Seeing as Kudos is being billed as a "life simulation game" where you play an alter ego in a virtual world, the first temptation is to dismiss the game as yet another Sims or Second Life clone. In reality, though, this Positech Games release is more of a puzzle game that challenges you to build a better life through day-by-day decisions on how best to spend your time. And while it lacks the alternate-world hook and 3D glitz that have made the Sims franchise such a phenomenon, the game's unique social commentary on what passes for a meaningful existence these days can make it awfully addictive. Everything here is a bit mundane and too depressingly close to real life at times, but the gameplay is still enthralling enough to consume many hours of your spare time.
The concept is certainly straightforward enough. You take the role of a 20-year-old just getting started in life and guide him or her to 30. Just like in the real world, there are no victory conditions here. Although you collect kudos points from interactions with friends as a score to indicate how you're faring, the general idea here is really just to arrive at 30 happier, healthier, and wealthier than you were a decade before. Or create a total train wreck. Your call. Stats track your happiness, loneliness, health, stress, IQ, and all the other fun emotions and personality traits that make the world go round, with the overall goal being to keep them all in tune by making smart daily decisions about what to do, who to hang out with, and so on.
Gameplay breaks down to managing your time and money through daily turns. During the week, you can cram in just one pleasurable activity between work and hitting the sack. On the weekend, you get enough time away from the salt mine to enjoy two activities. So as with the real day-to-day grind, there's never enough time or cash to meet all your desires. The key, of course, is to balance everything and make sure that one aspect of your life doesn't take over all the others. Spend too much time in a high-pressure job or taking evening courses to educate yourself so that you can apply for a high-pressure job, and your happiness goes down and your stress and tiredness levels skyrocket. On the other hand, you'll crank your happiness and ruin your health and fitness if you kill too many nights out with friends scarfing down popcorn at the movies or pounding back the brewskies in a local pub.
There is a pretty wide range of activities on offer in Kudos, too. All your choices are limited to realistic ones, though, so the game has the tedium of real life at its heart. You can take the initiative and call up friends to play tennis; hang out and watch TV; hit a rock concert; go out for pizza and so forth; wait for them to call you with an invite; ditch your wingmen to clean your apartment; take a soothing bath; go shopping; or just stare at the walls. All of these things have to be taken care of in order to manage your stress and tiredness levels. Fail to clean your pad and flies start crawling around the screen. Get too stressed and tired and friends won't have a good time with you and you won't be able to concentrate during the evening courses necessary to improve your employment chances or even to read a self-help book at home.
Luxury options are available, too, but everything costs a good chunk of change. All the good TV is on cable, of course, so you've got to pony up some cash up front and then pay a subscription fee. Cats and dogs lower stress and loneliness, although they come at a pretty penny and you've got to keep Rover and Milo fed or they tend to die. High culture like the ballet or opera costs more than a hundred bucks a ticket. You can also buy goodies like guitars, chess sets, video game systems, cars, and more, but, again, you've got to make a lot of money to afford these toys and tend to spend so much time working and studying that you don't have enough hours in the day to really enjoy them.
All in all, though, it's tough to screw up your virtual life. Although the addition of a few sociopathic weirdoes would have given the game some edge, friends here are almost all positive people who calm you or give you confidence, so just about any social activity will boost your stats. Aside from the odd snotty jerk, pretty much everyone here is an average Joe or Jane with average interests like pop music, movies, pizza, culture, and the like. It's pretty easy to have a good time and find activities that your pals will enjoy. The only danger is getting so involved with work or night courses that you have no time to hang out with friends. You pretty much have to immerse yourself in classes at first, as your dead-end waiter job doesn't provide enough cash to do much of anything but watch TV and hit the odd flick. But if you neglect people, relationships suffer. If things aren't soon patched up, friends disappear from your social circle. This isn't all that big a deal, however, as you seem to meet new friends out of the blue all the time. Hold a steady job and get out of the house regularly and your social network will consistently regenerate even if you're the kind of guy who's always turning down friendly invites to the opera. Still, if you want the happiness boost and kudos provided by close friends and maybe a romantic involvement with one or more of them (you can even turn on same-sex relationships, if you want to swing that way), you've got to keep relationships going for the long term.
Yet even with its many points of interest, Kudos gets a bit humdrum after a while. Gameplay is so close to everyday real life that it can get tedious. It's still very hard to stop playing, as the temptation is forever there to see through one more turn and apply for that new doctor job, take Kirsty out for one more romantic dinner, or even just go shopping and make sure you're well stocked in dog and cat food. But this is a simulation of real life, and just as you get bored with your options in the real world, you get bored with your options here. Aspects of life here are sped up pretty nicely, so you can go from grungy waiter to doctor in the course of a single year by attending night classes two days a week, although even then you're faced with a lot of routine and personal maintenance like the need to stay in and take a bath every so often or go jogging to keep up your fitness.
Visuals and sound are on the bland side, too. While the game looks and sounds very good for the management-style simulation that it is, there is little eye candy aside from your avatar and interesting touches like rain and snow on stormy days. The audio is better, due to a peppy musical score and lots of little atmospheric pluses like the sound of a wet kiss at the conclusion of a good date, a wailing guitar when you sit down to practice, and thunder and rain on wet days. These aspects do contribute a lot of ambiance to your virtual lives, although most of the time you're looking at the main menu screen and listening to the same old sound effects. The interface is also a bit clunky. Everything is laid out in a smart, intuitive fashion, although the ease of use could be improved. Most irritating is having to flip through all of your activity options instead of picking them from a pull-down menu.
Although Kudos has some drawbacks when it comes to repetition, you can't criticize the game too much because any sort of realistic life simulation has to be dull at times. And, frightening a notion as it is, it's somehow more captivating to virtually watch TV and hang out in virtual bars than to do these things in real life.