The Nutgraph: Shadow President is a single-player DOS game in the near-dead Geo-Political Sim genre from 1993. It puts you in the shoes of an all-powerful American President whose powers are not mitigated by a Senate, and whose function is more like that of a Roman Emperor than the Constitutionally-bound Presidents we're used to seeing and being. Geo-political Sim it may be, but it is definitely also the kind of game that goads you into a being a complete jackass in a way similar to the Postal series, and as I will explain, can be distilled into four words: "Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely." It is the spawn of defunct studio DC True, responsible for this game's sequel aaaaand... not a whole lot else.
Right, have you Googled nutgraph to find it's a real, legitimate term? Have I piqued your interest? Excellent, let's end this fourth-wall penetration and continue with the review like you're not actually here. But remember, I'm watching you ;)
Upon booting, you are greeted by the game's DRM, which is a handy-dandy "Google this quote" quiz to put you into a politically manipulative mood. Unfortunately, this is followed by an automated (but thankfully skippable) tutorial on How Use The Interface And Stop Iraq From Invading Kuwait In The Process (For Dummies).
The game, with no semblance of a frontend then throws you into the world in the year 1990, perched over a haunting cyberpunk world map with your various advisors' ugly mugs below, and some buttons to change the view level, switch to various Filters to see things about the world, access the menu, and I guess for some extra padding view the summary of the 1990 CIA World Factbook for the highlighted country. Funtastic.
The world is split between two 'World Team Alliances', one headed up by the U.S, and at the beginning whose member states whose ideologies are either Democratic Capitalism or Developing Capitalism and the other headed up by the Soviet Union, which curiously retains the same name through to 2050 and beyond.
As far as gameplay goes, you have a raft of Actions you can undertake on foreign soil, as well as balance the US budget. Anything from damaging economic assets, inciting a coup, declaring embargos, extending the diplomatic olive branch and making foreign aid contributions are all options. The general idea is to support friendly regimes, invade or otherwise topple unfriendly ones, Or, 'if it comes down to it', nuke them.
Thre is an there is a game mechanic which seems to have a little pull on what is, quite frankly an otherwise boring and bland AI; the World Peace Meter. If you spread peace, love, mungbeans and goodwill through the world, other nations do the same. if you break things, assasinate enemy leaders and generally just act like an entitled twat, then the world will descend into a free-for all.
If it really bothers you, you even have the option of trying to convince nations to improve their Human Rights legislation. Naturally, I envisioned the sending a panel of game industry representatives to Australia headed up by Peter Molyneux to try and get an R18+ rating for games. I'm guessing the United States foisting International Law upon others came accross as a little hypocritical. Their answer was an insulted 'get stuffed.' The resulting tit-for tat chain ended with ICBMs raining on residential premises of certain Attourneys General.
That's the thing about this game though- whether you give yourself over to being a cajolling, controlling world-police type going about utilising force and the CIA, or whether you focus on isolation, making peace and boosting the world Standard of Living, you will eventually flop the nukes out. Maybe not 1995, maybe not 2005, but someday you will. And why is that?
1)Because they're there.
2)Because nobody can stop you from using them.
Yes, it ruins the game- if you use more than about 10, you return to Capital Wasteland (after understandable outrage from the international community comes to a head... That is to say nuclear warhead) to be assassinated by your own people within minutes. Curiosity kills several million cats in a single click. And what for? If you didn't save, you have to start all over again. And you know that.
Regardless, one day you highlight a country you particularly don't like for one reason or another. You will click 'Nuclear Strike' just to see how many missiles you have. As you hold down the little arrow, the number counts up past a hundred, then a thousand, then three; your heart beats that little faster, your breath speeds up a little too, and lightning splits your psyche into two- half of the nerves in your brain start to beg you to close the window, the other half try to justify pressing the button to you, and bargain you into it surreptitiously.
This is a human experience. The fate of everyone in that nation, its neighbours is essentially in your hands, and indeed, the rest of the world could perish with just one click. And you're not asked 'can you even begin to comprehend the complexity and severity of this action's effects?' It asks simply the number you wish to launch. Unlimited power, unlimited temptation, unlimited consequences.
On the downside however, once you satiate this curiosity (and then the power fantasy that follows) the game only has about two or three different playstyles you can try before getting bored. There are some preloaded scenario worlds, which only differ the world slightly, and can be good for a challenge once or twice each, but they don't really do much for fleshing out the game time.
That said, if you're the right sort of person, the time between your first nuclear revenge for whatever Wikileakable diplomatic slight you suffer and your final ghandi-like playthrough as a hermit US popping out only to trade with the world will be magnificent. I haven't shown you the war-room or screenies of much else in the game, because showing you now would be spoiling the experience of interacting with the game for the first time.
This game held me in a vice-like grip for about a month. If you like 4X's and Grand Strategy titles and want to mix it up retro style, then check this out and excuse the 'Legacy' AI. If you just want to nuke some stuff, but are looking for a deeper experience than DEFCON then go right ahead!
So... Uh.... If any of you are still reading, what did you think? even a tl;dr is constructive in a way guys :)
Moar pics? Less paragraphs? Moar relevant? Less projecting?