In 1991, Al Lowe had a problem. He had written a fitting final chapter in the world of Leisure Suit Larry two years ago, with no intention of revisiting it. After all, few of Sierra’s games had gone beyond the classic trilogy. But after months of putting all of his effort into Sierra’s failed online gaming network, Al was ready to return to the familiar. He had some great ideas for Larry 4, but no way to begin the adventure since things had wrapped up so neatly in Larry 3. His solution was clear. Don’t make Larry 4. Skip to Larry 5.
It was a smart move. The fourth installment (Leisure Suit Larry 4: The Missing Floppies) is referenced in game 5, but since it’s been “lost”, Larry can’t quite remember any details from it. This freed Lowe from explaining how Larry had once again reverted to a single, balding, overweight schlub-about-town and become separated from his beloved Passionate Patti. As clever as the concept is, however, the game itself is lacking.
In Leisure Suit Larry 5: Passionate Patti Does A Little Undercover Work, you once again play as both Larry and Patti. Where in Larry 3 you played Larry’s entire story and then switched to Patti’s, Larry 5 changes perspective after a character accomplishes a major goal. In Larry’s plot, you’re a tape-sanitizer for PornProdCorp, a TV production company searching for the sexiest woman in America to host their new show. Of course, to judge the finalists, they’ll need some dork to “audition” each girl so they can see how she interacts with your average American male. Guess which dork they choose?
Patti’s story opens with her playing the piano in a seedy bar, which is odd because she seemed to be a much bigger act in Larry 3. Perhaps this fall from stardom occurs in the absent fourth chapter. At any rate, she gets stiffed out of her pay and vows revenge on the criminals responsible. Luckily she’s immediately recruited as a special agent by the FBI to use her talents (musical and otherwise) to get to the bottom of the corruption in the entertainment industry.
I won’t ruin the story for you. But it doesn’t really matter because you’ll have the whole thing figured out by the second cut scene. Even for a Larry game which usually offers the complex motivation of “sleep with hot chicks”, the plot of this game is paper thin. A group of villainous porn producers want sex off of the airwaves so they can retain their smut monopoly, but they spend the whole game sitting in a room scheming. They don’t even offer the slightest mortal threat to our heroes until the very end.
In fact, unlike previous titles, Larry and Patti cannot die in this game. Sierra finally conceded defeat to LucasArts’ “dumbing down” of the genre and made it impossible to accidentally create an unwinnable situation. So feel free to try everything you can think of without the headache of multiple saved games. No matter what you do, you can still beat the game. This in and of itself is a good thing, but, apparently Sierra wasn’t yet used to this kind of game design. Where LucasArts had already gotten the hang of retaining a game’s difficulty without relying on disappearing items, Sierra hadn’t had the practice. So what you get is a game that not only can be beaten without restarting, it can be beaten without even trying.
For example, at the beginning of Larry 5 you are given a camcorder to record your exploits with the various ladies you’ll meet along the way. This is the crux of your mission for the entire game: TAPE SEXY GIRLS. But it is possible to leave PornProdCorp without the vital battery charger you’ll need to get the camcorder working. In a LucasArts game, you might get to the moment where it is necessary to start recording, only to have Larry say “Whoops! My camera isn’t charged! I can’t risk not getting this on tape. Better come back later.” This would leave the player to figure out he needed to find the charger. He would return to the studio, find it, and continue successfully.
But since the Sierra mindset was still one of “rooms become inaccessible when you leave”, there’s no way to go back to the studio once you go to the airport. So if you’ve forgotten the charger, the game will just say “Too bad you didn’t get this on tape” and let you proceed even though you’ve blatantly failed your mission, which is a big indication that these tapes you’re supposed to be making aren’t important to the end of the game at all.
This makes the game stupidly easy. At one point you meet an illegal alien in need of a green card. Getting it for her requires having read a sign earlier in the game and having called a number on a payphone to order one, even though you had no idea why you needed one at the time. But if you fail to do this, talking to her a few more times will get her to have sex with you anyway, making the whole thing pointless. The only difference is you’ll get fewer points this way which was another problem. Several times when I thought I had completed a puzzle correctly, it later became clear that I had accidentally stumbled upon the “easy way” and missed the opportunity to get more points if I had discovered the more challenging method.
