First impressions are important. As a species we put an incredible amount of focus upon our first glance at something; we form opinions of people mere seconds after meeting them, food tastes differently to us based upon the colour of the plate on which it was served and whilst the English language contains the proverb ‘never judge a book by it’s cover’, there are entire industries built around the knowledge that buyers do precisely that for every single product on the market.
Therefore it can be agreed that first impressions can have a long lasting effect on the psychology from which we approach a task or a piece of media, which means that the very first moments after loading up a piece of software can be one of the most crucial. Sadly, the first moments taken up by Masters of the World weren’t the game’s lavishly designed and inspiring introduction sequence that runs through the history of 20th Century geopolitics. Instead, I was treated to an error message telling me that in order to play the game I would have to visit a third party website and download and install the Xvid video codec. In 2014. On Steam, a platform designed to download and install games automatically.
Alas despite having been released over a year ago and having had plenty of time to run a successful Greenlight campaign, the developers seem not to understand the whole ‘Steam’ thing. Aside from the fact that the game is distributed without all the necessary codecs required for it to run, the player is also subject to a draconian limited-install RPG policy that locks players out from their game after the third install, or indeed the third hardware alteration. Again, this is pointless as Steam is a system for DRM in itself.
Then again, this probably doesn’t matter as I can’t really foresee anybody actually wanting to play this game particularly far into the future. Whilst the ideas behind Masters of the World are sound, the game’s execution of said concepts is so often laughably bad or generally haphazard that anything that actually functions reasonably well is usually obscured by a thick layer of poor design.
But what is Masters of the World anyway? Masters of the World is a real-time strategy game in which the player (or players) takes control of one of around 150 political leaders and are tasked with leading their chosen country (or countries), keeping the economy ticking over, the people happy and trying not to be kicked out of power. This is achieved through a mix of national politics, international diplomacy, spy intrigue and all-out war. Players achieve this by appointing a cabinet, drafting bills, setting up meetings with figures on the national and international level, speaking to the media, setting up spy networks to manipulate other nation states and directly commanding military operations or leaving such decisions to your appointed generals. Players can choose to play as any country and, thanks to the game’s extensive detail and careful design, the player will be greeted with something similar to that nation’s political status at the start of 2013.
At least, it does on the occasions when the game works properly. During my play-through I averaged about one game-ending crash per hour, with the first being halfway through the tutorial and replacing my efforts with a small window that announced that the game had suffered an EXCEPTION_ACCESS_VIOLATION (C0000005) in IP=0x19AE4F3. Further crashes included one that resulted in the game showing me nothing but the empty world map when I attempted to review the high score chart (the high score chart itself being something that barely functions, apparently blocking players from being able to see their highscores for most of the scenarios), and a further mid-game crash that simply froze the game entirely, forcing me to alt-tab out of fullscreen and close it from the desktop. Whilst it’s not exactly the least stable game I’ve ever played, the slow-feed and long term decisions nature of the gameplay certainly does not combine well with the fact that at any moment the whole thing can be lost in a sudden explosion of code and memory errors.
The game is also one of the most damned ugly and least ergonomically designed things I’ve come across in recent years; the user interface is, quite frankly, awful. Despite the game’s constant need to throw big lists of information at the player, the game wastes space with the kind of big screen-filling buttons and massively oversized chunky rounded corners of the kind that you’d see in children’s’ toys. It’s HUD feels like it has been crudely stretched to fit a transition from standard definition to widescreen, but on closer examination it would seem that the buttons were initially designed at the wrong size and then stretched to fill the screen automatically.
The game accompanies everything with the 3D faces of apparently hundreds upon hundreds of real world politicians, each with their names changed ever so slightly to avoid lawsuits. Playing as UK Prime Minister ‘Gary Cimeron’ my cabinet was accompanied by such notable Conservative politicians as ‘Osgorne’, ‘Dague’ and ‘Bove’, whilst the leader of my coalition allies was the delightfully terribly renamed ‘Rick Clarg’. Whilst it’s impressive that a great amount of research went into putting recognisable figures for hundreds of different countries into the game, the 3D face modelling engine the developers have used results in uniformly hideous creations that look like famous politicians have been kidnapped and replaced with worryingly alien-looking doppelgängers, and the extremely limited number of voice actors (and indeed, voice acting) means that the appearance of any of these figures giving advice or information is usually met with boredom and derision. This focus upon these talking heads weakens the game, limiting the amount of information that can be passed to the player in many cases, and reducing any meetings with world leaders to a tiny number of canned questions and answers that are almost exactly the same for every single person in the game, from your own parents to US President Jack Omaha.
The game’s claims to be realistic are also repeatedly thrown into doubt by quite frankly unrealistic things that just keep happening. Playing as North Korea, the UN security council voted unanimously to restrict sanctions almost immediately, and whilst playing as the UK my re-election was secured in part by our topping of the medals tables at the 2014 winter Olympics. Whilst the domestic side of the simulation operates quite nicely, with new laws and various policy changes having to be drafted by your team and then debated by your parliament (or simply drafted, if you’re playing as one of the game’s few dictatorial countries or you’ve successfully subverted your country’s constitution into something rather more self-serving), but foreign policy is rather poorly simulated, and it’s not uncommon to see major western powers being denounced as rogue nations. Public opinion has the tendency to sway rather wildly too, with tiny actions having massive repercussions upon your political status when, as has been shown in the last few decades, there are always people willing to go along with absolutely any bloody stupid decision regardless of reasoning or motive.
Finally the game supports online multiplayer, but presumably thanks to the game’s age, poor design and utterly prohibitive £40 (or $50) price tag I haven’t actually been able to find anyone to play the game with. The online connection screen is essentially an empty wasteland and whilst you can definitely host your own game, you shouldn’t expect to ever be joined by anyone else. To be honest, I can’t even tell if the connection screen works as there’s not even a ‘there are no games’ message, just a blank empty space.
Areas for Development
- Total graphical overhaul. Everything from the colour scheme to the use of space needs to be completely altered to make the game more pleasant to use
- Serious bug-fixing
- Improvement to the AI
- A tutorial that explains more than the extreme basics
- Further scenarios, preferably ones which actually recognise when a set goal has been completed
There’s definitely a reasonably well designed and functional game somewhere underneath Masters of the World’s bugs and terrible presentation, but getting to the former means putting up with the latter, and having to pay an utterly astonishing premium for the privilege. Masters of the World feels unpolished, unfinished and half-baked, and is worth neither your time nor your hard-earned cash.
Technical Competency – 5/10
Graphical State/Sound Quality – 3/10
Network Stability – Unable to test
Overall – 4/10
(These grades assess our playthrough, taking into consideration how many (if any) bugs were encountered, whether there were any interruptions in gameplay and the product’s final technical state. These scores, coupled with the Final Analysis and Areas for Development, are suggestions for future patches and updates which the developers could (and in our opinion, should) explore. These scores are separate to our DLC/Expansion Reviews but link into our Patch/Firmware Reviews.)
(These scores are not designed as a grading system to determine the entertainment value of a product and should not be treated as such..)
Issues you’ve encountered
- The game doesn’t automatically install required codecs upon start-up
- The game suffers from semi-regular random crashes
- Towards the end of the tutorial, you are asked to liberate Faisalabad in Afghanistan. Faisalabad is in Pakistan. The city you are actually required to liberate is Lashkar Gah.
- Whilst the developers have taken great pains to obscure the names of individual politicians, other organisations such as the UN are present with their trademark-protected names and logos intact (presumably without authorisation)