Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Axis of Evil

Although I'm a pinko Commie liberal scumbag in my day-to-day life, I do enjoy turning to the dark side on occasion. I can still remember playing Dungeon Keeper in my teens, siding with the bad guys in Command & Conquer, and in more recent times exploiting the capitalist system in the wonderful Oiligarchy. But why are these games so popular? Well, d'uh! They're fun! Sure, doing good to your fellow man is important, and everything, but sometimes you just want to let your inner bastard out to play.

That's why I had such high hopes for Axis of Evil, a game that allows you to be an evil dictator hell bent on becoming a nuclear power. Of course, it wouldn't be in this week's Big Mean Flash Gamer if it was any good, and its rating on Addicting Games told me as much before I even clicked the Play button. But since I'm a glutton for punishment, I had to give it a shot.

The first job is to name and design your dictator. Here's my guy, Gregory McAsshat; although he is a prick, he does have a bitchin' beard and pipe combo going on, so it's hard not to give him some kudos.

The next decision is to choose what region you want your dictatorship to be a part of. There are three choices of varying difficulty, each area described by a man who sounds almost exactly like Eugene Hutz, lead singer of gypsy punks Gogol Bordello. This was the best thing about the game, other than the ability to name your character McAsshat. I decided to go with the easiest region, which is the Far East.

So we get on with the game proper, and before doing anything else I'm asked if I want to set up a statue to commemorate my victory in the entirely fair elections. Well, sure, why not? I suppose it isn't such a hot idea, because every time you build something it reduces your support among the people. I don't think it's actually building stuff that gets them down, but rather what you build. Hospitals and schools would be a good choice, but in Axis of Evil the emphasis is on firepower, and lots of it.

You're going to need it, too, because you start getting attacked almost immediately. I don't know who these guys are, but since I haven't bombed any neighbouring countries I can only assume they're rebels. There's some crap about managing resources and setting a price for them on the world market to raise funds, but really the most important thing is killing anyone who tries to get close to your city. So I guess this is some kind of war game, right? Well, I sure hope not, because if it is, then it's one of the worst war games I've ever played.

For one thing, you're only allowed a certain number of units, whether it be infantry or tanks. And while I can understand only having what you can afford, I'd like to know why the hell I can't build as many tanks as I want? Aren't I the Dear Leader of this nation? Gregory McAsshat will not stand for this slur on his honour!

But then, it might not be a bad idea to limit the troops, since so many of them are dumb as posts. Both your units and the enemy can only travel along roads (you know, like armies in real life) and your boys will travel up and down the same road until you tell them to go somewhere else. What makes this so frustrating is when three or four enemy soldiers march towards your capital city and your entire army is on the other side of the God damn country.

What the hell are those assholes doing!? I've got rebels and other nations knocking down my door, and my tank units are trundling around like they're in Canada! I'm trying to build a WMD over here!

If your popularity dips below 15% NATO start carpet bombing the country, as if I didn't have enough problems already. And just so we're clear, all this happened in less than five minutes. I had no idea what was going on until it already happened. I felt less like a dictator and more like a child king, with no control over anything. Which is ridiculous, because there are basically only three things to control.

Like all great dictators (with the exception of the smug bastards who died in exile, sipping tea with prime ministers before suffering dementia and dying in their sleep) I ended my reign of terror hanging from a lamp post. My dictatorship lasted three and a half minutes. Hoo-rah.

Axis of Evil has plenty of flash but there's absolutely nothing underneath. What strategy you can find is minimal at best. It reminds me a lot of a bad tower defence game, as all you're really trying to do is stop enemies from reaching your city. I'd expect a game like this to involve international relations, balancing your budget, quelling dissent, forming alliances - all the stuff world leaders do. But instead all we have is a poor man's war game with infuriating controls and a difficulty curve that's practically a cliff face. Definitely one to avoid.

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