At least in Larry’s section, there is occasionally a “hard way” to solve a puzzle. Patti’s missions are even easier, usually only consisting of a room or two. After you pick something up, just look around because you’ll end up using it in the same room. The preliminary playing around, that a veteran of the genre will do in each new room, is usually more than enough to solve every puzzle before the objective is even clear. If this weren’t enough, copious hints exist in item and room descriptions, and you are even prompted to save after important events. It’s as if the game wants you to just hurry up and win so it can go back to bed.
The sex-fueled Larry humor we’ve come to love returns in good form. There’s no text parser this time around, but using the eye and hand icons on various things will often elicit a funny comeback. The unzipped fly icon, however, is not the source of hilarity you would presume it to be. Using it on almost anything gives the boring response “Don’t do that to ITEM/CHARACTER/ROOM!”
Some of the jokes do a go a bit far. I’m not saying I was insulted, but things did occasionally get more graphic than I expected, even in a Larry game. When Patti goes undercover she gets a tracking device implanted in…her…special place. That’s fine, but I didn’t need the cut scene of the FBI’s “amateur gynecologist” installing the thing with a Dremel. The process isn’t actually shown, but it still seems like random vulgarity with no punch line. Later when Patti is seducing the enemy, the agents watch her tracker on a radar screen. When asked what Patti is doing, an agent replies “Either she’s in a tunnel somewhere near Baltimore or she’s dilated 3cm!” Eww. To be fair, though, if it was Larry and a dick joke instead, I probably wouldn’t have blinked. So maybe I’m judging by a double standard. Most confusing of all, though, Patti actually ends up in blackface (toner ink from an exploded copier) while infiltrating a rap studio. Edgy is fine as long as it’s funny, but this is leaning toward crudeness for the sake of being crude.
The Sierra icon system (Walk, Look, Touch, Talk, etc.) handles all control for the first time in an original Larry game. This works quite well, with path-finding being a particular specialty. You can click on a door on the far side of a room and Patti or Larry will weave their way around shelves and desks to get there instead of trying for a straight line and running into an obstacle. Still, I confess to missing the parser a bit, for old times’ sake. The one control problem I had occurred when I found out that you can use the icons on yourself. It’s fun to use the hand icon on Patti (“You begin to adjust your bra strap, but remember you would need a bra.”), but it would have been a lot more fun to be able to click “through” your characters to access items hidden behind them, as in most LucasArts games. In other words, if Patti is searching a bookshelf, you have to move her out of the way of the shelf before you can click on it, then move her out of the way again to click on a different area, etc.
In another odd technical side note, this is the only Larry game I’ve ever crashed out of. But multiple clicks on a particular object eventually lead to the message “Oops! You did something we weren’t expecting. Whatever it was, you don’t need to do it to finish the game” before kicking me back to Windows.
Graphically, Larry and Patti look better than ever in full VGA with 256 glorious colors. This game marks the beginning of Larry’s more exaggerated, cartoony look. While some critics lumped this quality along with the lack of difficulty to characterize the game as childish, I enjoyed the new look. What I didn’t particularly enjoy were the long cut scenes with no camera changes and almost no animation, but I’ll let that slide.
Larry 5 gets the Hollywood treatment with a score from Emmy-nominated composer Craig Safan, the guy who wrote the Cheers theme. Craig’s update of the theme song and most of his other tunes are wonderful, though he was clearly trying to bring back the seventies with a few of them. Appropriate for Larry, but grating after awhile.
You won’t need your copy of “PlaySpy,” the sexy spy magazine included with the game. As I’ve said, the game itself gives you more than enough hints. You will, however, need the AeroDork Airlines pamphlet which includes the travel schedule (as well as a pretty hilarious rant about commercial flying if you feel like reading it) used in-game for copy protection. The codes can be found on Al Lowe’s official site. No age verification to contend with this time around.
Larry 5 could have been a reasonably good game. The story needs some major reworking, but the puzzles are fairly solid. If the designers had actually forced you to solve them by opening up the game world a bit and allowing you to return to previous areas, rather than nudging you along regardless of your accomplishments, this could have been a respectable sequel. As it stands, Larry 5 is sub-par, feeling more like “My First Little Adventure Game” than an Al Lowe title. It’s a must for fans of the series, but serious adventure gamers don’t need to waste their time.
A sufficient amount of Larry humor, fancy new look and control scheme, easy enough to serve as a good starter adventure game for your girlfriend/grandma/terrier.
If you’ve ever played another adventure game, this one will be insultingly simplistic.