This game brings back fond memories of browsing video game stores during my teenage years. I remember seeing quite a few boys awkwardly hang around the PS2 section, sneaking some looks at the bright, pink box for Playboy: The Mansion while pretending to be interested in the games next to it. I never looked at it myself, mostly because I didn’t own a PlayStation. However, I never knew anybody who owned the game and I never heard from it again once it disappeared from store shelves. For a while, I wondered if it may have been fake or something I had misremembered.
Even after I finally acquired a copy and loaded the disc into my own console, the experience still felt surreal to me. A mixture of excitement as a teenage fascination would finally pay off, but also concern that it’d be nothing but shovelware.
Whatever your expectations for a game bearing the Playboy brand might be, I am willing to guess that “The Sims but horny” wasn’t it. Well, I say The Sims, but it’s more like a broken prototype for the classic life simulator. One that sacrificed complexity and player freedom in exchange for uncensoring the woohoo scenes.
The Sim-like look of the character, HUD elements like the needs bar and the bubble-shaped icons, even the way you move around and redecorate, it all feels very similar. However, unlike The Sims, you don’t get to make your own character or home. You always play as Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine, and your mansion is entirely pre-designed and furnished before you even set a foot inside. That’s pretty lame, if you ask me.
Your actual objective in the game is to make Playboy a successful brand through publishing its magazine. You hire writers, photographers, and models to do the actual work, while you socialize with celebrities to procure exclusive interviews and get some famous women on the covers. Each edition of Playboy requires a celebrity cover, a pictorial by your photographer, an article by your writer, an interview, an essay by a celebrity, and a photoshoot with a hired playmate. You tweak the costs and advertisement before sending it out the door and then receive the sales figures in return.
This system is actually surprisingly engaging. You can analyze current trends to see how interested people are in topics like politics, movies, technology, or sex, then find the right people to contribute the right content to optimize those sales. Getting a famous friend with a knack for sports to do an essay for you and then putting a popular movie star on the front cover, those kinds of decisions really make you feel like an influential editor.
A magazine management game like this is an interesting concept that I’d love to see being tackled in a different game. Because the problem with Playboy: The Mansion is that these fun management systems are restricted by the game’s incredibly narrow scope.
You really can’t do much in this game. You are restricted to just the Playboy Mansion, which is a small locale with not much to it. The entire second floor is basically useless, leaving you with just the small first floor and a tiny pool area. The only way to meet the people is by throwing parties and, once they show up, all you need to do is lock them in conversation until they agree to do whatever you need. You literally just go in a loop of throwing a party, finishing your new edition, then using the funds to throw the next party. Repeat until you’re bored with it.
Theoretically, you can do other Sims-like activities like playing board games or watching TV, but these don’t serve any purpose. Hefner doesn’t have any needs himself, so you already don’t have to worry about food, sleep, or entertainment. Your guests also rarely stay for long enough for their needs to be in any kind of peril. It’s not even worth engaging with for the fun of decorating, as there’s only a pitiful amount of furniture to choose from and most of it is too expensive to bother with.
The game’s story mode runs you through a sequence of missions that also act as tutorials. These chronicle Hef’s road to fame and success, though in reality they are just yet more roadblocks that you have to overcome by throwing parties and grinding out friendships. The storylines are admittedly quite funny, but this whole process just serves to limit your own creative freedom and I frequently encountered bugs that caused objectives to not be marked as completed. I only got completely locked-out of progression once, but even then it’s just too much of a waste of time to deal with.
Is it worth it for the sex then? HA! NO!
You can seduce female characters into having sex with Hef, but this just plays a basic animation loop with Simlish moaning thrown over it. The game’s simplistic models are hardly appealing to look at from a distant, isometric view, which leaves the photoshoots as the game’s most tantalizing feature. Even there you have a lack of interaction, outside of choosing an outfit for the girls and angling the camera. The models just strike poses on their own, of which they only know a few that are the same every time. It’s not much, is it?
For a game based on porn magazine, I suppose Playboy: The Mansion does have many surprises, but its mediocrity is perfectly in line with expectations. What little sex it features is too awkward to be arousing and the moment-to-moment gameplay is far too repetitive to stay fun. Hopefully, its few good ideas can be repurposed by more ambitious games.