Narrative strategy title The Fabulous Fear Machine sees you control the nation by spreading conspiracy theories and urban legends. Lewis takes a closer look…
The aim of The Fabulous Fear Machine is to spread fear among a populace in order to make the people more receptive to your message, whether that’s persuading them to buy your pharmaceutical products, or to vote for your party. After 13 years of Tory government, it all feels sickeningly familiar.
We’re now so used to the modern epidemic of fearmongering that it’s difficult to imagine a world where people aren’t whipped into a frenzy at the slightest provocation. But seeing The Fabulous Fear Machine present the cultivation of fear as a methodical, manipulative exercise is a stark reminder that this isn’t normal.
Seen through this game’s lens, the much-talked about ‘culture wars’ are an obvious ploy to stoke mistrust. The ‘war on woke’ is merely a tactic to create unease. Playing The Fabulous Fear Machine is a reminder of the real-life game that politicians, media barons and advertisers play every day. For tabloids and ministers, salespeople and social-media scandalisers, fear is their weapon, a powerful means of persuasion.
In real life, of course, the cultivation of fear is simply the work of greedy, self-interested people. But in The Fabulous Fear Machine, there’s a creepy fairground contraption at the heart of it all, a fortune-telling machine in the vein of Zoltan from the Tom Hanks movie Big. Anyone seeking world domination can simply drop a coin in the slot and have their dreams come true – at the price of eventually becoming part of the machine themselves.
It’s all presented with some glorious Tales From The Crypt-style comic book art, the lurid colours perfectly matching the outlandish tone of the game itself. You begin with a seed of fear, which can be planted in one of several territories: the opening sees you attempting to conquer England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, pushing the message of a power-hungry executive and her pharmaceutical company.
Your mask-wearing agents can then be sent to cities bordering the newly spawned sea of fear to explore and establish refineries that produce Oleum, the game’s currency. Urban legends can be planted in each city, ranging from the bizarre to the uncomfortably familiar. One sees you cultivating fear about a rain of frogs. Another seeds the conspiracy theory that there’s a machine controlling the climate. Others are more familiar. Contaminated wells. A deadly virus that spreads through children’s sand pits.
Each legend takes time to become established, after which it can be upgraded using essences which can be harvested from cities. Each legend requires a different essence, and you’ll quickly find yourself juggling your agents, swapping them between different production pipelines, and steadily growing your sea of fear until the population is ripe to receive your message.
Complications come in the form of rivals. In the opening level, another pharmaceutical company is trying to muscle in on your turf, doing things like charity fundraisers and suggesting that your products might not be up to snuff. How dare they. In order to take them down, you have to send one of your agents to infiltrate the company, sifting for dirt on things like accounting inconsistencies and worker unrest. Each nugget of information requires a resource, whether its Oleum or a specific essence, but once the price is paid, you can unleash your revenge.
It’s all deliciously wicked, and thoroughly immoral. But the game’s comic book presentation does a lot to cushion the sense that you’re playing on the wrong side, along with the outlandish nature of the machine itself. But it does unlock that familiar feeling. A sense you’ve seen this before in real life.
All those conspiracy theories circulating on social media. All those politicians claiming this, that and the other is an affront to decency. All those cynical adverts. It’s all a game.
The Fabulous Fear Machine is being made by Fictiorama Studios and published by AMC Games, and it’s due to be released on PC on 4th October 2023.