Live the life of Hugh Hefner. That's what Playboy: The Mansion
promises. It invites you to walk the halls of the infamous Playboy Mansion, a wildly hot babe on each arm, and erect a publishing empire second to none. As Hugh, you'll throw nightly parties full of socialites and topless women, form million-dollar contracts and rub shoulders with some of America's biggest characters. As Hugh, you'll command a loyal staff of journalists, photographers, executives and models, all of whom you can befriend or fire on a whim. Lastly, you'll command the affections of almost every woman who dares step through your front door.
Life, for Hugh, is good. Too bad it's just not very fun. For all that real Hugh has going for him, virtual Hugh can't seem to escape the pedestrian lifestyle of your average Sim. True, Playboy: The Mansion bombards you with wide array of digital boobies, but sex in-game holds the same appeal as clipping your toenails. You can expand your mansion and stuff it with big-screen TVs and a $24,000 DJ station, but it never captures the eclectic pizzazz of the real thing. Or even of a similar game, for that matter. Take the Urbz, for example, a flawed yet oddly charming title that did a pretty decent job of distilling the essence of the urbanite lifestyle.
And here's why: the folks behind Playboy: The Mansion don't understand what the real Hefner understood in the 1950s when starting his prolific magazine. Hugh realized that in order to lead a kick ass life (which, by most accounts, he did) you need to stand on three pillars of awesomeness: Business, Buddies and Boobies. The three "Bs" if you will. And while Playboy incorporates the three "Bs," each element could benefit from better implementation. Sure, you can schmooze with big-name stars and form a little posse of intimate of friends, but they all behave the same way. Each character walks the same way, acts the same and spouts the same "Simlish" you've been hearing for years now.
The business side of Playboy is undoubtedly the best thing about the game. Ultimately, it's a matter of juggling your finances. You start the game as a relative unknown and need to build the publication from the ground up through missions. Each mission has several goals, ranging from befriending celebrities to participating in steamy affairs. Usually, these goals require minimal effort to complete. Making friends is as easy as clicking a favorable dialogue option, such as "casual talk" or "friendly handshake." If a goal requires you to make a business partner and sign a contract, all you need to do is select from a list of business-centric options, such as "formal handshake" and "share stock tips." Eventually, the options to solidify your friendship or business deal will pop, and depending on the mood of your target, they'll either decline or accept.
Like the Sims, Playboy factors mood through a number of different meters. In this case, a gamer needs to watch six gauges: leisure, romance, business, entertainment, friendship and personal growth. Getting someone into a good mood is a matter of stocking the mansion with all the amenities needed to show them a good time. Your guests will feel lonely if you don't hire enough Playboy Bunnies to woo them, and their leisure meters will suffer until you buy plenty of sofas, and so on. Their romance, business and friendship needs will only be appeased if you talk to them.
Making your guests happy, mending relationships and having affairs is only part of the job you need to do. You also need to publish a bitchin' magazine full of cool articles and shots of naked women. To do this, you first need to hire a full production staff and order them to write articles and shoot pictorials, cover shots and centerfolds. You also need to throw parties constantly in order to lure celebrities, models and politicians to the mansion so your photographers and journalists can nab them for interviews and photo shoots. You can host parties whenever and wherever you want (except on the upper floor of the mansion) by choosing the "throw party" option. You then choose to hold it at night or during the day, plus what your guests will wear (formal, casual, lingerie, etc.)
Finally, you choose whom to invite. If you want, you can have an assistant choose for you. She generally does a good job of inviting a nice mix from your contacts, but you'll want to go in and fine-tune her choices if you really want to make the big bucks. Depending on a guests' relationship with you, he or she will decline or accept your invitation. Each guest has a rating, in the form of stars, with higher ratings equaling better interviews, essays and photo shoots. Choosing the perfect guest list and then utilizing each party to score a ton of exclusive content offers a good bit of fun and gives Playboy much needed depth. Once a party ends, it's time to go to work. Or rather, send your (very well paid) worker bees to do your bidding and crank out an issue of Playboy.
Success of a particular issue depends on a number of factors, the first of which is the state of the marketplace, which is represented by nine different interests. If the market forecast tells you the general populace is more interested in sports than, say, fashion or technology, then you had better secure a bunch of sports articles. You may also want to look into paying a ridiculously hot sports star to expose her jugs for the centerfold or cover. When it comes time for the photoshoot, the player gets to pick the outfit (boobs, or no boobs?) and manually aim the camera. Unfortunately, your skills as a photographer don't really factor into the success of the magazine. You can take a picture of a model's arm or knees and it wouldn't matter in the least.
Looks just don't matter. And, unfortunately, they don't seem to matter in the rest of the game either. And if it's one thing Playboy: The Mansion should have done right, it's to look good. Instead, it looks like the original Sims game minus the groovy expansion packs. Many of the characters look exactly the same, and it's not uncommon to invite a politician or academic to a party only to find out the character model is identical to the one used by some of your playmates and girlfriends. Folks, it's all about choice; all about the 31 flavors; all about the colors of the rainbow. And this game is all about the bare minimum. During the course of your young, libidinous life as Hugh, you'll only score a handful of different looking chicks.
Moreover, it seems all these chicks graduated from the same sex institute, since they only like to bang one specific way per type of furniture. That's right -- very limited variety in the sex department. If you're having sex in bed, the babe saddles you every time. The same goes for nookie on the couch, only there, she moans a little differently and throws her head back. Watching an animated chick climax on your virtual lovestick is kinda funny the first few times, but damn does it get old fast. Buying different furniture just to see the different sex animations has its appeal, but it too wears thin. It also serves to note (in case you're wondering, ahem) that girls never get totally naked. See, it turns out that Hue engaged in a whole lot of dry humping back in his hay day.
And where that may be fine (silly, but fine) having a chick give you oral "pleasures" with your shorts still on is just lame. If you're going to show an animated chick get on her knees and moan while she's pleasuring your "shorts," you might as well just show it all and blur it. At least that would make more sense. Again, Playboy: The Mansion straddles a dividing line between silly and sexy, and clearly never makes up its mind. A real Playboy game would ooze with all the sleaze, porn and complexities of running a vast publishing empire.
Apart from the issues mentioned earlier, Playboy suffers from an entire colony of bugs. Characters often walk right through each other and sometimes blend in together to form a funky blob of a person. Chairs will sometimes inexplicably shuffle about the floor. If you interrupt a sexual act (by simply pressing the "End Action" button,) your partner may wind up vigorously humping the sofa or bed as you casually walk away. Interesting, to say the least. Hugh sometimes disappears altogether. He can bang girl after girl as ghost Hef. Making matters worse, NPCs and Hue himself have serious problems navigating the mansion. They'll often become stuck behind furniture and other obstructions. Beyond this, you'll catch certain characters walking backwards and levitating. I'm sure crazy stuff happens at the Playboy Mansion all the damn time, but this is serious exorcist territory.
For the persistent, Playboy boasts a number of unlockable extras. For every goal you complete, you're awarded points which can be redeemed for official Playboy centerfolds, articles and biographical information on Hugh Hefner. You'll see over 70 Playmates from the early 1960s all the way to 2003. And yes, you can expect a fair amount of T&A for all your hard work. While not all the pictures reveal a particular Playmate's assets, most do.
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