Reviewed: February 25, 2005
Released: January 25, 2005
In America, Playboy Magazine needs no introduction, and if you’ve recently decided to go for a stroll out from under your rock, then you might want to stop by the local game store and check out The Sims, and the sub-genre that the game created then rode to fame and fortune. Life sim games are all about taking a character of your design and feeding them, clothing them and making a living for them. I guess because the daily grind of doing that in real life is so appealing, why not do it for recreation, right? Ahem.
Well, it was only a matter of time before someone decided to put these two mega products together and try to make some scratch. See, it’s apparently really hard for companies to try to make original products, be they game companies or movie studios. Point being that if some other game has already ridden a concept all the way to the bank – and the top of the sales charts – then why not license their engine and make a mint for yourself?
Thus, Playboy: The Mansion puts regular schmoes into the busy silk pajama pants of Hugh Marstson Hefner, and not just for the purpose of desperately trying to cling to a decaying image of virility. Oh no, this is a serious sim game (and a younger Hef – hmmm...). You’re not just sleeping with every avaricious female in sight, you’ve got an adult magazine empire to run. And what better way to do that than to throw lavish parties at your mansion and invite glitterati to schmooze?
I’ve played The Sims and a couple of expansion packs on the PC, and while the tedium of (virtual) daily life looms over every minute of the game it is usually held at bay by the sheer fun of the sandbox play. It’s always a riot to get your characters into various situations of discomfort, and when that gets old, you can spend countless hours building the ultimate fantasy house with a giant plasma screen over a sprawling fireplace surrounded by sumptuous leather seating in every single Italian marble-floored room. Hey, it’s only (virtual) money. And it’s a good thing, since you get absolutely screwed on prices. Who pays $50,000 for a big screen with an Xbox?
Playboy: The Mansion is a complete and total rip-off of The Sims, plain and simple. This comes in handy when it comes to interfaces and game mechanics. I mean even conversations are held in that irritating "Simlish" that makes people sound like they’re standing around having a stroke in the middle of a little chitchat. But considering the amount of things to keep track of in the course of the game, everything is kept pretty well laid out for you in the form of handy graphs and icons. You can even turn off the menus for a clearer view of the action when you desire with a click of the analog stick. That’s good as it sometimes becomes information overload when you’re trying to figure out how to target the content of the magazine that month. Fortunately, that doesn’t really matter much...
One thing you’ll notice is that you don’t seem to get much out of increasing or otherwise changing the different aspects of character’s personalities. Even if you use the points you acquire through achieving goals to purchase “cheats” like making a given person on the staff a total genius (or giving a playmate some beach ball-sized boobs), it doesn’t seem to make them any better of a writer when it comes time to get a new article for the next issue. And new employees become available every month with varying levels of skill, but obviously, you’d want the photographer that’s rated higher than the others so you don’t get sexy shots of his or her thumbs, right?
But getting back to the point, it really doesn’t seem as important as it should be who you choose to carry out your magazine’s affairs. The problem with that is you lose a little of the true nature of managing a business or - more to the point - an empire.
Of course, one of the most interesting things to do in a sim game is buy and arrange various bits of artwork, furniture and such for your place. And having a mansion filled to the armpits with gorgeous women is certainly no place to skimp on the décor. As your bankroll fattens up, so do your options as ever-fancier objects of desire beckon you for acquisition.
What really stretches the envelope of this fantasy is convincing women from all walks of life to peel their threads for the camera after just a couple of virtual hours talking with a dirty old guy in silk pajamas. Hey, nothing says classy like having a Nobel prize-winning geneticist, a Supreme Court Justice or even former U.S. president displaying her hooblers on the cover of a magazine wrapped in brown paper at the local Kwik-E-Mart.
Now I’m as normal as the next red-blooded American guy, but I felt a little stupid doing this every month. Not the least of reasons being that it’s only a matter of time before any woman will eventually say yes if you jabber with them long enough at one of your shindigs.
