Playboy? The Sims? A mansion? Emily explains in her first of NZGamer.com's regular Xbox Column.
Playboy: The Mansion slipped into stores reasonably quietly as a new release Xbox game, but ended up causing a commotion as loud as other eagerly awaited main titles (think Fable and the long awaited GTA: San Andreas). This commotion however, wasn't from the target market of 17 year old boys, but from the religious and conservative groups of society usually heard muttering "what's a halotoo?"
So what was all the fuss about? Some breasts and kissing? They show that kind of stuff on primetime TV, so that can't have been the reason for the uproar. Surely an R16 rated game with similar content should slip into the background of today's modern violence and moral corruption. Imagine then, my confusion when I read about Playboy: The Mansion and its sleazy evils on the front page of the Dominion Post. Were they even talking about the same game?
Ok, I might be understating the content a little - breasts, kissing and sex is included. But still, the sex shown could be more accurately called underwear-clad grinding. Sex? Not the way I grew up believing. The abovementioned article focused on bigwig opinions that the R16 game would encourage young men to see relationships with women as merely sexual conquests, and at the very worst, lead them to sexually molest and abuse women. It seems the outrage usually reserved for violent computer games has found a new outlet?
So, after this storm of controversy, I couldn't help myself. I rushed into my regular game store, bought the game, and went home to become a corrupted, female, Hugh Hefner.
The game starts out in mission mode in the Playboy Mansion, with the seemingly simple task of creating Hef's office. A couch here, a lamp there, and I was done. Easy. Next task: hire staff, sign up some playmates, do some photo shoots, have a couple of articles written and publish the first issue. Uh, easy right? With a wealth of Sims experience under my belt, I set about creating Hef's empire while throwing huge parties. And it was the little things that made these parties worthwhile - instructing everyone in the conversation group to go topless, making out with a Playmate on the couch/bed/pool/hot tub, or simply asking a guest to bounce half naked on your poolside trampoline. Good wholesome entertainment.
While I wasn't laughing hysterically at the lingerie some of the guests turn up in, I was scowling at the graphics going wrong. Hef often got stuck in the furniture and outdoor settings, and the Playmates would often continue kissing Hef long after he had wandered away to sample the cocktails or take a dip in the grotto. For a game played entirely in one setting (inside and on the grounds surrounding the Mansion) I was utterly disappointed at how many glitches I had to suffer through. The one saving grace Playboy offered was a nice set of extras. With each task completed you would earn reward points which could then be used to unlock a range of extras. From cheats (super size the playmates' chests) to photo galleries of actual Playboy Playmates, these were the features that made me forget I had just spent half an hour trying to free Hef from the side of the doorframe.
No matter how many different ways you can say 'strategic empire building game,' Playboy: The Mansion will never truly live up to the high standards set by others. It's not about strategic empire building at its most efficient and impressive, (my March issue of Playboy raked in $482 more than yours and got 3 and a half stars) - its about getting kicks from doing things to your characters you wouldn't usually do in real life. Topless Playmate bartender anyone?
This game is based almost entirely on the Sims concept. It plays on the same narcissistic weakness of gamers who want to totally control their characters - the idea that has made The Sims the phenomenon it has grown into. To be blunt, I feel like renaming this game PlaySims: The Mansion. So, if it's just a mature version of the Sims, then why all the fuss? Playboy picks up where The Sims drew the line. It allows us to take the road that secretly everyone who's ever played the game wishes had been available to them - the adult-rated road. Go on, admit it, as addictive and fun as The Sims was, how many of you wished they didn't pixel out the characters when they had their showers? Non offensive (to most) and more importantly, legal, this is voyeurism at its most lighthearted. Unfortunately, this is also where certain people start to feel threatened, and toes get trampled on.
In my opinion, the Playboy Mansions and the Leisure Suit Larrys of the gaming world are rarely starting blocks for morally corrupt citizens. Games like these should be welcomed as a harmless way to kick back, relax and explore a cheekier side of Xbox games. The next generation of Sims is here and they don't care much for bikinis.