President Evil - A Review

Originally published 2006, April 3.

Originally planned to be a highly-original politically-themed adventure title, President Evil met an unfortunate fate part of the way through it's development, and what came out of it was a confusing mess of a game. The director, Paul WS Anderson, had been making good progress on the title, with most items and puzzles programmed and set in place, when all of a sudden he had a nervous breakdown, believed to have been caused by his obsessive playing of too much Apple IIe in his spare time. Anderson's apparent addiction to Logo led to the adoption of a new control scheme, abandoning the typical GO NORTH, and GO OUTSIDE navigation method for a "turn-based" system, where a player could turn left, turn right or walk in a straight line. Unfortunately, there was not enough time to replace the main character models with Logo's turtle, nor was the ability to draw lines ever included in the game. This half-hearted system left many adventure game ventures confused and dismayed.

Even the box art had a typo
The cornerstone of any good adventure game is of course, the puzzles, and here the game lacked as well. Most puzzles were simple item pick-up and drop-off's. Pick up the key and use it on the door. Pick up the music notes and use them on the piano. With a few exceptions, most of these problems were very obvious and coming up with their solutions required almost no real thinking. Ironically, one of the most difficult puzzles in the game was also one of the simplest to figure out; that of the "zombies". The obvious solution was just to combine ammunition with some fire arm, and then use this fire arm on the creature. This act was difficult only due to the fact that there was a time limit, and failure to act fast enough caused damage to the main character. This was a surprising way of fabricating difficulty, as most adventure games are slow and methodical, allowing lots of time to sit around and think about puzzles. Obviously, President Evil failed yet again to match up with normal expectations.

You are in the hallway.
You see a zombie dog
Plot-wise, this was very little redeemable left over from the initially planned tale of political intrigue, which instead got replaced with some nonsense about the walking dead. One might at first mistake this for Romeroesque social commentary on consumerism and citizen apathy, but that idea goes right out the window once you find the zombie crows and zombie dogs. The only symbolic elements that remained were tied up in the game's "herb" system, which involved collecting various plants left lying around the game world. These herbs came in three color varieties, red, blue, and green, the first two of which were obvious nods to America's major political parties. Of course, the third variety was representative of the Green party, which the director was obviously a member of, since there was such a greater volume of it compared to the other two types of plants. The very fact that these objects were herbs reveals that the game's creators were pro-legalization, a stance very often held by members of the Green Party. It was a subtle form of propaganda, meant to influence the impressionable gaming public.

Ultimately, President Evil ended up being fairly profitable, despite all of these shortcomings. Many sequels have been released in the meantime, all of which have followed in these missteps. It remains to be seen if the world will ever witness the majesty of the original vision - a great game that could have been.