From the moment ICED starts up, you know we're in trouble. You see, ICED (which stands for "I Can End Deportation") is a "game for change," in this case one that advocates for reform of immigration policy, its stance being pro-immigrant. During the initial loading screen, voice-over and scrolling text tells us "No one is safe from deportation--the sick and elderly, pregnant women, families..." And so on.
Can you say "heavy handed?" Let us consider this: The developers are facing an up-hill struggle, taking a position that is at present at odds with the loudest voices on the issue of immigration, who seem to believe that it's both possible and desirable to deport 12 million harmless people who have come to this country for the opportunities it offers. In other words, you need to make a case; you can't just preach loudly. This isn't persuasive; some portion of the audience will nod in agreement, and a lot more will say "fuck you" and shut down the game. Maybe a few teens who have never considered the issue will think it's interesting and go on to play -- and maybe that's what the developers think they're after, because, after all, only teenagers play videogames, right? (Very wrong, as trivial research will reveal -- and the portion of teens who are likely to play a didactic 'serious' game, let alone go through a download-and-install process to do so is vanishingly small.)
Once we get into the game, we see that it's a 3D world, rendered in the Torque engine, meaning a fair bit of money and time was spent creating the 3D assets involved. But what do we do in this 3D world? Well, scattered across it, visible in the minimap as green dots, are either flat rotating light-bulbs or flat rotating hands. When you move into a light bulb, you are asked a yes-or-no question that is supposed to "educate" you as to the issues involved in the immigration debate. E.g., "Most illegal immigrants are violent criminals, yes or no?". A correct answer gains you points. The hands instead give you points for being a good citizen (like, "plant a tree, +5"); in addition there are some green dots marked only by an unmoving character or an object, which ask you questions that are all traps. (No, don't take the illegal handgun.) These are also frustrating, because it's not clear exactly where to position your character without a hand or bulb, so you have to jostle around until your green dot exactly matches the green dot on the minimap, likely while Immigracion is running after you. If you get all the green dots on the map, you play what they call a high-speed chase game, but is actually like an unbeatable game of Pac-Man; more and more immigration officers show up and start wandering around the map until, inevitably, they corner and eat, I mean detain you.
When you are caught, you go to detention -- a prison in Louisiana with a bunch more light-bulbs and hands. After getting everything green here, you get to take a test and, if you pass with flying colors (and didn't take the handgun, et al.), you get to become a legal resident. Woohoo.
I suppose the developers feel that this structure is helping to "educate" the players about the "facts" of the case; of course, precisely because they've staked out a heavy-handed position from the very inception of the game, players will perceive the facts here as dubious; you don't generally get terribly, you know, factual facts from people who are strong advocates of a political position. Instead, you get their obvious slant. As you do here, of course.
In other words, what the developers have really done here is to take the equivalent of a political pamphlet, a set of bullet-pointed arguments, and strewn them at random in a 3D world for you to encounter in no coherent order. I beg to suggest that a political pamphlet is a better medium to transmit these ideas; no real point going to the expense of developing a "game," if we can call it that; a better name might be "screedware."
What, we may ask, differentiates the game from all other media? It is simply this: In playing a game, you are complicit in creating the experience, and the experience is personal and immediate, because you help make it happen. Moreover, games are algorithmic systems, and can, by exposing users to their implications, get across far better than any other medium how systems function -- how history evolves, how businesses work, and perhaps something like how our system of immigration control produces inequities by its nature.
Thus, a didactic game on the issue of immigration, to be worthy of its name and medium, must reveal to players, in the course of play, the moral issues faced by real participants in the system, whether as immigrants or as law enforcement officers. Games in other words, are different from prose or documentary film; and to make a game on an issue, without understanding what it is that games can do better and exploiting their advantages, is pointless, just as, say, making a poor documentary, or writing incoherent prose, is not a useful way of advancing your position.
In this context, Against All Odds (which deals with the plight faced by political refugees) is a vastly better game, despite its flaws; it poses you with moral choices, even if only of the multiple-choice variety. And it's better despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that it doesn't hide the fact that it's basically a set of multiple-choice quizzes (as ICED is also) by providing an unnecessary 3D environment.
The curious, and indeed almost inexplicable thing is that we already have an example of a game that addresses precisely the question of immigrant imprisonment and deportation, in a smart and effective way, and in the context of a 3D world; it's called Escape from Woomera. Might the developers have better spent their time build on that framework in an American context?
N.B.: It isn't usual for us to run negative reviews; normally we point to games we think you should play. In this case, we're making an exception, both because I think something should be said about this game and because there are few other places that review serious games.