Playboy! A magazine known worldwide for its fascinating articles and high quality photographs of nude and semi-nude women. Video games! An interactive entertainment medium that, while wonderful, is often marketed and made to pander to young male consumers.
At some point in 2004, someone somewhere at Playboy Enterprises connected the dots and decided that these two worlds should collide, that Playboy should create a video games division and put out a game that would empower the player to live the true Playboy™ life! That game is Playboy: The Mansion for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC, developed by Cyberlore Studios and published by three different publishers that, spoilers, no longer exist.
So perhaps it wasn’t as much of a brilliant idea as much as it was an attempt to stay relevant. By the mid 2000s, broadband internet was becoming commonplace and I don’t need to tell you that there is plenty of explicit adult material around the internet. Playboy needed to adapt to a changing market, as it became clear that audiences weren’t interested in purchasing physical adult material anymore. This was also around the time that you saw Playboy produce the popular reality show The Girls Next Door, a show where camera crews recorded everyday life inside the Playboy mansion. More importantly, it was around this time that a young Jurge Cruz-Alvarez saw this title on the shelf of his local Hollywood Video. While I’m ashamed to admit it, the idea of a PS2 game with nudity, any type of nudity, was incredibly alluring to my eleven year old past self, (the box art was holographic, had the silhouette of a naked woman, and I was a dumb kid. Please don’t judge me.) But alas, I did not discover what was inside the confines of Playboy: The Mansion that day, as I feared what would happen if my mother somehow found me playing it.
But today I have come to you with a report of my findings. This is Playboy: The Mansion.
Before the adventure truly begins, I am greeted with an intro cinematic, or in this case, a slideshow of the various Playboy magazine covers over the years, scored with some real juicy, not dated,and totally still sounding good, 2005 punk rock.
[youtube id=”04RPO-ZYWsI” width=”600″ height=”350″]
While watching this slideshow, I came to the realization that while this song hasn’t aged well, a lot of this photography totally has! I suddenly became optimistic, perhaps this will be okay, after all, the Playboy that I know in 2016 is pretty damn good as a publication. I was then suddenly taken aback as the slideshow hardcut to the game’s ridiculous title screen.
A group of women, all with the exact same facial features, stare right at me. Their expression, while seemingly happy, feels empty and tired. It is almost as if they have been standing there, in the exact same position, with the exact same expression, since the beginning of time itself, waiting for me, the player, to choose between, “New Game”, “Load”, and “Credits”. I can only assume that once I made my choice, those young women were freed and that they could finally rest.
Once the real game began, I took control of what seemed to be a Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy, but in his thirties in the year 2005. He probably agreed to have his likeness in the game only if they made him look younger. Hey, I would have done the same.
It isn’t long after I assume control over my Hunky Hef™, that a nice blonde lady pops up in the left corner off my screen, assuring me that she will guide me through this adventure. Filled with confidence and having an omnipotent partner by my side, I am ready to be assigned my first mission.
After recovering from a small panic attack from the incredible amount of pressure that was just placed on my shoulders, I approached the titular mansion, the base of operations, the building that clearly has the word “boob” etched on its front doors.
It didn’t take long to get down to business, as a friendly Playmate, who apparently is the the blonde lady who spoke to me earlier, approached me and reminded me that our print publication needs a staff that consists of photographers, models, and writers. No, I didn’t need a staff, I needed talent, and that talent needed to make Daddy Hef™ some of that sweet, sweet content.
Once I had my staff of content producers, I was then told by the blonde lady in the sky that it was time we made what Playboy was known for, it was time to make a centerfold spread. I asked the nice blonde lady to if she would like to be our first centerfold, a task that she was ecstatic to be given to her. Once choosing a location for our shoot, I then proceeded to OH MY GOD WHAT IS HAPPENING?!
The blonde woman was transformed into some sort of Lawnmower Man nightmare and she no longer had any autonomy over herself! Like some sort of prop, I gained complete control over her to choose where I wanted her placed for our photo-shoot, and yes, the experience felt as uncomfortable as it sounds. Anyway, after that unpleasantness, we began our shoot. The right outfit is important and while I was perusing the game’s inefficient closet for the right look, it happened. My friends top came off, and I was suddenly looking at some very poorly textured, PlayStation 2 era polygonal breasts.
