Review by odino
(No) Sex & Drugs & ... Rap? - Nearly a cock-up!
The 90s saw a lot of games trying on a new format. In fact, a couple of system were solely based on it - the CD-ROM. You may think: Saturn, Playstation, Sega CD, but one little system that was almost exclusive to full motion video (FMV) based games was the 3DO. Yes, even games like Chess would use it in-game. It only lasted a short time and most of its game were uninteresting/bad, but there is still some cult following. Being backed by a more liberal company, Panasonic, it also meant that more adult-themed games like this would be available for sale. The problem is, looking back, that compression quality of the video capturing was pretty lousy. You could fill a disc full of video but the quality will look worse than those pirated Asian VCDs. One such game that came out close to the demise of the 3DO was "Snow Job starring Tracey Scoggins".
"Who?" you may ask. The thing is, she is the most famous actor in this production, so much that she gets star billing. I suppose if you are guy in his late 20s or older you might even remember her being a popular actress slash model around that time. Her most famous roles are recurring in the TV shows 'The Colbys', 'Dynasty', 'Babylon 5' and 'Lois & Clark: TNAOS'. The trouble with her starring role is that she is not really the star of the show. You play as Jock, a private detective and ex-cop who returns to New York City for some unfinished business. He used to be lovers with Lara, but a series of events caused things to go sour and Jock left town. Now he is back, unfortunately. Lara is not happy to see him, nor should we. Jock, played by some unknown D-actor is one of the worst showings I have seen in a video game or on TV. It is obvious this guy has never been seen again, but a leading role should have been a bit more of the budget than hiring this guy.
The game starts at his friend's place, Wires. Wires is the typical computer nerd, wheel chaired bound. He stays in his apartment all day sitting in front of the computer. He lets you sleep on his couch (how nice) and helps you crack the case. Oh right, the case. Your leads at this time are barely non-existing. You have access to an online message board which is run by the drug dealers. This board uses a very obvious password system, which can be obtained by solving the daily crossword puzzle in the newspaper. Wires has come across a decoded message that Lara (Tracey) might be in danger because of the recent drug bust that puts her in the spot light of the baddies, as she is with the District Attorney's office investigating further. This gives you enough hints to start exploring the area and finding out information. The first couple of days will be very boring, but eventually you get to go on chases around town and explore a lot more locations. At the moment, Lara (played by Tracey) does not want anything to do with Jock and does not believe she is in any danger. The only other person to help you is Bull, a cop who now runs a strip bar.
Oh strip bar? Do we get to see actual strippers? WOW! Oh you get to see strippers all right, two of them in fact. One of them is not too bad-looking but I will need to tell you right now, there is no nudity in this game they way you expect. These two exotic dancers leave their clothes on, and so does Lara. A main premise of the game is sex - but there is none. You may see a kiss here and there, some skin flashing, but that is it. The game is rated '17' for language and some scenes of violence mainly. The S-word is used frequently enough for the 90s censorship board, and dead body with a few guns being waved around does not help its cause. These days I would not be surprised if it gets an T rating from the ESRB (that is 13 years and over if you do not know). There is also a short mini-game with a bikini-clad woman as the background picture, this is also the sharpest picture you will find in the game. So if you were looking for a raunchy game then I hate to disappoint you. To be honest, they were most likely aiming for a high rating here, to make it appealing to that kind of demographic.
Instead of sex you get a lot drugs. Not drug use, just the theme of the game is a big load of drug shipment coming into town. If you screw up the game somewhere on the line the city will be flooded with this stuff, and that is bad if you were wondering. Not in the "winners don't do drugs" kind of way. Your idea is to stop the bad guys from this plan, by trying to bust their operation open and saving Lara at the same time. There are actually a couple of times where you can end the game slightly different, but only one way will reach the full conclusion of the drug business.
Sex & Drugs & Rock 'n' Roll? Not quite. The music of the game is rap, and only rap. The funky beats appear to be all right at the start but they will repeat throughout the game. I would say there are only around eight to ten short tracks on a loop. With the music covered, let's move on to the sound. The voice acting is generally good, sans the horribly protagonist of course. Tracy's voice is pretty great actually, even if I do not think her physical acting is too great. She is still the highlight of the game, thus giving her proper star credits. Too bad she never gets into that tight red leather suit she covers on the game, and the naughtiest parts with her are in the introduction already.
The video quality is not too great, but having to play this in 1995 then you would think it is amazing to see this in a video game. However, the mastering is poor, most likely a problem with the 3DO not having good filters and codec/compression and whatnot, but it perfectly watchable. The rest of the game's graphics are hard to make out. The 360 degree game advertised is neat and all, yet one has a really hard time to pixel hunt for anything that might be useful. In fact some locations are near impossible to spot if you do not know. One such example is the coffee shop across the street of the Arcade. Who would ever think to go towards that direction, especially since the icons do not make it seem there is a place to visit.
