The Political Machine 2008 is Stardock's latest political sim game, and it bears a close resemblance to the political machinations on the other side of the pond.

Political junkies have had one hell of a ride these last few months. As well as the travails of our own Prime Minister, in the States the recently concluding primary season has been perhaps the most bitterly contested, but still vicariously entertaining spectacles of the past few decades.

So it comes as no surprise that when The Political Machine 2008 landed on my desk I was more than a little excited - what exciting matchups could I concoct? Barack Obama vs John McCain? Bill Clinton vs Richard Nixon? Woodrow Wilson vs Theodore Roosevelt? Suffice to say, The Political Machine doesn't disappoint, offering an excellent improvement over the last version released four years ago - but it's ultimately hamstrung by some nagging issues and the lack of full-fledged improvements.

The Political Machine 2008 ships with four full scenarios - the 2008 campaign, 1860, a hypothetical (and highly amusing) European Union scenario, and a scenario based of Stardock's successful Galactic Civilizations series in which you play as a candidate for the highly militaristic Drengin Empire.

It is a nice mix of scenarios and does give players an interesting mix of potential 'what ifs'. These can often manage to descend into the realm of pure amusement that comes only when you can pit Bill Clinton against Dick Cheney in 1860, where Clinton makes speech after speech supporting slavery, or Al Gore setting up TV ads across Europe extolling his hatred of America and love of partying.

Most campaigns take place over a period of 41 turns - one turn per week - you'll select your candidate who has their own specific statistics (McCain is old for instance, and has less stamina, and therefore can't do as much per week), and thereafter begin attempting to sway individual states over to either the Democratic or Republican parties.

While many of the states are swingable the game does keep many safely in the realm or either party - it's unlikely you'll ever get Massachusetts to swing Republican for instance. Each turn candidates can make appearances in individual states, giving speeches on individual issues, fund-raising, creating ads, or gaining endorsements.

During the scenario for this year's election you'll find just about all current issues popping up on the campaign trail, allowing you to take positions on subjects such as the War in Iraq, Health Care, Climate Change, and smaller (often state specific issues) such as farm subsidies or Katrina relief.

Each candidate has his own values for each specific issue - Obama is naturally going to have the upper hand on McCain on the economy for instance, and vice-versa when it comes to Iraq and the War on Terror.

You'll find different issues in all four of the scenarios, and each time you play a campaign - even with the same candidates - things such as the importance of issues in each state are randomised just enough to keep things interesting. One election the topic of high gas prices might be the key to winning, but attempting to do that a second time might backfire as the important issues have changed.

NEXT PAGE: artificial 'intelligence', and our expert verdict > >

Visit PC Advisor's dedicated Games website to download hundreds of the latest titles, to read gaming news and reviews and to pick up tips and discuss your favourite games in the popular PC Advisor Games forum