The Fabulous Fear Machine Hands-On Impressions: R.L. Stine-Worthy Sim

Fear is the key to success in this unusual strategy game. Here, conquering nations and building an empire takes no armies; requires no alliances. Only contagious terror.

But The Fabulous Fear Machine is not a horror game. Its bright, comic-inspired aesthetic covers everything with a noticeably pulpy vibe. So, think Goosebumps rather than The Twilight Zone, even if its premise would be right at home in either property.

Approaching an old coin-operated fortuneteller machine, I hear a voice. It offers me anything and everything I have ever wanted. Fame? Money? Influence? It’s all within my grasp — on one condition. I have to grant The Machine the right to weave my story into its mysterious cogs, serving its own ominous purpose. Is that a price I’m willing to pay?

The strategy side of the game shows its face immediately, and, even with a step-by-step tutorial, there are a lot of systems, terms, and objectives to keep straight. But I quickly grasp the basic concept. To achieve my deepest desire, I have to sow discord, confusion, and suspicion throughout the world. The Machine’s agents travel to the corners of the earth to help investigate possibilities, disseminating misinformation in different locations at my command. When my sphere of influence expands enough, I can transmit a message guaranteed to pull the panicked denizens under my sway.

I promote hysteria in disparate areas via my Legends after scouting each place out. These are a kind of bogeyman I chose to feed on citizens’ concerns. Playing around with perceptions of the weather with my Climate Machine has an effect on people’s fear of the Unknown and a rumored spree of kidnappings ignites anxieties around Violence. As my corruption spreads across regions, the world becomes my oyster. What can’t I have with enough fear?

But the Machine requires its price. Towns I control can produce a rare resource, called Oleum, essential to the dreadful engine’s power, and it requires more the longer I use it. Its thirst grows no matter how effective (or not) I am. Ensuring constant success to quench The Machine’s ever-growing need pushes me to expand more and more because stopping just isn’t an option.

Obstacles in the form of rivals throw a wrench into my plans for world domination, however. These opportunistic competitors see the public’s fear-inspired mailability and start making moves to turn it to their advantage. They spread their own messages, siphon power from me, and halt my work. The Machine’s agents are ready for this eventuality, and I can send them to infiltrate my rivals and find something to crush them. The problem is this takes time and those agents can’t spread fear while sneaking around another organization. It’s clear the game will require a delicate balance of resources and planning.

The Fabulous Fear Machine won’t be unleashed on the world until next year. Is giving up your soul worth everything you’ve ever wanted? Is it possible to walk away from such a dangerous game? We will have to wait until then to find out.

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