The map screen is easy to use and to get around town you simply buy a subway ticket. One would think Jock can buy a weekly pass for less but ok. Money is an issue in this game, or rather, the lack of. Time is also money, in the sense that you can not spare any. The third problem is inventory space. Let's look at these issues in more detail.
You start out with a few hundred bucks. This would get you around NYC for a week without much problems, but you also need to buy stuff and play some games. You will most likely run out of money by mid-week if you play the game in a tight way. There are ways to make money back, such as selling hardware, stealing from dead bodies, places wagers, but that does not solve the funds problem all together. The producers must have known of this problem, and rather than giving you thousands of dollars from the start, or enough like in a Nancy Drew game, there is a cheat that will max out what your wallet can handle ($1000). At first I was willing to dismiss this as a luxury, but soon I noticed it is almost impossible to play through it without cheating.
The game is run on a clock. You start the day in the morning and the day automatically finishes at 12 PM. If you are out exploring on your own, the time can quickly run out. Luckily there is an option to slow this down, and if you are waiting for a certain even to happen you can advance time by a certain amount. This is well done, but only if you know what you are doing. The feeling of shops only being open after 10:30, meetings taking place during the day, business buildings closing their doors after six and the DA's office being closed on the week-end all make for a realistic setting. Playing with a walkthrough in hand, you will not even notice the timer being a hassle that it is too quick, only that the events can get a little annoying a times.
Thirdly, inventory space is severely limited. This is the biggest problem in my opinion, having to think about what to throw away, Naturally Jock can only carry so much, but he seems to be all right with carrying twenty pieces of audio and video equipment around his body but gets the chills when there are too many paper printouts and bank statements floating around. What they should have implemented is a filing cabinet for these things, you will often find yourself having a hard time deciding what to throw away and which paper could still hold some important info. The best idea is to write down stuff on a notepad after you have read it yourself. Reading papers usually is enough to gain a new location or unlock a phone number, as long as you actually do read it.
The adventure aspect of the game is actually quite decent. Picking up items, finding evidence for who the guy behind all this really is. Using items is rare but still happens. This is no Monkey Island after all. Conversations often result up in a dead-end, and the game is rather cruel in that way. You will be told if things are going as planned at the end of the game, but there are still tons of places to mess up. For example, discarding the wrong item, saying the wrong thing to someone, missing an appointment, running out of money, forgetting to do something before it is too late. The even filmed alternate endings or wrong outcomes of conversations. The bartender kicking you out of the strip joint because you are "talking to the lady" is certainly funny to watch, if not only for the dislike of both Jock and the bartender. Too bad they did not let you chat with the stri... exotic dancer some more.
The downside of the adventure is the inclusion of mini-games. There may be many mini-games in "adventure" games on a console like the DS, but that does not make them any better. One of these mini-games is a Breakout/Arkanoid rip-off, only with a lot appalling physics. Another one is a horrible 3D shooter, with worse graphics and game play than the oldest console in existence. The game could also not be complete without a heinous 3D maze, an unpleasant sliding puzzle and a purely-based-on-luck games of craps (the street style played with hardcore "go to the arcades and play the game, you might learn something" gangster rapper Louis). The most interesting one is a top-down arcade game where you have to run through a city block without going into the wrong direction. I will leave this one to mystery until you play yourself, but it turned out to be more fun than frustration once you know where to go. The crossword puzzles, if you want to call them mini-games, are the pleasant side of this. They are actually mind-teasing and make you work a little, if it were not for the awkward control system. One of the neater games is installing a card in a computer case, although it is pretty simplistic. During all these, the developers decided to add some sound effects to enrich the boredom. Jock will laugh uncontrollably, burp, all sorts of noises. In the 3D maze you can hear people flushing their toilets as you are supposed to be in the sewer system. Not exactly fun. The good news is that all these mini-games only need to be done once, and you know that doing these will progress the game. Getting something right in the game is always a bonus, with so much that can go wrong.
The controls are rather easy, even if you prefer mouse to play an adventure game. Some mini-games were left hanging out to dry in the control department, but the main screen with the action button is simple to use. Cycle through just four action buttons (enough to give you choices unlike Myst, few enough to make it playable without a headache) and point at something to interact. If it is possible the icon will be white, although not all interactions are worthwhile and may just result in a buzzer sound. A stupid remark by Jock is also not welcome. Investigating the areas is fun as long as you tone out Jock, deciding what to keep when you find it, or what to do with the stuff is a different matter.
So let's get down to the wire. The game is actually quite decent, despite all these flaws. You will be drawn into the story no matter how B-movie it feels. As you make progress you will like it a lot better. After a couple of days into it you will probably play the rest with more pleasure. The daily hint system allows you to progress without the help of a walkthrough, even though the puzzles are sometimes hard to figure out. On the other hand, this game would just be too easy if they would not have dead-ends and wrong paths. The graphics are very good for its time, the sound is mixed bag but having decent voice acting helps, and Tracy Scoggins makes this worthwhile.
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: Snow Job (US, 12/31/95)
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