Leisure Suit Larry 6: Shape Up or Slip Out!
One of the many characteristics we share with our rich cousins across the water is a prudish, nudge-nudge attitude to sex. It's a subject we get very self-righteous about yet, at the same time, like nothing more than a double entendre, a slightly 'smutty' joke or a good sex scandal in the news. That's why we churned out a whole series of Carry On films and why Sierra has now reached episode six in the near legendary Leisure Suit Larry series.
There are considerable similarities between Carry On films and the Leisure Suit Larry series. They both manage to be very popular while being in many ways, quite tacky. Carry On films were badly written badly directed and clearly produced on a budget of about two and six. The Larry games also have moments of fairly lame script. Graphically they have tended to be less than impressive and there's something very '70s about the whole thing.
Leisure Suit Larry 6 is guilty of all these flaws. Although the adventure is better structured than any of its predecessors, the plot itself is blindingly obvious. The graphics are a vast improvement on Larry's previous outings, but are still way behind those in other graphic adventures. This is not the place to go to in search of the latest in smoothscrolling visual beauty, but that's not why people play the Larry games. People play the Larry games because they're about sex.
For this outing the man in the (dodgy) white suit finds himself shanghaid into taking part in Stallions, a Blind Date-style panel game. As runner-up (he came second in a two horse race), he wins a weekend in a hotel-cum-health club where he immediately sets out trying to exchange bodily fluids with every girl he meets.
There are nine girls who catch Larry's eye, of whom the ultimate prize is the ethereal, self-indulgent Shamara. However, to get to her, he must first work his way through the other babes (as the game calls the female characters in one of its few, and somewhat unsuccessful, attempts to sound contemporary).
Although this progress is not entirely sequential, there are certain items Larry gets from one girl that he will need in order to seduce another. And of course, true to form, that's pretty much all he gets from them. Each encounter ends in the sort of pratfall that would be vaguely funny if you couldn't see it coming a mile off. (Rather like Larry, he quipped, feeblv Irvins to eet into the spirit of the game.)
As the computer games equivalent of the Carry On series the humour in Larry is largely based on double entendre. Sometimes this can be reasonably funny (alright, I confess!), but after a while it simply gets wearying. Do you remember a time when everyone used to say, 'Story of my life,' after virtually everything you said? And didn't you smile politely the first couple of times and then as the remark got more frequent and the connection more tenuous, didn't you feel like throttling the next person who said it. Well I ended up doing ten years in Dartmoor, so watch it. As well as double entendre, the world of Larry, in true Carry On fashion is stuffed with stereotypes. All the women are beautiful nymphomaniacs with gravity-defying breasts. The men are lecherous, unattractive and slightly inadequate. There's also a mincing, lisping homosexual, a butch (but still busty) lesbian and, following the success of The Crying Game, even a transsexual. Of course, any attempt to criticise the content of Larry games runs the risk of making you sound like some terrible politically correct bore. Well, like all sane people, 1 loathe the whole politically correct scene and can be as laddish as the best of them. I drink beer, watch football and have impure thoughts about Beatrice Dalle. (Though I must admit I've never dropped a moonie out of the back of a bus; to the lasting relief of drivers everywhere.) Most of Larry humour is no worse than schoolboy smut. However, there were moments in Leisure Suit Larry 6 which made me wince; when I'd have been embarrassed if a girl had seen me playing the game. I was embarrassed to see myself playing it.
It's the tone or the attitude which is the problem rather than anything you actually do. A key element to the world of both Larry and Carry On is that, despite all the nudging and winking, you never really see anything. Although this game claims to be 'The Longest, Hardest Larry Yet!' (bit of a double entendre there heh? Ho, ho, ho), and is more explicit than earlier games, it's still basically pretty tame. This allows it to be portrayed as a bit of harmless fun, which is fine unless you're one of the sad people who buy it in expectation of a bit of porn. If you get turned on by a computer graphic close-up of a woman in a bikini, you'll have a whale of a time here. Otherwise it's pretty much all mouth and no trousers.
However, beneath all the lame humour, gross sexism and homophobia, there's something strangely appealing about Leisure Suit Larry 6. It's certainly the best of the series. This is not due to the improved graphics which are still hardly going to set the world on fire - but rather to the structure of the puzzles. For the completely hard-nosed adventurer they might verge on the easy. But I found them well structured so that you never got completely stuck, there was always something new to try. (Alright, which smart-arse said 'Story of my life?') Unlike most adventures, with Larry 6 I never got to a complete dead end, with no idea what to try next. For this reason the game was embarrassingly addictive.
Leisure Suit Larry 6 avoids being too linear and this helps keep you interested, although there were a couple of problems which, due to cpck-ups earlier in the game, were insoluble without restarting. Occasionally the game will even give you hints - or at least tell you: 'You don't need to use that object in this room,' which saves you clicking on every item on screen. Unfortunately, the on-screen messages are occasionally misleading and sometimes even wrong. For instance, every time I tried to put my sunglasses on by the pool, something I kept getting told would be a good idea, the game acted as if I was trying to change into my swimming costume. Weird.
Subject matter apart, Leisure Suit Larry 6 is probably an ideal beginners' game. Although some of the problems can actually be quite tricky, most experienced gameplayers would find it all a bit of a doddle. After all, I got through it pretty quickly and I'm an idiot.
In fact, the game is something of a bizarre contradiction. It's easily the best of the series both in terms of graphics - although these are still hardly one of the games strong points - puzzles and playability. Yet, at the same time, it doesn't stop me thinking the series is beginning to run out of steam. The joke is beginning to wear a bit thin. Seeing Larry get almost all the way there, only to fall at the last hurdle, stops being funny after about the millionth time.
A lot of the humour in the game is getting a bit self-referential. Remarks about A1 Lowe (the game's esteemed writer), a character who'looks like A1 Lowe, and another character who looks surprisingly like Sierra President Ken Williams, is all a bit too in-jokey for my tastes. For verily my son, it is written that when a comedy show is chock-a-block full of references to itself then that show shouldst be cast out unto the wilderness for that show is losing its edge.
However, despite finding it, at times tacky, at times self indulgent and often quite dated, I stayed late at the office to complete Leisure Suit Larry 6 and not just out of journalistic integrity either (whatever that might be). It's all a bit like Carry On Up The Khyber, or Up Pompei (depending on your school of innuendo), in that, although I might sneer at them in a sophisticated, '90s kind of way, I'd still watch them if they were on telly.
Download Leisure Suit Larry 6: Shape Up or Slip Out!
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP