Currently in development at Cyberlore Studios, Playboy: The Mansion is a lifestyle simulation game that, according to the fact sheet that arrived with our Xbox preview build, "seamlessly blends thrilling social interaction with role-playing and empire building elements." We've just spent the best part of a day playing the game in the slippers and smoking jacket of Hugh Heffner, and we can report that the game certainly incorporates all of the aforementioned features, with the possible exception of the word "thrilling."
Playboy: The Mansion will include both mission-based and free-form modes of play. The two modes are more or less identical, save for the fact that the mission-based game covers the entire Playboy history in just 12 missions, while the free-form mode (which will still require you to beat certain objectives in order to unlock new furniture, new locales, and suchlike) is less structured and can be played indefinitely. As Heffner, your primary objective in the game will essentially be to build the Playboy empire from scratch and have as much fun as possible along the way. Like Hef, you'll start by launching the first issue of Playboy magazine, for which you'll need to arrange a cover shoot, a centerfold, a pictorial, an article, an essay, and a celebrity interview--none of which are as easy to come by as you might think. That's right, the life of Hugh Heffner is not an easy one; you'll have to throw wild parties, schmooze with beautiful models and celebrities, and learn to tolerate (or seduce) the numerous scantily clad women that wander aimlessly around your luxurious mansion at all hours.
Although you'll get to take the cover and centerfold photos yourself, the aesthetic choices that you make will actually have no bearing on the success of your magazine. The quality of all photos and articles will simply be determined by how well your photographer or author interacted with the model or celebrity, and by whether or not the subject matter is listed as one of their likes or dislikes. Before you can even start worrying about that stuff, though, you'll need to hire the Playmate models, the photographers, and the journalists, and then entice celebrities into your mansion (which also serves as an office and photography studio) with party invites.
When throwing a party at the Playboy Mansion, you are tempted to specify a lingerie dress code on the invites and then only send them out to beautiful women (there's really no other kind in the game). The problem with that particular course of action is that there's only so much of Hef to go around, and we invariably found that our most successful parties (those that lasted the longest and which earned us the most fame) were those at which other males were present. Once your party gets under way, you'll want to make sure that everyone is getting along and having a good time, which you can more or less ensure beforehand if you're selective with your guest list. You'll also be on a mission to befriend interesting people and, more often than not, to convince them to either contribute to your next issue or to strip down to their bare essentials and join you on the couch, in the tub, on the bed You get the idea. If you do a particularly good job of befriending a certain character (by gearing your conversations toward friendship rather than business or romance), you'll have the option to invite him or her to Hef's "inner circle," which, assuming they accept, means that they'll start showing up at the mansion more often and will only be a phone call away anytime you're really stuck for magazine content.
Although we certainly wouldn't describe it as thrilling at this point, we found Playboy: The Mansion to be both strangely compelling and surprisingly challenging. For example, once you achieve the goal of getting a girlfriend, you'll unlock another goal that challenges you to keep four girlfriends happy simultaneously. Ouch. The gameplay that we've seen thus far has been more repetitive than we'd like, but it's conceivable that the game will become more varied as you unlock additional content and spend time expanding and decorating your mansion. Expect more information on Playboy: The Mansion as its January 2005 release approaches.