Videogames are commonly considered to serve as an escape from reality. This is why recent emphasis on simulation in many games has diminished my interest in the hobby slightly. The Sims seemed like the culmination of all these deplorable traits, converging in one place to create a genre I would never like. Then comes a game that promises to let guys be the one man they’ve all dreamed of becoming: Hugh M. Hefner. Within the life-sim genre, this game is something that is pure fantasy–provided the player is a heterosexual male.
The Mansion provides as much work as it does play, and allows the player to strike that delicate balance of generating income while still making enough time to frolic with the ladies. At the start, two modes are given: Mission mode and Freeform mode. Mission mode offers a how-to of the basic gameplay and makes two basic mansion layouts available to start with. Its step-by-step approach ensures you’ll never get off course or forget what you should be doing. Freeform mode allows the player to start from scratch, but with a bit more money, and total freedom to design the mansion from the dirt on up. Freeform mode also offers up other difficulties for experienced players like managing the impact of bad publicity for people in your inner circle. It’s best to start in Mission mode and work up from there. Both modes pack quite a bit of replay value, and internal customization of the house is wide open and new items unlock as objectives are completed. From entertainment and office furniture, to landscaping items and artsy decor and a big bed with mirrors, there’s plenty to buy and squeeze into your dwelling.
However, something lacking from both modes is the ability to create a character. Sure, nobody but Hef helms the harem, but, to a degree, this also limits the kinds of interactions one can have. I have no stance on homosexuality (outside of the fact that I don’t personally practice it), but the only way of fulfilling the romantic desires of male employees is to introduce them to Playmates and Bunnies. It also restricts the player from creating a female character and getting their freak on with the other girls. Again, not everyone out there would have this aim (who am I kidding, yes they would), and interactions between the sexes, while quite fun to watch, are strictly boy-girl (though not limited to Hef; my photographer got it on with a Playmate all on his own) and one-on-one. There is a group interaction function where group chats can be started, but despite my best efforts, an orgy or three-way never resulted.
It’s funny that such multiple-participant gratuity should be left out when so much was left in. After wooing the female Prime Minister – of somewhere – to be my girlfriend, she just walked around the house in thong panties and nothing else. And there are no censor bars or blurry regions a la The Sims. This is a Playboy game and it has duly earned its Mature rating. Yes, there are boobs to be seen, and lots of them. There’s sex to be had, viewed from almost any angle the camera can reach. However, this isn’t taboo or out of context here (BMX XXX anyone?). The whole point of Hef’s career was to bring sex out of the dark and make it okay to talk about and explore as much as any other human behavior. While some may write Playboy: The Mansion off as little more than a porn sim (though it’s not quite XXX graphic), it’s really more about relationship management and business. If you don’t get the required content for the magazine each month, you’ll run out of money. Business connections and influence can be gained by networking and keeping all the right people happy, but it can get tricky keeping up with who is in whose inner circle. In one instance, I actually made an enemy of rock star Jak Hammer by flirting with his girlfriend at a party. He stormed out of the party in a huff. Not sure what to do about him at that point, I kept hitting on his girlfriend and ended up bedding her before the end of the party. Things were smoothed over with Jak later. This presents another oddity – either my onscreen girlfriend at the time was blind, or simply didn’t care about my promiscuous ways, as she walked into the room mid-coitus, waved at Hef with a smile, and started dancing to the Phat Phlat stereo I paid a pretty penny for. No jealousy, no anger. Weird.
Yes, you can have a lot of sex in this game if that’s what you want to do. You can also manage Playboy magazine into a huge moneymaker without too many mundane details. The quality of the staff you hire (writers, photographers, Playmates, Bunnies) and how well they get along all affects the overall content quality for each magazine. Each character also has personal preferences among topics (sexuality, politics, art and literature, music, sports, technology, fashion, etc.) and pairing up staff with celebrity subjects with mutual interests guarantees a better product. Again, it seems like a lot to keep straight, but it comes quickly with practice (no pun intended).
The bulk of the gameplay is entertaining enough if you play with the right expectations. It’s about 25% business sim, 30% relationship management, and 45% flirting and fornicating – depending on how you play.
It bears mentioning that you really do create the photos that appear in the magazine by doing first-person photo shoots with the Playmates and celebrities (some of which are real and some are fictional). The motion-capture and A.I. for environmental interaction is pretty sharp. Set up the girl by a large matte wall painting and she’ll strut her stuff in front of it. Put her by a couch and she’ll curl up, sexy as can be. Stand her by the bed and?whoo boy! Just watch her go. Changing outfits and accessories mid-shoot is just a button press away, and there are plenty of threads (or lack thereof) to choose from. Then the quality of the chosen shot is evaluated along with the rest of the content (interviews, essays, pictorials, cover shoot, centerfold, articles), giving the issue an overall rating. Adjusting cover price and percentage of ad placement can also affect sales and profit. The longer you go on and the better you become at picking the right people and taking the right pictures, the bigger the sales become and the more money you’ll have to blow on parties and more junk to put in your house.
The character models look good from the closest zoom possible, but I wonder if they might start to look scary at closer range. They animate as well as the best sim out there and speak their own unintelligible jargon. The whole look and presentation borrows quite a bit from The Sims, but applies it logically enough to be its own game while remaining familiar to Sims veterans. The only gripe I had was that sometimes people couldn’t get around each other or would get hung up on inanimate objects. I also had an instance where Hef got out from under a girl and stood up while she kept running the sex animation with no one under her. By and large, though, they did okay and would actively seek out new items to interact with on their own.
The sound is pretty good, but does have a few problems. The game-speak works fine and is amusing at times. The soundtrack is great and has a lot of variety, allowing selections not only of specific tracks, but specific genres from the stereo. Jazz, hip-hop, rock, industrial, techno, and flamenco all appear here with recognizable names and newcomers alike. However, at seemingly random times, a song would end and the stereo would just shut off. If engaged in a conversation or any other activity, this means you’re trapped in total silence until you can exit and walk back to the stereo. Annoying, to say the least. I also had to install a stereo on every floor and outside by the pool to keep tunes going at all times. The soundtrack lends enough to the game that it would get old quicker without tunes to keep you groovin’.
Beyond the extra accessories to be unlocked for the home, there are loads of extras straight out of the real-life Playboy magazine that can be opened with points earned by completing specific objectives (reaching a certain number of copies in circulation, getting a steady girlfriend, keeping a full staff, earning so much money, etc.). Fans of the magazine will appreciate this pack of goodies dating from the magazine’s inception up until about a year ago. From covers to centerfolds, it’s all good and adds a little extra incentive to achieve all the goals set before you.
I never liked The Sims. I’ll admit it, and I know I’m in the minority. Having to go pee, shower, eat, and get a job in a game was about as much fun as it is in real life. Maybe less so. However, with those boring goals removed, giving me something akin to being a sheik to my own digital harem and a savvy businessman and celebrity networker is considerably more interesting. I’ve talked to several girls about this game too (yes, I talk to real girls), and have received mixed reactions. Some think it would be funny to play virtual Hef and try to score with as many people as possible. Others think it dirty and shameful and uninteresting. That’s why doing a review for Playboy: The Mansion that would reflect any opinions beyond my own is rather difficult. Other sites may score it higher or lower but, honestly, if you like the premise, you’ll probably like the game. I did. If not, all I ask is that you not protest it as some abomination and just don’t play it. Then we can all be happy!