Only those who like collecting anything to do with a show that probably won't last more than a season or two in the States should seriously consider The Weakest Link.
What is it about Anne Robinson, host of the British-import quiz show The Weakest Link, that makes her appealing? Her flowing trench coat and constant sneer immediately conjure images of Orwell's 1984, and the wittiness of the insults she directs at losing contestants is dulled by their harshness. While her show is a hit in the UK, it's not doing quite as well here in the States as NBC execs had hoped. The recent rash of celebrity players instead of common contestants is a sure sign that someone at the top knows the show needs a shot in the arm. Activision's PC game adaptation of the show could have also benefited from some more attention. It doesn't take someone with a master's degree in marketing to know that people who don't like the show won't buy the game. But the truth is that so little has been done to jazz up the game's presentation that only those who long to hear more abuse spew from Anne Robinson's curled lips will find enough here to justify spending 20 bucks.
Things get off to a shaky start with the introduction, a hiss-filled FMV sequence that concludes with a truly scary image of Robinson's face filling the monitor as she spits out, "I will tell the world you are...the weakest link!" This is the first of seemingly dozens of times you'll hear that phrase during a game session. You have the option to tweak a few game parameters: You can assume total responsibility for banking winnings, adjust how often questions from each of the five categories appear, and choose whether or not you want to see an especially abusive video clip from Anne Robinson should you be chosen as the weakest link. Incidentally, all the FMV clips are just as hiss-filled as the intro.
Whether you choose a single game or the championship mode (in which you must win four consecutive shows in a bid to "win" $50 million), you compete against six computer-controlled opponents out of a pool of two dozen. Each specializes in several of the categories and reacts in accordance with his or her bio, which given in the manual. For instance, the computer programmer says nerdy programmer types of things like, "His download time appears to be far too long," and, "She must have suffered a system crash during that round." Such embarrassingly unfunny lines don't do much to help the game.
Though the manual says The Weakest Link computer game "plays exactly as the television show," that's simply not possible. Even the harshest critic wouldn't expect Robinson to actually record 100,000 different questions (the game box claims 100,000 questions are included), and of course there's the issue of how the software would recognize the specific answers generated by the user. Instead, each question is displayed onscreen as Robinson repeats several generic lines such as, "In nature, which one of these is correct?" or "Select the correct answer." You're then given a choice of four answers with only the first letter (sometimes first two letters) of each displayed. Your choices of actions are the same as in the show: You can bank any team winnings to a safe repository before answering, attempt to answer the question correctly and increase the value of the next question, or pass on the question. Pass is a rather worthless option, since it causes any money that hasn't been banked to be lost--the same result as answering incorrectly.
While isn't exactly the same as the show, it's awfully close--and there's the rub. Watching a TV show is a passive experience, a quality you don't want in an interactive game. Waiting for your question is boring enough, especially at the start of a game, when there are six other players, but the real kicker is the dead time between the six rounds. Between two and two-and-a-half minutes are spent on voting off the weakest player. These sequences are filled with player remarks and Robinson's barbs, and there's not a thing you can do to speed up the process. You can pound the space bar and jab the Esc key all you like, but if you want to finish that game, you'll have to sit through this stuff between every round. In short, you spend more time watching than playing--never a good quality in a PC game.
As for the alleged inclusion of 100,000 different questions, you'll likely find that hard to believe. We not only experienced question repeats within just three games, but we also saw different questions about the same topic during the same round of questions--two King Kong questions within 30 seconds.
In all, the single-player game can be interesting for several hours, unless you're an Anne Robinson maniac who doesn't mind hearing the same remarks over and over after that. The multiplayer mode should give the game some replay value, but it's limited because only hot-seat play is supported--there's no way to play online, over a network, or via modem. Multiplayer is also a bit clunky because only programmable gamepads can be used for both selecting and answering questions. You can use the D-pad to select one of the answers and have a friend hit the space bar for you, however.
But the biggest drawback to hot-seat multiplayer in The Weakest Link is obvious: This isn't the sort of game you want to play with friends. It's one thing to gang up with others to vote out a weak player on a game show where you could walk out rich (or watch strangers doing that as you relax in your living room), but doing it with friends simply isn't very rewarding. In short, it just doesn't have the same social appeal as more conventional competitive quiz games like Trivial Pursuit or You Don't Know Jack.
The Weakest Link's $19.95 retail price could have been tempting if you were able to play the game online, because online play is the only feature that could have made the game more than a novelty. In the end, only those who like collecting anything to do with a show that probably won't last more than a season or two in the States should seriously consider The Weakest Link.