Fate of the World
Save the world. It's easy, right? After all, we're not talking about a robot uprising or an alien invasion here... all we need is someone to fix the environment and get everyone working together for the greater good. You could handle that, couldn't you? If you've ever caught yourself thinking, "We could solve poverty/famine/disease/dwindling resources if we would just... " then Red Redemption's strategy simulation game, Fate of the World, the sequel to 2007's Climate Challenge, just might be for you. You have just been named head of the newly formed GEO (Global Environmental Organization) and granted the political clout you need to save the world from itself. Witness real science and research at play as the world reacts to your every choice in every country, from solving an energy crisis in Japan to struggling to instigate a health care program in South Africa while the country suffers from crippling riots amid poor living and working conditions. You can handle that, right? After all, if only the people in charge would "just" make the right decisions, decisions which are of course very obvious, the world would be a better, more stable place... right?
In each stage, you're given an objective to complete within a certain time frame, and very little help as to how to go about achieving it. (Although the game will tell you how you can fail.) Gameplay is turn-based, with each turn representing five years. During each turn, you can do as much as you have the money and manpower for; actions are represented with different cards that you can play in a country, such as starting an education program or opening an office to further technological advancement. All of these are important, since your actions unlock new cards with different advancements that can be of use to you. Every choice and action you take has an affect on the country you're working with, and with so many countries clamouring for your help, you'll have a hard time keeping your most important resources (money and manpower) out of the red. At the end of each turn, time advances five years, and you'll be presented with a summary of how things have changed, from the global temperature to the attitudes of the countries you've been working with.
Of course, humans aren't the only critters nibbling away at the planet. Forgetting to spare a thought for conservation in different countries can mean the extinction of entire species... at the end of the day, will you be able to say those loses were worth it? That there was nothing more you could have done? Remember, in the end the solution to a problem is not only to throw money at it. Take the time to review the issues in each particular country when selecting your cards; while adding more security and technological development might be nice, what they might need is a cleaner environment or better medical care. How will you handle things? Will you be willing to ignore the needs of a few countries so that the rest will flourish? Or will you strain to make everyone happy and risk spreading yourself too thin and not accomplishing as much as you could have?
Analysis: All right, let's get this out of the way right now; even if you don't have any interest in the statements this game is trying to make, or the things it wants you to think about, Fate of the World is still mechanically simply an awesome game. This isn't a title that's coasting by on the ideas behind it; it really looks and plays very, very well, and gamers who enjoy deep, meaty strategic gameplay will find it serves their needs quite well. It's not surprising considering the talent of the team behind it. Is Fate of the World edutainment? Well, sure. But it's an incredibly well made piece of it; just give that soundtrack from Richard Jacques a listen. If his name sounds familiar, it's because you might have heard his work on a little-known video-game called Mass Effect. It's super obscure, you've probably never even heard the name before, I'm sure.
When you're just getting the hang of things, the sheer volume of problems facing the world, typically different in every country, is more than a little frightening. Everyone is clamouring for your attention, and everyone is going to blame you and you alone when things don't go right for them, whether it's a tsunami they feel you could have done more to help fortify them against, or the pollutants put out by the factory you installed to further fuel production. Since you're juggling so many different countries and problems at once, progress can feel like it's slowed to a crawl. In order to really succeed, you need to spend more than ten seconds thinking about how to play your cards in each turn, and in some cases that can take a long time if you really analyze every situation and read up on all the card possibilities. Fate of the World is an incredibly important game, no doubt about that, but there are times when it can feel a bit like a second job everyone is ready to lynch you for performing poorly at.
As a gamer, that's a bitter pill to swallow. On a lot of stages, you can meet the winning conditions and still feel like you've lost because so many things can go wrong. While that does mean the successes and advancements are that much more satisfying, it does mean that many players will find it discouraging and quit before they really get the hang of things. While I can say that playing Climate Challenge will probably give you a decent indication as to whether you'll enjoy Fate of the World, it still makes me wish there was a demo available for you to really get your feet wet with, preferably consisting of the first two stages since the difficulty and scope spikes significantly after the first level. While it might have made the game a bit easier, it does feel like implicating some sort of advisor system (dream team: Gregory House, Anthony Bourdain, and Doctor Who) would have gone a long way towards making you feel like the game wasn't 75% research and might have made it more accessible to a wider audience.
This is definitely not an easy game, and it will never, ever be called a simple one. There's no law governing how you play a game, of course, and whether you choose to simply enjoy it as entertainment or take it as a call to action is entirely your choice. Fate of the World is brutal and sobering, sure, but it's also intelligent, optimistic, and exceptionally deep. For fans of strategy sims it comes highly recommended. For residents of a certain big blue ball, it might also be some important food for thought.
Please note that while this game is currently only available for Windows, a Mac release is scheduled for April 2011.
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