll end up getting.
Allow me to explain a little about my first shot at the big chair and how it all horribly ended. See, I tried to be very liberal on my first play through. Mostly Democratic- maybe a little more left-leaning than I should’ve been. With every progressive choice I made, the Fundamentalists ate me alive. Soon came the capitalists, and the Patriots; I couldn’t do anything to win any group. Tough crowd this middle-east area, am I right!?
So, after they ousted me and sent me on a plane to my own private exile, I tried again. This time, I decided to start talking out of both sides of my mouth. This strategy worked well for a short time, but after awhile I found out that it really didn’t work any better. I told the other nations around me that I hated America (kinda weird that the USA is the only vilified outside nation), that I didn’t trust the United Nations and that we shouldn’t ignore the ‘Old Ways’. Then, when it came to policy, I simply voted down the middle of the road. I guess that made me a do-nothing president, because despite my excellent 90% approval rating, my army suddenly left me. I was quickly attacked by another nation, who wanted all of my money. I agree to the extortion, and shortly after a rebellion overthrew me. Those damn Chickens; I gave them a hell of a deal for our electronics, and they sat back and did nothing.
Outside of that, there’s not much more to this game than your main office and the war room. The game does do a great job of creating the impression that there’s a whole land outside of your little building, so it does feel larger than the three screens you’ll see. Every decision you would think you could make is here, and it should provide a nice distraction if the prospect interests you.
Despite its impressive scope, the game is rounded out with a bizarre sense of humor that makes it feel disconnected from the real world (I did mention the chickens, right?). This encourages you to play it like a rational person, or as a heartless dictator depending on your mood. You can brainwash people to kill political leaders, control the press and internet or drop nukes on neighbors- and this lack of realism does provide a nice buffer from these horrible realities.
The graphics are fun, but definitely not pushing any hardware limitations. Audio is also pretty good, but I feel the voice-overs are delivered far too slowly to be taken seriously. The music has a nice middle-eastern vibe to it and did a great job of hiding in the background while adding to a mostly contemplative experience. Games like this could come across as boring, but this additional polish makes the game far more enjoyable.
I guess in closing, I imagine it’s a good thing I’ve never thought about running for a political office because I’m awful at it. Simply awful. At least this game allowed me to have fun with that knowledge, and I learned a lot about my laurels in the face of trying to appease my voters. I enjoyed my experience with the game, and I would recommend it to anyone with illusions of grandeur. Rogue State requires a nice balance of loyalty and fabrication and an ability to balance several different groups; that is if you don’t want to end up like the last guy.