It seems the videogame industry has been steeped in controversy as of late, with the advent of the “M”-rated game having driven our beloved hobby out of the gaming circle and straight to the 6 o’clock news. Games like Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, Doom 3 and Halo 2 are the current titles on trial for their violent nature and mature content. What non-gamers fail to recognize is that games are no longer just for kids, and that many games therefore reflect this natural shift in demographics. But there’s a fine line between adult-themed content that serves a narrative or gameplay purpose and games that simply incorporate sex and violence to stir up controversy or generate inappropriate sales.
For example, Arush’s latest release, Playboy: The Mansion, inspires questions about which demographic is being catered to. Considering the title comes with a 17+ label, it rules out the age range that would be most drawn to this game: 12- to 16-year-old boys who ogle breasts in any form. Yet if you are a male above the age of 17, you can buy the actual Playboy magazine, rent a Playboy movie or find a real, flesh-and-blood woman. I’m not even going to consider women as a target audience for this game, because there’s no way this game would appeal to female gamers.
On the surface, Playboy: The Mansion (PTM) is trying to pass itself off as a life simulation game, similar to the insanely popular Sims franchise. Anyone who has a played a game of the Sims, even on a console, knows how entertaining and addictive this title can be. PTM shares none of these qualities. At its core, it’s a soft-core porn game with no point other than to bore you with simulated sex between polygons and topless girls whose breasts have some very odd physics.
Playboy: The Mansion puts you in the role of famed media mogul Hugh Heffner. Your goal is to build the Playboy empire from struggling magazine to pop-culture icon. You are given various goals to accomplish, from publishing an issue of the magazine to convincing a bunch of Hollywood types to direct and star in your film and TV forays. This certainly sounds interesting, as the premise of being able to handle the day-to-day activities of a multi-million dollar business is a new idea. It’s just too bad the game falls flatter than a ruptured silicone implant when it comes to gameplay. Instead of really running the business, or even “living the life,” you spend your time performing the same mundane tasks over and over.
To get a real feel for what PTM is like, imagine the original Sims game (minus the expansion packs; remember, there’s no variety) and cross it with Dead or Alive Extreme Beach Volleyball. Now, take away the fun and enjoyment that you get from playing the Sims, and subtract the detailed character modeling of DOAXBV. Add in some boring, formulaic gameplay, repetitive goals and average graphics, and you have an idea of what PTM has to offer.
The goals of the game’s missions are presented to appear different; but in reality, they’re all accomplished the same way: Throw a party to invite Person A, greet Person A and build up a relationship (females add “romantic” to the normal casual and business relationships) and then, once your relationship reaches the required level, take the appropriate steps to accomplish your goal. There are a few times when the person won’t want to do business with you, but in those cases you can just try again later.
One of the biggest problems with PTM is that there really is no sense of urgency. When you sit down with the Sims, you only have a certain amount of time to get things done. There is always something (work, sleep, etc.) that keeps you on your toes, and you really have to plan your time to be successful. With Playboy: The Mansion, there’s none of that frantic socializing to get your mood meter up before rushing off to work, or the late-night cram session to get that last skill bar filled before bed. While all of the other characters in PTM have a few simple mood and drive meters, Mr. Hefner does not. There is no sense of time, no going to bed or having to go to work. You just throw party after party.
The mood meters on the other characters don’t really seem to affect the game, either. A staff member or party guest may be in a bad mood and begin starting arguments and slapping people, but there isn’t any real need to sort it out. If you feel like a gracious host, you can go over to the arguing characters and tell them to work it out, but unless you need something directly from the upset person, there’s really no need to bother.
I don’t think even Hef himself has seen as many fake breasts as I have over the course of reviewing this game, but if you like staring at half-naked computer-animated women, you’re in luck. When selecting an outfit for a Playmate to wear for a centerfold shoot (which you direct), you have two options: the outfit and the outfit sans top. You can preview the bikinis on the character, but instead of making a toggle button for the topless option, it is entered as another outfit. This means that to view all of the options for swimsuits, you will see approximately 15 sets of silicone implants for a single centerfold shoot.
The option to have sex is also available, and it’s just that blunt. Unlike The Sims, where your characters will jump under the covers and romp around, Hef abandons subtlety and strips down to his Jockeys while the girl strips down to her dental floss, er, g-string. They then proceed to go at it, in somewhat graphic detail, until you tell them to stop. There are different animations for each surface you choose to have sex on, so make sure you save that money and experiment.
As far as the graphics are concerned, there is nothing special here. Character movements are stiff and choppy, with repetitive animations. The character models aren’t much better than their animations, being noticeably pixilated and lacking any real detail. And why does Carmen Electra look just like the new reporter I just hired? Oh, that’s right: there are a very limited number of skins in the game, so even big-name celebrities look like everyone else and are only distinguishable when you see their name pop up.
The game is also buggy. Not that any game is perfect, but since there was nothing else to keep me entertained, I was able to really notice these things. Invisible walls abound, yet you can walk directly through people as long as they aren’t standing in your way. It appears as though the collision detection only works when someone happens to be blocking the door or path that you need to use.
Although there isn’t much to say about the audio, in terms of voice acting (Sim-speak) or ambient noise (pretty much non-existent), it is probably the game’s strongest category. It features a nice variety of genres, ranging from jazz to industrial to techno, and also supports custom soundtracks.
The bulk of the game lies in the mission mode, but there is also a free-play mode. The curious thing about free play is that once you begin the game, you are still assigned goals, very similar to mission mode. Isn’t the purpose of free play to not have the game tell you how to play it? I guess developer Cyberlore didn’t have much faith in the intellect of its audience, or at least not its ability to navigate the game on its own.
While Playboy: The Mansion offends me as a female, it offends me far more as a gamer. I am all for mature games; however, I have a very different opinion of what is considered “mature.” Games like Leisure Suit Larry, The Guy Game and Playboy: The Mansion show that developers and publishers alike think that if you show enough pixilated skin and slap an M rating on a game, it will sate our hunger for more adult-themed games. I don’t know one serious gamer who would be enticed by this sad mix of boring gameplay and soft-core porn. Playboy: The Mansion is as deep as a kiddie pool, which also matches its maturity level. There were some interesting ideas presented, but the game ends up being little more than a guise to show giggling teenagers lots of breasts.
- Gameplay: 4
- The words “tedious,” “boring” and “repetitive” come to mind.
- Graphics: 4
- Bland and boring, with stiff character movement and overly repetitive animations.
- Sound: 5
- A decent soundtrack with some nice variety and custom-soundtrack support.
- Replay: 3
- I only played it because I had to. Why does the free play mode assign you goals?
- Overall: 4
- Just because it’s rated M doesn’t mean it’s a mature game. Really, just go buy the magazine.
— J. Paradise