It was at this point that the sadness of this product’s existence finally hit me. A vivid picture was quickly drawn up in my mind. It was one of a thirsty 11 year old alternate reality Jurge, one who did somehow acquire Playboy: The Mansion upon its release. Maybe he got one of the cool kids who wear jean jackets and smoke cigarettes behind his local convenience store to buy it for him. He’s up late, the only light surrounding him is the light glow of his tube television, his heart is racing, for he knows that he’s doing something that he isn’t supposed to. He knows that he’s a rebel. He puts in this disc, gets to the centerfold section, and boom, there it is. Low quality textured breasts. Is his thirst quenched? Is he satisfied? Or does he have a moment of reflection and realizes that he is a fool and has just wasted $50 dollars? Because I gotta tell ya, and I know this might sound insane, but there is nothing sexually appealing about a half naked PlayStation 2 female character model. Especially those found in Playboy: The Mansion.
I’m not saying I want to be aroused by a 2005 video game (why did I think writing this was a good idea?), but you would think that this game would at least try to be sexy. The tone and art direction of Playboy: The Mansion doesn’t say erotic as much as it says goofy and lighthearted. Pretty much the same way The Sims approaches sexuality and relationships. It also fails to capture any of the nuances found in Playboy’s photography. Upon beginning the centerfold photo-shoot, I quickly learned that the only control I had over my camera was to move it up, down, left, or right. There’s no way to mess with lighting, depth of field, saturation, or any other aspects of photography that a photographer might want to tinker with. So what I’m basically saying is that Uncharted 4 replicates the feeling of being a Playboy photographer more accurately than Playboy: The Mansion.
With the photo-shoot done and my staff ready to publish our first issue of my magazine, I found myself asking, “Well, now what do I do for the rest of this game?” This is where I need to apologize to you, my dear reader. While it is true that this game and I have a sordid history and I was genuinely interested in what it was. I would be lying to you if I said I didn’t choose it because I thought it would provide enough cringe worthy material for me to dunk on and entertain you. But no, turns out Playboy: The Mansion is actually incredibly dull, because the answer to the question, “What else do you do in this game?” is one simple word: networking.
Yup, the rest of this game is you throwing parties in your mansion so you can make connections with people so they can either make content for you, or connect you with other people so they can create content for you. All of this is done through a dull conversation interface where your Virtual Hef™ speaks to his guests in a language similar to simlish for periods of time that feel like an eternity, even when sped up. That’s the loop of this game. Looking at some statistics in your pause menu, or Hef Screen (this time I’m not joking, this is what the game refers to it as), to see what content your audience wants, make connections with people so they can make you that content, take some photos of some cool ladies, publish your magazine, and repeat until you finish the game, or at least I assume, because I could not bring myself to play any more of this game past six missions.
I guess it’s also worth noting that you can have sex in this game? Of course, when I mean sex, I mean dry humping almost fully clothed on a couch in the middle of the living room in absolute silence, apart from some compressed moans, while people come in and out of the room. This sex can also be eternal if you wish it to be, because it does not end until you press a button to end it. To test this out, I did some hard science and left my console on for a whole day while two avatars were getting it on, and yes, they were still at it when I returned. According to the in-game clock, these two were having sex for days. Somewhere in Playboy: The Mansion’s virtual reality, a life was born, a life ended, and these two were still banging.
I discovered the wonders of Playboy: The Mansion’s virtual sex thanks to the all powerful blonde lady from above, who told me that I need to start living the life people would expect Hugh Hefner to live, that I needed to start a promiscuous relationship. Not wanting to displease the all knowing blonde lady, I decided to pursue the most promiscuous relationship that I could think of, a sexual relationship with a female photographer on my payroll.
We hit it off well, talked about the stock market, our ex lovers, and told some fun goofs. Truly, the power of the Emotion Engine at work. As we both could no longer bear the sexual tension between us, we decided that it was time to get intimate, to claim the living room as our love den, before we began, the blonde lady popped up in the upper left corner of the screen and said,
“Good job Hef! This is sure to get everyone talking.”
Playboy: The Mansion feels confused with its identity. Bearing the Playboy name, it feels obligated to be kind of sexy, but it also wants to replicate the feeling of being the editor-in-chief of a major publication. The two don’t mesh well and its attempts at sexiness feel awkward and sad. It all comes together to become one of the most uninteresting and dull games I have ever played. It’s not hard to figure out why this game didn’t pan out into financial success and I can’t believe I spent so much of my life fascinated by what the game could be. This experience has kind of left me with an empty feeling and I can still feel the blonde lady today, she continues to watch over me, and her hunger for content is never satiated.