reviews\ Feb 2, 2005 at 7:00 pm

Playboy: The Mansion - XB - Review

Having skimmed through a few issues of Playboy in my time (for the articles, yeah, that’s it), I couldn’t help but wonder what publisher/hero Hugh Hefner’s life was really like and what it took to build a multi-million dollar publishing empire.  That would make a great game, I thought, playing as Hef as he tries to juggle magazine deadlines, out-of-control celebrity friends and his supposedly army of gorgeous (yet demanding) girlfriends.  Well, what do you know, Playboy: The Mansion for the Xbox does exactly that.  Yet will this simulator make us happy to slip into Hef’s silk pajamas or make us wish Maxis would release The Sims 2 on our favorite black box?  



First of all, I don’t want to compare Playboy: The Mansion with another game of similar design like The Sims and its two other Sim related games but there’s just no getting past the fact that Playboy looks and plays just like it.  Aside from the fact that you only get to control Hugh Hefner in the game, the basic design and feel is straight out of the Maxis game.  This might not sit well with those expecting an entirely different people simulator but then again the familiar design just makes experienced The Sims fans more likely to get into Playboy: The Mansion’s core.  You see the main objective is to manage Hef’s empire by allowing gamers to design on the magazine’s content.  That means you pick the Playmates and you take the pictures.


The real meat and potatoes of Playboy: The Mansion is the complete freedom to decide on the magazine’s content that includes articles, essays, interviews with celebrities, pictorials, centerfolds and even the cover design.  In order to do this, you must hire a staff of journalists and photographers and you must throw huge VIP parties in order to meet and befriend major celebrities for you to interview or request to become a centerfold.  Say you ask Playmate Julie McCullough to be this month’s cover girl, just have your photographer present and you will be the one shooting lovely Miss McCullough.  You’ll even have control over her wardrobe, which basically is just made up of bikinis (sans the top if you want) and a few accessories.  Once you have the content, it’s off to designing the magazine by selecting the photographs you like for the cover and what article, interview and essay you’d like to print.  Sounds easy?  Well, it is and that’s one my biggest gripes about the game but we’ll get to that a bit later.


There are two main modes of playing the game--Mission Play and Freeform Play.  Freeform Play allows you to design your mansion and take care of the game’s main goals whenever you want to as opposed to Mission Play that takes you through the game’s many objectives.  You start with some basic objectives like hiring your staff (whether it is journalists, photographers and Playboy Bunnies used to entertain and serve your guests when you throw your parties) to getting your first cover shot.  Other goals might get just a tad more complicated like get ten friends or hit 40K circulation.  You can start with a classic mansion or the modern one and you’ll be able to decorate it with plenty of objects in the Build menu.  You can add anything from lavish hot tubs to designing the famous Grotto.



Unlike The Sims, you won’t have to worry about Hef starving to death or asking to run to the bathroom when his bladder is full or tell you that he wants to sleep.  He has no wants, well, except for romantic conquests but that’s really not a necessity.  This basically just allows Hef to concentrate on his objectives such as throwing the ultimate party.  With or without the help of Jenny, you can pick and choose who you want to show up to one of your day or night parties.  You’re in charge of what people should wear to your party and you can allow only those celebrities you’re interested in featuring in the magazine.  Parties cost money, of course, and the more Bunnies you have on hand to entertain your guests the more partygoers will enjoy themselves.  Of course you’ll sometimes get a party-crasher or two but sometimes they liven up the parties and oftentimes make the greatest interview subjects.


In his real life, Hef isn’t shy about mentioning that he doesn’t have one girlfriend but he has scores of them and so this can also be true in the game.  While Hef himself doesn’t have any real wants, the characters around you have moods and six different drives (romantic, leisure, entertainment, professional, casual and personal development drives) you must satisfy.  Conversations offer three different types of topics from casual to business to romantic and romancing Playmates is apparently very easy for Hugh Hefner.  When the Romantic Meter is up you’ll be able to ask a girl (be it a Playmate or a famous person) or three to be your girlfriend or just end up making out with said girl.  Really, you don’t really have to work that hard to have multiple girlfriends, just make sure you have enough money to give them an allowance.


