Articles/Game Reviews/PC/Shadow President (1993)

Shadow President is a game that I spent some time playing during my youth on a 486 PC that ran Windows 3.1. It was unlike any game I had played before, because of its tremendous depth and detail. It was developed by DC True in 1993 and followed by a sequel called CyberJudas that I have never been able to try.

The premise of the game is simple, it is 1990 and you are president of the United States of America, arguably the most powerful person in the world. You have massive military, intelligence, diplomatic, and economic resources at your disposal, but how will you use them? To complicate things, the game reflects real world problems at the time, including political instability in Central America, the looming invasion of Kuwait, and friction with the Soviet Union.

The game's interface is a bit daunting due to its complexity. You are shown a world map, which allows you to select any country. At the bottom of the screen are your advisers, the most important members of your cabinet. On the top left is a tool bar that allows you to perform actions on a selected country. On the right side are details on the selected country and on the bottom right are controls to switch views.

The advisers are rather important since they tell you the hotspots, or the countries that pose a threat to world peace and have economic difficulties. Your cabinet will give you advice on any action you want to perform, and if you do something really bad or unpopular, some cabinet members will resign. It is also possible for cabinet members to die in a military or nuclear attack or to face scandal.

The views that you can select in the bottom right allow you to change the main view. There is a regional view that gives you a close-up of countries in the world map. There is also a stats view where you can have the world map display certain statistics, such as the GDP of all countries or their alliance (most countries are allied with either the USA or USSR). You can also view the size of each country's military, nuclear forces, and popularity of the government.

As president, you must be careful to preserve your popularity. If it gets too low, you are going to get impeached and the simulation will end. If you keep it above 50%, you will have a good chance of being re-elected in 4 years. Actions you take will impact your popularity, with some increasing and some decreasing. War and nuclear attacks, as an example, can make you very unpopular very quickly.

Along with everything else, you must manage the budget of the federal government. It is remarkably easy to maintain a budget surplus, even though it seems hard for the real federal government to do it. You have control over areas of spending such as defense or social programs as well as various forms of taxation. You can institute a national sales tax and raise corporate and personal taxes to greatly increase the money available. However, raising taxes can really lower your popularity so it is a delicate balancing act. Investing in investment can increase future money supply, while investing in defense will increase your military's size. You can also control the amount of foreign aid available, which you can distribute to specific countries and certain parts of their economies.

The actions menu in the top left of the screen is how you interact with other countries. There are several categories, all of which contain options that you can perform on a selected country. For each action, you can see how likely it is to succeed as well as get advice on whether or not it is a good idea from various cabinet members.

Foreign aid is a valuable method of improving other countries by boosting their economy and quality of living. You can also supply military aid to your allies to intimidate your enemies and even give countries nuclear aid. If a country betrays you, you can cut foreign aid and give foreign aid to their enemy, much like the real federal government.

As far as economic actions, you can control the trade status of the USA with various countries. For example, you can block trade with countries to decrease their GDP or give them most favored trading status to boost the USA GDP. Canceling trade with a country can have a crippling effect on their economy and it is a powerful tool in diplomacy.

Politics play a big role in the game and one way of showing disapproval of another country's actions is to issue a statement of condemnation. This can backfire, however, if the public don't respect your government or you have low popularity. If you do something that angers the rest of the world, you can bet that you will get some statements of condemnation the next day. You can also encourage countries to ally with the USA and strengthen diplomatic ties.

When diplomacy and economic actions fail, you can employ the resources of the CIA. You can supply arms to rebels to increase a country's instability, making it more likely that the government will be overthrown. You can also sponsor a coup d'etat to try to have the government taken over by revolutionaries. Another possibility is industrial sabotage to damage the country's GDP and the ability to assassinate their leader. To increase the likelihood of any of these succeeding you can increase intelligence spending in a country. Some of these actions are easier than others and if you are caught red-handed, it will negatively impact your popularity at home and abroad.

The military options you have include encouraging or discouraging military spending in foreign countries. You can also perform an aerial surgical strike on an enemy's military and nuclear facilities. Finally, there is the war room, where you can move troops around and attack countries. The hard part here is that you must find a neighboring country that will hold your troops. If they all refuse, you won't be able to invade, unless you find a nearby country and invade your way to your real target. Sometimes the country you want to invade will accept your troops, not realizing your intent. Amassing troops on a border will result in increased military tensions and often some diplomatic action. When you attack, you will see statistics on casualties and economic impact. Sometimes, an ally will come to your aid and help with the invasion.

Finally, we have the nuclear actions, which are the most severe of all. The USA has a large collection of ICBMs and the president is in control of them. As a result, you can launch nuclear missiles at any country you want, but the number is finite and based on defense spending. Nuclear attacks have serious ramifications and will often result in cabinet members resigning. If your target has nuclear weapons, you can expect a counter-attack that will cripple the US economy, population, and military. It is also worth mentioning that nuclear attacks are in general very unpopular and the drifting fallout will impact countries around the target.

Shadow President is very open ended and you can pretty much do whatever you want as long as you can avoid being impeached. If you want to invade the entire globe and annex every country, you can do so, although it will not be easy. You can also be a beacon of hope and bring peace to the world via diplomacy, foreign aid, and strengthening economic ties. The simulation will respond accordingly and hostility is met with hostility, whereas kindness is often returned. A global status indicator is on the right side of the screen and will indicate the level of tension and the statistics for the average country.

Shadow President does a good job of showing the power that the president of the USA has (although some of it may be exaggerated), for better or for worse. It also shows how easy it is to be detached from the world when you see it from a monitor and only see numbers instead of the real impact on people. Some people may find such a unilateral perspective offensive, but I don't think the intent of the developers was to paint the role of president as glamorous or produce a game that is pro-US propaganda. I think their goal was to present a realistic simulation and they succeeded at a time when PCs weren't very advanced.

In conclusion, Shadow President is one of the most powerful and engrossing geopolitical simulations in the history of gaming. I spent hours and hours in this simulation trying different policies and seeing the impact of my actions on the world. It might have been better if you could be the leader of any country instead of just the United States. It is still fun to play today, although the graphics aren't as lovely as some other games and it is set in the early 90s, making it seem a bit dated. You can find it available online as abandonware or, as an alternative, the newer Superpower series is sort of an update to Shadow President and has a very similar interface and actions.