Reviewed: March 1, 2005
Released: January 25, 2005
Once upon a time, computer gaming was practically a “no-girls-allowed” club. Female consumers, we were told, weren’t interested in playing the type of games that were on the bestsellers lists of the time, and so gaming companies set out to find the kind of game that would bring in an untapped market. Most attempts were pretty pathetic: who wants to play a Barbie-themed action game, honestly?
Then, in 2000, Maxis found the goose that laid the golden egg with their mega-hit The Sims. Popular with players of both genders and all ages, The Sims allowed players to play voyeur and engineer their own soap operas. Ten years ago, most people would not have imagined a game whose goals include making sure people use the bathroom and wash their hands would be one of the best-selling games of all time; today, The Sims has generated several expansion packs, a direct sequel, and several console game spin-offs. As with any successful game, it also has its imitators.
Playboy: The Mansion is, as you might suspect, not designed to appeal to a female demographic. However, it does borrow many design concepts and gags from The Sims, and combines them with an interesting business sim and nice, um, “animation” to produce a product which can provide sim and “tycoon” genre fans as well as Hef wannabes with hours of fun, and doesn’t feel like the marketing ploy which it obviously is.
You are “Hef,” a younger version of the founder of Playboy, Hugh Hefner. Your job, should you accept it (and who wouldn’t) is to start and develop a men’s magazine featuring interviews with celebrities, photographs of beautiful women (clothing optional), and most importantly, articles! You run your publishing empire from The Mansion.
The basic interface of The Mansion is very similar to that of The Sims. You control Hef by clicking to points in the house where he should go. Clicking on other people or objects brings up a circle of buttons for interaction options. You have the ability to buy furniture and objects to enhance various rooms of the Mansion and provide more opportunities at your parties.
The Sims-esque engine of The Mansion is not designed to simulate every day life – there are no bodily functions in this game, save one. Instead, the interactions in this game help Hef live out his social and business life. You will have some people at your Mansion most of the time, including your magazine staff and your girlfriend(s). In order to build the magazine, however, Hef must use his social connections to strike business deals and find good content for the magazine. In order to bring people in and gain opportunities, Hef must throw parties at the Mansion and invite celebrities.
To throw a party, you are given a list of available celebrities to consider inviting, as well as your magazine staff and friends. One thing to consider when compiling the guest list is your relative fame; if you are an unknown, A-list stars are unlikely to give you the time of day. Another thing to consider is the balance of men and women at the party, various friendships and rivalries among your guests.
Once you have your party, you have the opportunity to make business happen. Chat with people to improve your relationship with them, and you will eventually have the option to ask them to provide material for your magazine (for a fee of course). If you get in good enough with someone, you can invite them to be a member of your “inner circle”, or if the person is a woman, and you have a romantic relationship with them, you can ask them to be your girlfriend.
Inner circle members can be called upon at any time to hang out at the mansion, and will bring new and potentially more famous friends to your house, but require constant attention to maintain your close friendships. Girlfriends will live at your mansion and receive an allowance, and can influence how party guests feel about you. If the parties go well, not only will you have pieces for your magazine and new relationships, but you will also gain fame and be able to call on bigger and bigger celebrities.
Every month you must publish your magazine, and in order to publish an issue, you must have a cover photo, a centerfold, an interview, an essay, and a pictorial. Your staff journalists and photographers will conduct interviews and shoot pictorials, and you must ask guests to agree to interviews and photo shoots. The articles and interviews are left to your staff, but you are given the power to control the photo shoots in various places in the mansion. You control what outfits (or lack thereof) your subjects wear, and how they should pose, and take up to 36 shots. After the photo sessions, you pick out your favorite photos and they become part of the magazines that you publish.
When publishing your magazine, you must pay attention to the market research, which reveals what percentage of readers prefer what kinds of content. If your readers are interested in politics, you should include political essays. If your readers are interested in movies, you should include an interview or nude photo shoot with a movie star. After you have compiled all the required pieces of an issue, you send it to press, and your publisher comes back to you immediately with the profits for that issue. Your profits can then be poured into parties, higher quality staff, new furniture, and higher quality content.
As an added feature in the game, you can earn bonus points for completing certain tasks in the game well or completing “mission objectives” in various stages of the game. These bonus points can be used to unlock centerfolds, cartoons, articles and interviews from classic issues of Playboy. Although not central the gameplay, this feature adds value to the game for long-time subscribers to the magazine.
While Playboy: The Mansion is neither as in-depth a social simulator as The Sims, nor as sophisticated a business simulator as some of the offerings on the game market, it’s unique combination of genres and styles makes for an interesting and refreshingly unique game.
Playboy: The Mansion features good visuals that enhance the experience of playing the game. Although not spectacular, the graphics of the basic, isometric gameplay screen are at least as good as those of the original Sims. The women of the game have a huge variety of possible outfits that they wear, and both men and women have various body types. Speaking, dancing, and, um, *intimate relations* are all pretty well animated and humorous in a cartoony way.
The game contains partial nudity; women (and men) can go topless. Although the game features sex, people in the Playboy: The Mansion universe have sex with their underpants on. If you are buying this game expecting hard-core porn, you will be disappointed. The game’s visuals and animations are like a humorous, naughty cartoon, and lend the game a fun, non-serious feel which takes away some of the guilt that might be felt about playing as an adult magazine magnate.
One of the famous gags inThe Sims is “Sim-speak”, a non-sensical language spoken by all the people and even unseen radio and TV personalities in the game. Playboy: The Mansion borrows this convention; when characters speak to each other, you only know that they are talking, not what they are talking about. Occasionally your managers will pop up on the screen and will speak to you “in English” about what you need to do or know about running your magazine.
The soundtrack for the game is provided through in game stereo systems, which play MP3 files, which come on the game’s CD. The music includes jazz, rock, hip-hop and other musical styles, and while the music is generally pleasing to the ear and not annoying or overly repetitive. None of it really stands out. A few songs even refer to “The Playboy Mansion”, which is kind of cool, even if it is self-serving.
Playboy: The Mansion is slightly over-priced at $39.99. Although the game is fun for its gameplay and laughs, the social and business models of the game are a bit shallow and you may find yourself growing bored after many hours of the same gameplay. However, the bonus features may be enough for some die-hard fans to spend those extra hours racking up bonus points and unlocking photos.
Although Playboy: The Mansion is not going to revolutionize gaming or bring in many people outside the male 18-29 demographic, it is a fun game to fiddle around with for a several hours. Simulation game fans will find something to like in the gameplay; people who are looking for T ‘n’ A are probably better off playing Leisure Suit Larry or browsing the internet.