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LEISURE SUIT LARRY 5 / Sierra / PC
Larry 5 was in all kinds of a funky place when it was created. To hear tell from over at Al Lowe's personal site, the infamous Larry 4 was a canned online adventure (that later mutated into Larry's Lounge on the short-lived TSN network), and Al never had any plans to extend the story-based part of the series past the third game. This is also the first Larry game in VGA and with the mouse-cursor interface, coming not too long after it debuted in King's Quest V.
Jumping straight to the fifth installment was a cute way of handling the situation, and the sort of move you'd likely never see increasingly conservative, monolith corporate-owned game studios these days even entertain for a second. The problem here, I think, is that this maelstrom of oddball circumstances came together in such a way that they made this entry in the series by far the most mediocre of the seven that Al actually helmed.
So the closure of Larry 3 is sort of hand-waved away by giving both Larry and Patti amnesia (though Larry seems to remember Patti), and placing Larry in L.A. working as a tape rewinder for a porn studio while Patti is on the east coast playing piano in a string of dive bars. The adventure switches back and forth between them as Larry gets caught up in a quest across America to interview hopefuls for a new TV show, while Patti gets recruited by the FBI to gather evidence against a Mob boss.
So the game is a string of self-contained little mini-adventure sequences, kind of like Leisure Suit Larry 2 (but even shorter.) Generally, you don't return to an area once you leave it; you'd think this would be the ideal set-up for some epic Sierra Hang-Ups, but Larry 5 circumvents that potential frustration by simply letting you brute-click through most puzzles using the Talk icon rather than actually using the needed items.
This pretty much eliminates any challenge from the game whatsoever. There are no ways to die, just about any character you meet you simply click the Talk icon on over and over until they capitulate, and in the few circumstances where you actually have to solve an inventory-based puzzle, the small selection of screens and limited roster of items on hand makes it fairly obvious.
The only way the game ever really challenges you is by testing your patience. There IS, technically, a way you can get irrevocably stuck - by failing to write down the numerous phone numbers and access codes that suddenly get thrown at you (and that disappear automatically after only a few seconds on screen), almost none of which you can go back to retrieve if you miss them. This is something of a non-issue in the age of widespread internet access and GameFAQs, but I'd imagine it would have been quite irritating for gamers who bought this one back in the day under the sales pitch of "you can't die or get stuck, just like a LucasArts game!"
The only other point of real challenge is an annoying video poker sequence that simply requires the tedious saving and restoring of the blackjack game found in the original Leisure Suit Larry. Fortunately, you aren't killed in this one if you lose all your money, but you have to start over with only $10 (needing to earn at least $500), and unless you abuse the save/restore feature it could take the better part of the rest of your life to actually win the needed amount.
With no deaths, the game loses some of the dark, Space Quest-esque edge it had in the previous installments (along with pretty much all possible tension.) It's played here as something more like a Looney Toons cartoon crossed with the fantasy world of a horny American suburban teen; all the men have huge heads and exaggerated features, the women are all generic sexed-up bimbos with impossible physiques, and most of the comedy revolves around fart and peepee jokes. I'm not so snobby as to be above bodily function humor, which I do believe to be a natural gift to us from whatever Higher Power put us here, but sustaining an entire game off of it is a little too much, and what's here is all lame and predictable. Even pixel pervs will likely be disappointed, as aside from a long-distance peek at nude Patti, and an Easter Egg close up of some bared boobies, there's basically no real sexual content to this one whatsoever - it's almost as dry as Larry 2 was.
The graphics are decent, and the music is in the same vein of the lounge/light jazz style from Larry 3. Craig Safan replaces Mike Dana as the composer here, however, and it's a little more generic and less memorable. The menus, action bar and screen transitions take an oddly long time to load, which I think is due to the heavy use of digitized sounds, which accompany nearly every screen in some way or another. These are actually pretty decent, such as the unintelligible gibberish that periodically spews out over the PA system at the airports, but I would have happily traded them all away for a zippier pace to the game.
Pacing is also killed by the frequent airport trips for Larry, which consist of nothing but repetitively buying an airline ticket (which serves as the game's "punch in the symbols" copy protection, done three separate times per game), and then going through a sequence of charging Larry's hidden camera, digging for change and finding the phone number of a limo company, and waiting for the game to allow you to board the next plane.
Larry is certainly not a series you come to for moral fiber, but there's a certain edge to the sex here that is a little more disturbing than other entries in the series (even though you see almost nothing risque on-screen.) I think a lot of players might not even pick up on it, but it bugged me a little. In the past, Larry was just the humble Everyman trying against all odds to bed some Hot Babes, most of whom were fairly respectable (and even sometimes quite intelligent and capable.) Aside from this one being nothing but stereotypical greedy, cash-focused bimbos (which, as the game teaches us with junk bond trader Michelle Malken, is fine so long as you are Hot and dispense blowjobs easily), the voyeuristic edge of having to film everything with a hidden camera is slightly creepy. Not only that, but Patti comes off as an even more cynical whore than she did in the previous game, fantasizing between gameplay scenarios about unappetizing but extremely wealthy men, and having the option of literally screwing her way through one sequence (with a sleazy porn peddler) as an alternate puzzle solution. Given that something meaningful was established between the characters at the end of the previous game - even if done in a very silly, deus ex machina way - it kind of makes everything feel cheaper and degraded this time out.
I think the ultimate deal with this one is that Al Lowe never really wanted or intended to make it, and he had a few neat ideas to work from but not a full-length game in mind. The lack of deaths and hang-up puzzles indicates a conscious attempt to imitate LucasArts - usually critically considered to be more solid adventures than those of Sierra - yet the implementation is clumsy and basically drains almost all of the gameplay out of the game. The writing isn't even as good or funny as the previous entries, having kind of a lacksadaisical and uninspired feel. It ends up feeling like a game that was sort of forced into existence, and the sheer inertia of the talent of Al Lowe and the veteran Sierra staff is pretty much the only thing that keeps it at least semi-entertaining. This one really dances right on the edge of the toilet bowl, though; and I wouldn't argue against you all that hard if you wanted to make the claim that it deserves to be flushed.
Here, this is by far the most risque bit of the game.
Now you don't have to play it.
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