|As with the U.S. movie industry, the game industry in this great land has a split personality problem: Graphic violence is okay, but sex must be sanitized. I'm not talking tentacle-porn sex here; I mean everyday, realistic sex. Players noticed it missing in The Sims, which otherwise did a great job as a life simulator. You can find nude patches all over the Internet. |
Still, devs skirted the issue. The Leisure Suit Larry games relied on innuendo; even the Grand Theft Auto titles are discreet about sex. The Sims clones came closest to the issue, with titles like The Partners paying lip service to office romance and even porn.
Now another Sims clone, Singles: Flirt Up Your Life from Germany-based Deep Silver, goes all-out and takes the Adult rating in exchange for a game with honest-to-goodness sex, nudity and all.
The game is as single-minded as you'd imagine. The entire goal is to control two characters from their first meeting through an entire love affair. There are no other characters in the game and no other locations than the lovers' apartment. The job is an abstract way to make money and buy food or props. Heck, there are even very few props to place around the apartment. The entire focus is on the interpersonal relationship.
That's a bold move. Yeah, your average gamers are focused on sex, but are they going to stick around and patiently go from friendship from flirting to sex? (Not always: Cheat codes are already floating around to make all of the interaction options available from the outset. Pity.)
Let's start at the beginning, though: In Story Mode, you get to choose from two characters out of 12. (More can be unlocked later.) Each character has a different personality based on factors like whether they're outgoing or shy, clean or messy, neurotic or grounded. That sort of thing. Then they get to spend lots and lots of quality time together in a loft (or, later, a beach house). Yes, same-sex relationships are allowed.
Interactions work on a similar daisy-wheel system to The Sims: Click on a character or object and you'll see what you can do. Not everything is available up front. Don't expect to be able to jump into bed right away. For that, you'll need to make the characters interact to build their ratings for friendship, romance, sensuality and fun. (A fifth rating, trouble, fills up as different personalities clash. This really doesn't happen much unless you let the AI run things. Get 10 trouble bubbles for either character, and you lose.)
The graphics really are amazing, from facial expressions to the interplay of shadows. Yes, you won't find a trace of cellulite on any of the women, and the men sport six-pack abs, but come on: It's a computer game. Have fun with it. At least the body types are different. That adds a bit of voyeuristic fun: How will the mysterious spy seductress look nekkid as compared to the girl next door? Gotta play to find out.
Sound is less impressive. The Sims-type babbling has gotten old, and aside from the title theme (which, unfortunately, does not play during the game), Singles sports some of the most forgettable music ever.
Apparently, the folks at Deep Silver expected gamers to take it even slower. Without using cheats, I had two characters in Story Mode far more intimate than the occasional scripted story events.
That's the least of Singles' problems. First and foremost are the inexcusably long load times and graphical stutters. Even while playing on a high-end machine, I could easily walk away for a couple of minutes every time I loaded a game and get back before it had finished. On the same machine, the graphics would temporarily freeze the game for a few seconds, especially when the game's time-based lighting system changed. Unfortunately, the options to turn down the graphical quality seem to be locked.
Also, the game really is single-minded. Some players, myself included, will try pairing various combinations of characters. I fear most won't, though, and that's a shame.
Want to try before you buy? You can find either one-hour or four-hour demo downloads online. If you like what you see, just pay $30 online and the time limit will be removed. I found it a lot more convenient than running to the nearest game store. (A quick note: Some versions of the game are censored. You can easily find instructions online to restore the original level of nudity.)
If you're interested in a frank yet fun exploration of sex, give Singles a look. Better yet, let's hope Singles 2 (promoted if you win Story Mode) deepens the interactions and opportunities. And let's hope other Adult games follow, ones that present sexuality as a fun part of life without tentacles involved.