Combining liberal doses of shrewd humor with an intriguing diversity of question types and clever cross-references between pop culture and traditional trivia, Berkeley Systems' venerable and consistently impressive You Don't Know Jack series is unquestionably the standard by which all other PC trivia games are judged. Many have attempted to capture Jack's compelling ambience, yet none have truly succeeded. The latest to take up the challenge is Take-Two Interactive's MTV Total Request Live Trivia, a Q&A "game show" based loosely on the popular MTV music and showbiz staple that's helped propel aspiring artists to stardom and made a celebrity of its oft-maligned host, Carson Daly. Yet no matter how much you may favor the latest entertainment trends upon which television's Total Request Live is based, its PC trivia derivative just doesn't cut the mustard. Disappointingly presented and blandly written, TRL Trivia is a poor substitute for Jack and not exactly a ton of fun in its own right.
Like most products of its genre, TRL Trivia asks you to answer onscreen questions by keying in one of several prescribed responses--a concept infinitely preferable to manually typing each and every character. The game keeps the process fresh by offering a variety of question types, including the chronological "timeline," the self-explanatory "guess who," and several other variations on basic multiple choice, some of which are clearly more interesting than others. For example, TRL Trivia's "speed round," which resembles You Don't Know Jack's "jack attack," places a keyword atop the screen and flashes a half-dozen responses below. And much like jack attack, it then asks you to decide which responses match with the keyword and which do not; then it asks you to press your designated key within the second or two that each response remains on the screen.
Speed round aside, you are generally given 10 seconds to choose an answer. Correct answers gain points and incorrect answers lose points. Curiously, no penalties are applied for letting the clock run out, nor are bonus points awarded to those who buzz in early. The game features a relatively impressive total of 1,000 questions, and Take-Two plans to produce at least one add-on question pack that will include selected submissions from players and fans who enter their ideas at the TRL Web site. However, it is currently not planning LAN or Internet support and thus will continue to restrict multiplayer TRL to a total of four contestants on a single computer.
Gameplay unfortunately unfolds in a most uninspired fashion. Except for a brief introductory tour through a look-alike depiction of the real-life TV studio, TRL Trivia plays out against a distinctly two-dimensional environment generally made up of a single unattractive background color and superimposed text. There are no videos, no photos, no fancy 3D sets, and only the most minimal of visual effects and animations. Questions sport none of the wordy ingenuity of the Jack series, and the answers are not followed by humorous anecdotes. The dual announcers--neither of which is Carson Daly--deliver their lines with style and flair, yet those lines are rarely funny and in time become highly repetitious. "They say great minds think alike. I guess everyone missing the same question is thinking alike, right?" is probably the most amusing phrase you'll hear, and even it gets tired after you've heard it eight times in the course of 60 minutes.
Worse still, the game's questions are seemingly based on the theory that if an event or personality doesn't appeal to the under-16 crowd, it's not worth mentioning. Imagine, if you will, a query based on the individual members of made-for-TV pop band O-Town. Or a quick quiz on the history of Dream, a manufactured girl group that didn't even exist back in the prehistoric days of 1999. Whether it's Nick Carter, Mandy Moore, Seth Green, or the entire cast of Dawson's Creek, the subject matter seems pulled directly from an issue of Seventeen magazine. Moreover, a surprisingly substantial allotment of questions deals strictly with the TRL television program itself. "How many days did Korn spend at TRL's number one spot with 'Freak on a Leash'?" or "TRL helped which artist's CD release date get pushed up?" are prime examples of just how familiar you'd best be with the intimate details of Carson's showcase if you aspire to win a game of TRL Trivia.
Granted, youthful players may appreciate both the youngness of the celebrities and the newness of the references. And certainly older established personalities such as Val Kilmer and Aerosmith, edgier artists such as the aforementioned Korn, and sporting stars such as Vince Carter do, on occasion, make an appearance. Yet, TRL Trivia is typically a bubblegummer's who's who that simply won't appeal to fans of general entertainment trivia.
MTV Total Request Live Trivia may appeal to junior gamers if just as a way to prove their familiarity with the names, ages, and other minutiae of the latest up-and-coming personality. Yet even they will grow fatigued by the colorless nature of the questions, the bare-bones presentation, and the steady stream of obscure TRL references. Older gamers, on the other hand, will merely feel older and certainly no more entertained.