Singles: Flirt up Your Life
Sex? In a game?!?
Why yes, and it’s a bit odd isn’t it? When was the last time you saw sex on TV or at the cinema? Probably not that long ago. Now think back to the last time you saw characters in a game ‘making love’, ‘at it’ or whatever you want to call it. Can’t think of a single incident? When you think about it, it’s not surprising at all. Sex and nudity is taboo in the games industry, a subject Western developers hardly ever touch. Singles: Flirt up Your Life challenges this, or at least seems to, with full frontal nudity and plenty of ‘you know what’.
Although it would be unfair to box up every game that involves people living in a house into the ‘Sims clone’ category, the similarities between Singles and it are undeniable. In both, the player controls the in-game characters using a point-and-click interface from a 3rd person perspective. As in The Sims, a simple display in the bottom left of the screen allows you to alter the rate at which time passes, view character profiles and needs, view level progress and so on. However, the way Singles works isn’t exactly the same as EA’s blockbuster and in some ways it betters it.
Starting up Singles, you have the choice of a tutorial, a normal game and a free ’start from scratch’ game. All revolve around the basic principle of taking a couple - man and woman, woman and woman or man and man - and making them interact within an apartment. In a normal game, the apartment present in all modes is already constructed and is furnished with a few items. You can spice it up with wallpaper and so on, but the main focus of the game is not construction, as you may have already guessed.
Singles gives you no objectives, no missions and no tasks. It simply hints towards what you might like to do and nothing more. Those hints are fairly obvious from the minute you pick up the game, from the 18 rating to the Flirt up Your Life title. Removing the complexity of having up to six characters to control over multiple floors, it allows the player to focus on the human interaction side of things, and specifically the romance and sensuality elements that the game encourages.
Let’s face it; anyone who buys this game and most of you reading this review are going to be far more interested in the sexual side to Singles than anything else. It has far more character actions in this department than The Sims and it’s far more explicit. Your couple go from simple hugging and kissing to passionate kisses and embraces all the way up to what the game calls ‘doing the wild thing’. Strangely though, there is no oral sex and the ‘doing the wild thing’ animation is the same for a man and a woman as it is for a woman and a woman. It’s also a little odd to find no black, Latino or Asian characters, only white ones.
Singles stays true to The Sims‘ formula, with slightly better A.I. and more independent characters. Being only a couple, they are also easier to keep track of and the focus can be switched between either by clicking on a display in the top right portion of the screen.
One thing that it does outshine The Sims in is the visuals. Everything from character models to animations and textures is superb for this type of game and really gives Singles a unique look. You can zoom in and see strands of hair, the reflection off of lipstick, the grain of the carpet and more. The surrounding area around the apartment is also nicely constructed, putting the whole scene in context. Lighting and shadowing is well done, although it can slow the game down slightly if running on a low-end machine (you can turn this off though). The camera functions differently to The Sims, allowing full 360° movement and the freedom to move the camera exactly where you need it. It is what Far Cry is to first person shooters, the best looking game in the genre and quite an example to follow.
The audio department isn’t so stunning though. The music is catchy, but there seems to be only a few tracks so you end up hearing the same old tunes over and over and over again. Sound effects are fairly limited as well, with grunts and gasps for ‘you know what’ (how cheesy) and the various other effects you’d expect to hear from people living in an apartment. After a while though, you’ll just turn off the sound altogether and set iTunes to play some proper music. Admittedly there isn’t much you can do in the audio department for games like this, but you don’t get the feeling that they made much effort at all.
Once you get over the initial novelty of the sex and nudity, there’s little to keep most gamers coming back. There’s no objective to complete apart from getting your couple to have sex, so once you’ve done that there really isn’t much to do. There are admittedly some amusing moments such as going to work stark naked or causing trouble when friends come round, but the appeal of such things wanes when you’ve done them a few times. Of course, your couple can never marry as that would make the game a slight paradox considering the title. One thing that would have really boosted the replay value is character creation, but this is not featured - a crime in itself! Just imagine the possibilities…
Judging a game like Singles is hard, I have to admit. It looks great and the core gameplay mechanic is solid, but you just can’t help thinking we’ve seen most of this before. It’s certainly easier to play than The Sims and it features better A.I., but it doesn’t feature as much depth as EA’s title. While Sims veterans should be cautious, those who haven’t played it before and are vaguely interested in Singles should give it a go. You know, there’s a decent game under all that hype, even if it is a bit familiar.
Sex and nudity in games isn’t something we often see and it’s difficult to work out if Singles is challenging this or is just trying to make money out of the novelty factor. I’d like to think it’s the former, an experiment into what gamers think about nudity and sex in games. Singles‘ content is on par with that of an 18 rated movie, but doesn’t deliver it in quite the way that films do. Maybe we haven’t had enough games featuring this kind of content to judge it or maybe it’s because games let the viewer control the action and that interaction is an altogether different issue. What’s for sure is that we’re going to find out sooner rather than later.
Seven out of ten