Adult-oriented content is not a new development in the world of electronic entertainment. Long before the M rating was introduced by the ESRB, there were games that discerning consumers realized were best appreciated by adults and best kept away from children. For the most part in recent years these games have distinguished themselves with graphic violence and swearing, leaving audiences to wonder whether the medium would ever truly grow up and represent adult situations that didn’t involve exploding heads. Ironically, one of the biggest steps forward for the genre is borne from a two-decade step back. Sierra and Vivendi have teamed up to resurrect hard luck hero Leisure Suit Larry and bring his patented brand of charmingly lewd humor to the Xbox. In this incarnation, Larry’s namesake nephew woos the women at his local college.
The idea behind this project appears to be taking the early computer adventure game series motif and giving it a current generation 3D facelift. To that extent, the graphics in Magna Cum Laude are extremely competent. Nothing in the game appears to be striving for photorealism, but the mood of the game benefits from the almost cartoony look given to the surroundings. Hallways, stairwells, courtyards and streets are all well designed and manage to cram enough details in to create the impression of a living, functional world, but this isn’t a showcase title by any means.
Character models don’t fare too much better. Despite the attention you might expect would be put on developing visually appealing female characters, most everyone in the game appears to be a placeholder. In the days of the Amiga and Commodore chapters in Larry’s story, placeholder characters were a necessity of the technology available. The benefit of the old style is that a player’s imagination was called on to fill in the details of any visual stimuli. The current game design takes advantage of present day hardware to provide just enough stimulation to arrest imagination while falling short of ever really engaging.
On the whole, there’s nothing really wrong with the graphics in MCL. It’s just that the game doesn’t go out of its way to dazzle the eyes in any way.
Sound, on the other hand, is very impressive. There are many, many characters in the game, and nearly all of them can be interacted with. Each one that Larry can interact with will respond verbally, and all of the voices are well acted, especially those of the main characters. Aurally, the professionalism and meticulous detail call to mind a college-themed Knights of the Old Republic. With swearing. In a game so fundamentally based on interaction, it is commendable that the resources were expended to make this area stand out as well as it does.
There’s more to listen to than just talking, though. Sierra wisely licensed some of the cheesiest music ever recorded to accompany the romantic quest. Right Said Fred, the 2 Live Crew…there hasn’t been a theme soundtrack this fitting since Tommy Vercetti turned on a radio on Vice City.
All is not so well, though. Despite the care and energy devoted to securing top notch voices and music, the developers let some important details fall through the cracks. Oddly, some segments feature voiceovers or music that is nearly inaudible. These instances typically go on to resolve themselves, but it’s never clear just why they’re happening. It’s an unfortunate blemish to what is otherwise the most commendable aspect of the game.
Larry controls as well as any 3D platform hero ever devised, though he doesn’t jump or perform any similar acrobatics. Most of the buttons on the controller are devoted to examining, interacting with, or scrolling through objects in the environment. The right thumbstick is devoted to manual camera control, and this system usually works well enough, though there are the few seemingly unavoidable areas where the camera will just refuse to show you an angle you may need to get your bearings in an area. This isn’t typically a problem, but there are some areas wherein you’ll find yourself chased but unable to adequately view your pursuers.
Worth mentioning in the control portion of this review is that Larry has access to all sorts of alcoholic beverages that he can indulge in at any time during the game. They can be used for a confidence boost, but ingestion past a certain level makes Larry increasingly difficult to control in all of his endeavors. It’s a nice touch.
The production is solid enough, but the game aspects of the game sadly don’t hold up as well. On the good side of things, the game is funny. That’s correct. In one of the rare instances in recorded history, game developers set out to make a comedic game and actually succeeded in being funny for reasons completely divorced from poor localization. There are segments in even the opening cinematic that are likely to make even the most jaded audience member smile. Even outside the linear narrative, Larry has a long list of pick up lines and details about examined objects that sustain the playful mood very well. It’s unfortunate that the game goes to the well of toilet humor as often as it does, because these elements get played out very quickly. Make no mistake: this is not a classy game, but if you’re in its target audience you will have a good time.
Provided, that is, you have a lot of patience. The gameplay itself is based around a series of minigames used to entice various females on campus to take Larry for a roll in the hay. You’ll play rhythm-based button press games, analog stick sensitivity-based games, and even take on a 2D obstacle course as a metaphor for tortuous conversations with comely coeds. They’re fun when you first see them, but you soon realize that nearly all progress in the game is based on roughly 5 types of minigames, and it doesn’t take long before you start to get a little tired of playing the same things differentiated only by the level of difficulty. Before very long, the games become quite difficult, and you will find yourself repeating quite a few of them many times. Given the length of these games, repetition would be penalty enough. However there are also a staggering number of load times between retries that add to the monotony of the experience.
In fact, the load times are not confined to the minigames. Load times are everywhere in this game. You can barely walk across two screens without encountering a lengthy load screen. The developers tried to ameliorate this by accompanying the load screens with pictures of CG and real life models of the girls in the game for you to stare at, but this novelty wears off very quickly. When you realize that your next objective involves crossing four load screens, you realize that while the story of the game does its best to hook you, the experience tries even harder to push you away.
In about 9 hours, I was able to accrue 97% of what the game claims to offer. There are a few unlockables such as an uncensored mode that allows for full nudity of characters but nothing that would redeem an otherwise heavily linear, highly scripted and often tedious romp. Once you’ve seen the jokes the first time, there’s just no reason to go back in. Definitely a rental.