Games

50 Shades Of Lame | House Party – Steam Early Access Impressions (NSFW)

It makes me a little sad that games purportedly for adults so often end up being facepalmingly puerile. House Party, sadly, is no exception. These storylines, these characters, the approach to drunkenness and sex and petty little vendettas, might have been exciting and naughty back at the turn of the millennium when I was thirteen. Less so now.

I think a lot of it has to do with age, perhaps. Without wanting to psychoanalyse teenage me too much, one of the worst aspects of being a nearly-adult is this perception, especially amongst boys, that sex is an achievement. This somewhat adolescent mindset tends to be as far as we get in terms of sex in video games. Gamified romance tends to treat sex, sometimes quite literally, as the trophy point in a virtual relationship. However, whilst I’m not going to sit here and deny that I enjoy chasing virtual romance in the likes of something like Mass Effect, much of that has to do with the writing underpinning the characters. I wanted Liara to feature in Mass Effect 3 not because I was desperate to see a blue butt bouncing up and down in soft focus to a medley of mood music, but because I loved the way she interacted with my Shepard in the previous two games.

House Party is not a game about romance, though. It’s a game about sex. But without any real backstory or context, the objective is removed from any real human connection and simply becomes this: get laid by any means necessary. For a self-styled adventure game, that’s a problem.

The host, Madison, hates her sister Ashley and vice-versa. There’s a girl sat crying in a room upstairs who won’t come down because she thinks her boobs are too big (no, I’m not making this up). One of the others is apparently friends with a porn star, another is a party girl who just really wants some whipped cream, and there’s a supposedly hot nerd who thinks you’re nothing but pond scum. As for the lads, well, there are two. One is a drunk in a very loud shirt who keeps hiding booze down his trousers, and the other is a straight-edge jock who has kidnapped all of the booze and will basically murder you if you even think about having a drink.

That’s not a joke. If you touch a bottle, he’ll lay you out with a single punch and you won’t be able to get up. To be fair, that was pretty funny.

Each character has a friendship, romance, and drunkenness barometer, and you can affect the levels of the former two even when you’re not in direct conversation with someone. The trouble is, that in order to have every meter set to zero at the start of the game, the player character is pretty much a stranger to everyone in the house. You basically rock up to this fairly modest abode as Billy No-Mates, which wouldn’t be so weird if there were more than eight other people in attendance or some musical variety. To be honest, the worst thing about House Party might be the house party itself. Madison is clearly not the host with the most.

So let’s recap: you’re a stranger at a party, and the only objective is to try and stick your dick in something or someone.

I say something, because one of your character’s unique party tricks is the ability to whip out a semi on command at the push of a button. You can free the little fella at any time you so choose, although nothing particularly dramatic will happen. A few gasps, some giggling, maybe even a suggestive comment or two. I was hoping someone might call the police, if only to break up The Worst House Party Ever so my character could spend the night in a much more interesting cell.

Part of the problem with House Party is that the idea is not bad. A point-and-click dating sim set at a party could be quite interesting. With an in-game clock, you could create a game that’s part PornHub, part-Persona, part-Majora’s Mask, with key events happening at certain times. I genuinely believe it’d be perfectly possible to have a game that’s all about people getting it on, but also not be a weird, offensive, possibly rapey mess.

House Party is not that game. As well as being able to thrust an erupting penis into the face of anyone and everyone, you can steal personal items, clothing, blackmail people into blowjobs, publicly humiliate certain characters. To me, that’s a bit of a problem. It’s difficult to laugh at a game this mean-spirited. One of the quest lines (sex pest lines?) has you essentially blackmailing a girl into sex with stolen nude photos. That’s not funny at all. Neither is pouring a whole bottle of lens cleaner into a soda and then giving it to an unsuspecting target. Sexual assault is a serious issue, and should have no place in a game that’s supposedly trying to keep things light.

The game’s store page invokes Leisure Suit Larry as a comparison point. But Larry was nearly always the butt of the joke. That series was famed for its terrible puns, its campy ‘Carry On’ style humour, and that fact that Larry, for the most part, is a comically tragic character. American Pie – a film all about trying to get laid – is ultimately a pretty sweet story, in which the characters all embarrass themselves at some point and realise that maybe sex itself is a somewhat shallow thing to aim for. Of course, American Pie is also about friendship, and all of the characters in House Party are awful people who hate one another.

Without a story, without characters of any sort of depth, without emotional context, and with a whole bunch of potential sexual assault thrown into the mix, it’s difficult to find anything about House Party to recommend. There’s a narrative editor, so if you really want to, you might be able to find a way of rewriting things so they aren’t quite so awful or litigious. But, honestly, why would you? No, there aren’t great swathes of similar-but-better games out there, but there are simpler, arguably more effective ways to get your rocks off online, and they probably won’t cost you a penny.