Sex was gross, unknowable and weird. Yet, for some reason, I was supposed to want it. These were the lessons I learned from Leisure Suit Larry way back when, which I had no business playing as a teenager. In 2013, the updated sex/comedy game still feels like something I shouldn't be experiencing. But, this time, it’s mostly because the game’s not very good.
I don't remember much about the first time I played Leisure Suit Larry, lo these many decades ago. All that comes back is that it was a shared experience with friends who'd somehow gotten the game. Like lots of players of a certain age, I experienced Al Lowe's comedic adventure game when I was underage. Much of its raunchy humour went over my head but I knew that it was deep in the wilds of a taboo landscape I wasn't supposed to be experiencing.
Today — with all the myriad ways that talking about sex has changed and the mere existence of the internet — the goalposts on what's taboo have moved. There's this meta-awareness that people do all kinds of kinky, messy stuff behind closed doors and all of that's OK as long as it's consensual and nobody sprains anything. With all this extra thematic room to play with, it feels like Larry creator Al Lowe should have been able to bring back his signature creation even funnier than ever, especially since thousands of Kickstarter backers gave more than $US650,000.
The basics of the Leisure Suit Larry template are unchanged here. You play as a 40-year-old disco-suited loser named Larry Laffer as he meanders through the city of Lost Vegas, trying to lose his virginity and supposedly find true love. Some jokes have been clumsily updated while others — like the Angry Broads video game in the convenience store — try to poke elbows at the time that's passed since Larry's heyday. But these things make the proceedings come off as incredibly dated.
The art style in Reloaded feels disappointingly amateurish. The draftsmanship is inconsistent and doesn't create any charm or overall aesthetic for players to take away. It's in hi-def, but that's really all there is to recommend it from a graphical standpoint. Just like the ribald innuendos corny one-liners that tumble from every character's mouth, visual puns choke every screen you click through. Reloaded's saving grace is the funky, jazzy soundtrack by Austin Wintory, which helps make up for the uneven voicework riddled through the game. However, the overall effect is that Lowe and his co-creators never bothered filtering the good stuff from the bad.
But the worst offence is in how the game makes you grind. And no, not in a good way. Even using a save/reload trick that lets you stack winnings with having to lose it all, you'll spend long, tedious stretches of time at Lost Vegas' gambling machines. All this padding of pockets would be acceptable if it let you pay for a better quality of funny. But it doesn't.
The original LSL won its fans by delivering a randy, off-color take on standard trial-and-error adventure game mechanics. But ultimately, what felt daring then feels a bit dated now, like a stack of a salty uncle's girlie mags. You realise that as an adult that they're in poor taste but remain wistful for the mysteries they revealed to you once upon a time. But, wistfulness isn't enough to redeem what's offered here.
LSL:R feels like the kind of game that hides behind the "we make fun of everybody" rubric. But, as always, the key to earning such protections from finger-waggers and tut-tutters is in being good, if not great. Reloaded is neither of those things. Yeah, Larry’s a loser lead character and winds up the butt of most of his encounters but the lazy stereotypes and weak jokes will make the player feel like the one being mocked.
It's not just bad taste; it feel like no taste at all. All you need to do is watch random episodes of South Park, Archer, Futurama or Family Guy to understand how the current-day gems of impolite comedy can shine. Disco balls notwithstanding, nothing about Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded shines. And, well, if you want to see sexual acts on a computer screen, there’s a plethora of options available to you in this modern age. Whether you’re looking for comedy or titillation, Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded feels like something that doesn't need to exist.