Everybody's working for the weekend.
I never thought it would happen to me.
I'm a virile young game reviewer, but nothing interesting ever happens to me at work. Then one day this hot little number slides up on to my desk. She's hip, she's sexy, she's got modern sensibilities, and though she's got a couple hangups, getting her naked is as easy as clicking your mouse. Her name is Singles: Flirt Up Your Life, and she's the latest thing from the perverts who brought us Lara Croft so many years ago.
For those of you who haven't heard the buzz, Singles is the first game in ages from a major publisher to get the dreaded AO (Adults Only) rating. It features full nudity and simulated sex, but for all that, it's not particularly pornographic. In fact, it doesn't even come close to the U.S. government's own definition of obscenity because it appeals to more than prurient interest. This isn't the latest version of Virtual Valerie - it's much more like The Sims, but without all those blurry censorship squares.
Just or unjust, the AO rating still means that no major retailers (outside of Europe) will carry Singles. Instead, the full game is available for download (right here at GR) and you can play it for a couple hours, after which you have to buy the game online in order to keep playing. And more than a few people will probably want to keep playing to achieve the ultimate goal of making two virtual people have sex.
The game is a "relationship simulator," assigning you the role of caretaker to a pair of roommates who can either develop a healthy sexual relationship or fight constantly over who drank the last beer in the fridge. In truth, the roommates in Singles behave frighteningly like a real couple; they work, play, eat, sleep, exercise, crap, and watch TV just like we do.
Anyone who has played The Sims will have no trouble at all figuring out how to play Singles because the interface is nearly identical. The personality and relationship meters are eerily familiar, as is the building and buying mode where you can rebuild the apartment and purchase any of a couple hundred other household objects to make their lives better.
The particular Singles you're (probably) trying to influence into erotic situations are chosen from a dozen different pre-set models, which fit into predictable stereotypes, from the computer nerd to the tough chick. The women are much more appealing than the men as they seem more like normal people, while the guys are a collection of scumbags with goth hairdos and attention-seeking tattoos. There's also one gay character for each sex, so you can try for a same-sex relationship, but they fall prey to the same stereotypes with a bull-dyke and a seriously flaming queer guy. It's a little frustrating, made worse by the fact that you cannot create your own character. This is a pretty serious oversight as it removes a sitgnificant chunk of the replay value.
No matter whom you choose, playing with your Singles is again almost exactly like The Sims. You'll have to manage plenty of little meters - fun, hygiene, hunger, sleep, etc. – which need to stay at acceptable levels to keep them happy and flirting successfully. Eat when you're hungry, or watch a movie when you need to take a load off.
This isn't particularly hard, however, as the Singles seem pretty easygoing overall and smarter about doing things on their own without being instructed. Singles aren't as picky as Sims, and about the only thing they'll ever fight over is the housework, such as who left more dirty dishes on the table and who has to clean the toilet more. A little flirting and a little teasing eases the tension and everyone is happy again.
Most of the time, however, you'll be less concerned with squabbling and more concerned with salaries and finding free time outside of work. During the week you'll run around like a maniac, fixing the sink and trying to get to work on time. Meanwhile, you're falling behind on the housework as the floors start to get visibly dirty. Luckily, the weekends make up for it, a feature that was sadly missing from The Sims. The weekends allow you to play catch up, or perhaps even lie around on a lazy Sunday watching movies and making out on the couch with your girl.
Unfortunately, while the relationship options here outnumber The Sims, the game loses a lot of depth in other areas. Rather than cooking to become a better cook or working out to improve your physique, the Singles simply get an experience point at regular intervals that they can apply to any skill they want. Want a promotion? Just toss a point at your job. Lame. Want to meet some other Singles and hide a secret relationship or deal with jealousy? Forget about it. There's no "playing the field" in Singles since there's nobody on the field other than your two chosen characters, and they never leave the apartment except to work. Without any other goals or characters, there's really only one way to play this game.
Well, I suppose there is one big goal: the dirty deed, the home run, nookie, bumpin' uglies, knockin' boots, the horizontal mambo…or as we used to call it in the third grade, sex. Get your Singles close enough and yes, you can make them do the nasty.
Which, it turns out, is ironically anti-climactic. It's actually less explicit than much of the rest of the game, as your Singles' lower halves are always covered by a modest blanket. There's no visible penetration, no erections, and only two positions: her on top or him on top (the same sex couples have the same two options, which, when you think about it, is ludicrous). There's no oral sex, or games, or toys, or experimentation, or interesting positions. The rest of us know that sexual relationships evolve long past the first time you "do it." Haven't these people heard of the Kama Sutra?
Though the action is dissatisfying, the Singles look terrific. The system requirements might be pretty high, but they're well used. The roommates feature incredibly detailed facial expressions and eye movements, not to mention all their fully-rendered naughty bits. How many polygons in that penis? Only the developers know for sure.
While the graphics are leaps and bounds beyond The Sims, the sound is nearly identical. Innocuous background music (except for the atonal opening song) provides a canvas for the incoherent babble that passes for conversation. The game may have been made in Germany, but the language is straight Alpha Centauri. Fortunately for everyone, the moans of pleasure are a universal language.
At the end of my relationship with Singles, I was only moderately satisfied with my new partner. The game looks hot and puts out, so if you just want a fling, it's not a bad choice. But for a long term relationship, I need much more depth. She ain't getting a ring, that's for sure.