Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust Review
By Michael Richter |
It was Codemasters that snagged this title from the dust cloud surrounding Activision Blizzard's mid-2008 supernova of intellectual properties, though for what reason is truly a mystery. Team 17's Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust is an awful, awful game. Anyone who played it before release must have realized this, yet here it is sitting on store shelves. It's frustratingly unpolished, devoid of any kind of wit or charm, and packed with tiring, at times infuriating challenges. While the PC and Xbox 360 versions available now may be budget priced at $20 USD, this game is nearly impossible to recommend.
I say nearly impossible because Box Office Bust does offer something not found in that many videogames: sexually explicit dialogue. Cursing and not-so-subtle references to the shape and function of certain body parts is injected into almost every line of speech, of which there's quite a bit, and that's just fine. The problem is, while it's all crude and inappropriate and refreshingly politically incorrect, it's just not funny. And this is coming from someone who's rarely laughed harder than at a Jim Norton live show. It may be bearable at first, but the obviousness of the majority of the humor, which often just boils down to characters blatantly pointing out physical features, just doesn't stay interesting for the duration of the game's surprisingly long run.
Box Office Bust screws up a lot of things, including shuffleboard.In the game you play as Larry Lovage, the nephew of the original Larry. The goal is to expose a plot to torpedo a movie studio, and to do so you must guide Larry through a number of small sandbox levels featuring a bunch of different gameplay styles implemented with the finesse of a blind giraffe. You get a hand-to-hand fighting system that makes Dreamfall's combat seem like Virtua Fighter, sloppy third-person platforming, tedious stealth sequences, shooting galleries (yes, with weapons), and a number of fetch quests and timed challenges. The worst part is, it seems the script writer was aware of how poorly designed and pointless of the majority of the missions are, and had Lovage point out how silly moving a crate or finding a certain number of items within a set time limit is.
"Oh that's right, introduce a timer to place me under undue and unnecessary pressure," says Larry near the game's beginning. We have the same complaint! Apparently the only real joke in Box Office Bust is on the player. Even after the game calls out how terrible some of its challenges are, it still forces you to perform them successfully to proceed.
Since you have to do these challenges to get to the story bits, and since the story and character interaction is generally so repetitive and so very irritating, you wind up with a play experience that never offers anything to look forward to. Every successive sequence, be it dialogue or gameplay, is either so boring you'll want to skip ahead or so exasperating you'll want to skip your input device out the nearest window.
A lot of the frustration caused can be attributed to horrible camera and control systems. The game takes place in several locations, from the main movie studio lot hub world to a number of "dream sequences" set in spots like the Wild West ("Beefcake Mountain") and the Titanic (called "Bytanic" in the game). In all, you'll find platforming sequences ruined by a camera that throws a temper tantrum almost every time you near a vertical surface. It makes trying to navigate environments, a process already maddening because of Larry's imprecise handling and a lack of definition as to where the edges of platforms actually are, absolutely tortuous.
It certainly doesn't help that Larry has a health bar and takes falling damage. Topple from any perch of significant enough height and you'll frequently find yourself back at a mission's beginning. This creates loops of restart situations during timed platforming sequences, such a rock climbing section in the Wild West area where Larry will, unless you're lucky, fall to his death not through any fault of your own, but because the camera decided to do a surprise 180 degree orbit.
One of a few movie spoof dream sequences.Perhaps nobody was really expecting fantastic gameplay here, but what's offered is just embarrassing. It's difficult to understand who this game was being made for, really. Any fans familiar with the Al Lowe era of Larry titles are likely going to be turned off by the shift in gameplay structure, any new players are going to be turned off by the hideous gameplay, and anyone who just wants to hear a bunch of dirty words and puns isn't going to find anything but a few chuckles here and there, and to get them you're forced to dig through layers of dreadful mechanics.
For the voice work, of which there's plenty, the game utilizes the talents of recognizable names like Jay Mohr, Shannon Elizabeth, Artie Lange, and Jeffrey Tambor. Most of it is delivered decently by videogame standards, though a lot of it sounds like it was recorded in a submarine. You'll also frequently hear repeats from the NPCs that wander in eerily aimless fashion around each sandbox area. "That hurt more than prom night," the ladies in the game world will exclaim after being bumped into. That must have been one hell of a night, considering the response bleeds across the borders of the movie lot into Larry's dream film fantasies. Whatever the reason for these limitations, it's just more evidence that this game was poorly conceived and underdeveloped. Then again, it is a budget-priced game, but a lower price point doesn't magically make it better.
The game's environments tend to look fairly clean and sharp in an attempt to create an exaggerated, cartoonish kind of style. The character models, on the other hand, are freakish and generally disturbing to behold, with the ladies looking more like stunted Jessica Rabbits after some severe cosmetic surgery than anything appealing, though of course this is highly subjective. As Larry you can, if you like, attempt to seal the deal with a few of the game's women. Actually, attempt isn't an appropriate term here. The seduction minigame, where Larry must select from a several conversation options before any decisions are made, is impossible to lose. So not only is there no challenge, but you're also forced to listen to several minutes of often uncomfortably unfunny dialogue spewed from the lips of entirely unlikable characters.