This takes us to what’s wrong with Playboy: The Mansion.  There’s not a real sense of urgency that makes you want to hustle and put out the next issue.  There’s no real threat that will make you stop to consider your next move.  Sure the readership demographic might change and sure the polls might indicate that the issue you just released wasn’t up to its usual standards but there’s no rival magazines to compete against or market shift that threatens the magazine (like it did two or three years ago in real life).  The game doesn’t even offer any mini-games or any other gameplay change beyond the throw-party-and-put-out-magazine objective.  To top it all off, the game comes complete with a few glaring bugs that sometimes make people you’re interacting with suddenly turn invisible or get stuck between a group of people when you ask them to follow you.  The game isn’t really sexy at all even with the mature rating.



I hate to bring up The Sims again but the game even resembles or favorite PC classic in terms of environments, objects and even characters.  The only problem is that there’s a dullness to environmental design of the mansion and that’s even with all the flashy, expensive items and decorations.  There are a few really great-looking areas like the grotto or other exteriors but other than that the game’s visuals are rather plain.  The characters don’t offer much in terms of details so you’ll basically see the same faces with different hair color or styles and different skin tones.  You won’t point out a Playmate and say: “Whoa, Victoria Silversted just walked into my bedroom” or “Hey, that looks like Neriah Davis in the grotto.”  The nudity factor doesn’t go beyond Playmates gone topless and the sexiness factor really doesn’t get way out of hand so there’s nothing really visually graphic.


As for the game’s sound, there are enough licensed tunes to set the game’s mode just right and having such an assortment of musical styles isn’t bad at all either.  You’ll find some rocking tunes from artists like The Rosenbergs or the All-American Rejects to some great jazz from artists like Poncho Sanchez or even some flamenco guitar music.  The soundtrack is played via Hef’s stereo system and can be changed anytime.  As for the voice acting you’ll hear the usual Sim-speak from everyone you encounter with the exception of your advisors and assistants who chime in from time to time.


Playboy: The Mansion is not a bad game by any means but it lacks its own sense of style, sexiness and gameplay variety that would make this the coolest simulator you’ll want to keep playing.  While the game does involve you in Hef’s lifestyle and the design of the magazine, it doesn’t take you all the way. The game is M for Mature but don’t expect full nudity or extreme raciness here.  This one is a definite rental-worthy game, though, so check this one out. 


#Review Scoring Details for Playboy: The Mansion


Gameplay: 6.6
The game’s design is just far too familiar to give this game its own personality or feel and while that might not be so bad for fans of The Sims or The Urbz for the Xbox, it just doesn’t offer anything refreshingly original.  Having control over the design of each Playboy issue and making deals with future Playmates isn’t incredible deep but it’s a step in the right direction.


Graphics: 6.5
On the Xbox, Playboy: The Mansion isn’t the prettiest face in town when it comes to character models or your surrounding environment.  Objects like beds or hot tubs look rather blockish and there’s a plainness to everything in the mansion except for the famous Grotto.  Many of the Playmates that step into Hef’s life begin to look the same (with the exception of skin and hair color and, um, bust size).


Sound: 7.5
The game is filled to the brim with a neat collection of everything from hip-hop to the cool smoky jazz that seems to fit the mansion’s mood like a glove.  You’ll hear actual voice acting from a few of Hef’s assistants and advisors but everyone in the game, including Hef, speak in the same The Sims-like gibberish.


Difficulty: Easy
Apparently romantic conquests come easy to Hef so the biggest challenge found here is collecting content and publishing each magazine on time.  While the game throws the occasional obstacle in your way (reader demographic might change), there’s nothing that really threatens your publication.  Hire enough Playboy Bunnies to entertain at your parties and you’re all set.


Concept: 7.0
Much like Maxis’ people simulator, you have full control over the design of your mansion and, at times, your many girlfriends choice of attire.  The ability to design each issue might not be as deep as we all want it to be but at least you get to take the pictures.  There are no multiplayer modes online or off but the Xbox Live crowd is promised downloadable content.  However the biggest treat comes in the form of extras you’re able to purchase . . . like various pictorials of actual Playmates.


Overall: 6.8
Let’s face it: every hot-blooded American male would love to step into Hef’s comfy slippers and admire his massive empire or his parade of gorgeous girlfriends frolicking about his dream estate.  Who wouldn’t want to throw lavish parties with major celebrities or decide what beauty should grace the cover of the October issue?  While the game makes it possible to see into Hef’s life, Playboy: The Mansion isn’t engrossing enough to want to keep playing for very long.  It’s worth playing, though, so rent this one if you can.




Above Average

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