Since every aspect of this game screams Playboy – to the point that when guests arrive at your parties, they’re usually wearing clothing with the bunny logo emblazoned on it - even the loading screens offer Playboy magazine trivia. After a while the game seems little more than a big, kissy love letter to Hugh Hefner for creating his magazine.
Obviously, this game can’t hope to usurp The Sims’ position of importance in the genre as it often disregards many of the components that make up the challenge of Wil Wright’s brilliant game. In The Sims, you were constantly working to tend to the needs (both physical and emotional) of your character(s), but Hef doesn’t seem to have any. Indeed, I actually forgot to check whether Hugh needed to eat, needed a nap, or if he was unhappy about anything that I could affect. Which brings me to the main problem with the game. It’s not really much of a challenge to be Hugh Hefner. But is it because the game’s developers messed up or were they not allowed to tarnish the charmed life of The Great Hef? I mean to fail at running Playboy, picking up hot women, or making friends with movers and shakers would burst the bubble, right?
Playboy: The Mansion certainly does a fine job of representing its colorful, detailed universe as you go about your hedonist lifestyle. There’s no shortage of gadgets, lamps, tables, chairs, or whatever you want to get your house totally decked out. By adjusting the camera with the analog stick, you can even zoom in anywhere to look at almost anything you possess, and you will want to do just that as your empire increases. Even the lighting is fairly impressive as the day goes by into night when softly glowing lamps illuminate the rich hardwood floors and antique furniture of your grand rooms, or guests sway to the colored lights of your DJ booth. What, you don’t have one?
Collision detection is a problem however, when you engage in conversations with people as others wanting to talk too often come and stand in the same place as someone you’re already engaging. The result is a rather unsexy, undefinable amalgamation of various body parts. Still, the game looks great despite its somewhat cartoony style, and every woman in the game looks dare I say sexy even if they all look disappointingly alike. One could argue however that it’s true to form when you consider the game’s inspiration.
Sadly, for a game sporting the Playboy moniker and a Mature rating, the graphics and animations seldom elevate beyond a PG13 rating. Partially clothed sex acts are not only laughable (for the wrong reasons), they totally detract from the obvious appeal and selling point of this title. Sex animations are keyed to specific pieces are furniture so you see different girls doing the same thing the same way depending on where you score with them. I'm sure there is a fine line between an M and an AO rating but this game certainly isn't in danger of crossing it.
If you’re familiar with The Sims, you’ve heard everything in this game already as far as ambient sounds go. While they’re done reasonably well, they do get repetitive - especially that infernal “Simlish”.
Though there is no shortage of decent music that spans quite a few genres, this game goes one better and does what EVERY Xbox game should offer - custom soundtracks. When will developers learn that the Xbox has a hard drive? If you’re not going to do something innovative with it, at least let us play our favorite burned tracks during play time. Frankly, aside from the music, there’s no need for a 5.1 surround sound system here. For me, I preferred 80s and 90s metal ballads like The Scorpion’s “Still Lovin’ You” as I snapped away during photo shoots. That’s the stuff.
As with any game in the Sims genre your gameplay will last as long as your patience or your will to explore the available content. Outside of the structured missions that can take anywhere from 10-30 hours depending on how focused (or distracted) you are while playing, there is 40 years of Playboy trivia, articles, and photos to be unlocked by spending those...ahem...hard-earned "Hef-points" you get when you complete a goal or finish a mission. For the true Playboy aficiando, this is an encyclopedic dream come true, but at what cost? Your time will likely be better served seeking out a cheat code to view the bonus content without the trials and tribulations of actually playing the game.
Overall, this isn’t a bad game as far as the sim genre goes, since it cleverly borrows so heavily from the established leader, The Sims, as far as interface and game design. But since all the girls look pretty much the same, the challenge is artificial and there’s a limited amount of animations (I mean, don’t real Playmates know more than 5 poses or three sex positions?), it gets old quicker than it should.
The bottom line is if you want to enjoy the “fruits” of the Playboy empire, you’ll get greater satisfaction with the magazine itself - for the articles, of course.