Written by  :  Unicorn Lynx (181375)
Written on  :  Aug 26, 2003
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  4.33 Stars4.33 Stars4.33 Stars4.33 Stars4.33 Stars

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So many ways to die from lack of love...

The Good

Looking for Love is a somewhat unusual entry in the series depicting the misadventures of a lonely middle-aged guy with only one thing on his mind: becoming less lonely in his sex life. The first game introduced a template that most of its sequels would follow: walk around, meet women, and find a way to seduce them (well, actually, to try and spectacularly fail). Looking for Love, however, is different: there are no developed female characters and no methodical seduction. Instead, the game is more similar in spirit to Space Quest - it is a more linear, but significantly more varied and exciting journey with danger lurking everywhere.

Diversity is indeed the most appealing side of this game. During the course of your adventure, you'll outsmart KGB agents, figure out how to survive on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean, participate in a TV show, shave legs and wear bras, dive into pools, fight snakes, walk through a swamp, parachute from a plane, detonate a bomb, and save a whole nation from an evil doctor with the sinister name Nonookee. This is by far the most event-heavy installment in the series, and the variety of scenes and situations it presents is very impressive. You never know where you are going to be taken next, and your curiosity is sustained by the anticipation of an upcoming environment sharply contrasting with the previous one.

Though the game does like to abruptly take you to new places and seal off previously visited areas, most locations still allow considerable exploration. In fact, the streamlined nature of the game creates a false impression of being smaller than its predecessor. In reality, it has many more locations - it's just that we get less attached to them because once they are gone, they are gone for good. Still, only the opening part in Los Angeles consists of more unique screens than the entire playground of the first game; later, you are taken to such interesting places as a cruise ship and various civilized outposts in the middle of a thick jungle. There is a great mixture of urban areas, exotic wilderness, and indoor environments such as shops, a restaurant, an airport, etc.

There isn't that much to do in every given area, but that doesn't mean the game is too easy. You'll spend much of your time figuring out how to avoid the countless lethal situations the game keeps throwing at you. I realize that a lot of people hate this element in Sierra games, and I admit that this particular game goes overboard with it. However, I like adventure games with potential danger, games that do not allow you to relax and try out any combinations of commands with impunity. Death is a gameplay-related, atmosphere-enhancing factor increasing suspense and contributing to the realism of presented situations; figuring out how to avoid it is a perfectly valid substitute for real puzzles in a game that basically consists of lethal events.

These events are not just there to artificially expand the length of the game: they are logically (at least for a comedy) dictated by the plot, which drives the game forward with much more intensity than Larry's first adventure - or any other installment in the series, for that matter. The whole game is a mad journey through a kaleidoscope of areas as you are trying to escape from omnipresent KGB agents and ferocious spies of the malevolent doctor. It actually feels more natural and justified to die at the hands of a sexy secret agent posing as a harmless hotel maid than cruelly perish attempting to cross a completely empty street.

One might argue that the soul of a Larry game is lacking here, that all these - admittedly exciting - adventures and hazards have next to nothing to do with the clumsy attempts at sexual gratification the series has been standing for. There is, however, one very important recurrent element that is always present in this game: the humor. Looking for Love is actually funnier than Lounge Lizards. Al Lowe's wit is more biting, and the extended, text-heavy cutscenes allow more focus on the humorous content than before. Rather than just constantly laughing at Larry (though there is plenty of that, too), the script contains such pearls as the TV dating show, an abracadabra conversation in fake Spanish, hilarious dialogue at the airport ticket counter, and more. The game also has elaborately drawn, tasteful visual gags, such as picking up a huge cup in the convenience store, popping out in unexpected places in the jungle, etc. Overall, this comedy feels fresh, energetic, and varied enough to include denigrating self-references, bits of sexual wordplay, black humor, and witty, ironic observations commenting on familiar occurrences in everyday life.

The Bad

Those who can't stand Sierra adventures often name excessive death scenarios and many ways to get irrevocably stuck in those games as the chief reason for their dislike. In reality, those claims aren't even true in quite a few Sierra games - and in most other cases, they are exaggerated. That is, except when they are applied to Looking for Love.

Undeniably, this is the single most lethal, most dead-end-heavy adventure in the history of the company. Earlier Sierra games may have presented unpleasant situations, but Looking for Love goes way over the top. There are locations where you can perish at every corner, and plenty of possibilities to get stuck. Much of the gameplay is about dying, restoring, trying again, dying again, restoring again, and figuring out you have to restore an earlier saved game because you probably forgot something. In fact, there are very few real puzzles in the game, and the ones that are there are elementary; but what makes the game unnecessarily hard is the fact you have to keep tons of saved games in every location just because important items are everywhere and you constantly travel from place to place without ever coming back.

There is, for example, one "puzzle" (in the airport) that actually requires you to try something and die from it in order to find out a hidden item. There is no other way to solve it other than by getting killed, restoring, and procuring an item you learned about only because you previously died. It is not as difficult to figure out as it sounds, but it almost feels like cheating. While this is probably the most blatant example, there are several others that make as little sense. Unfortunately, the game also loves preventing you from accessing earlier areas, sometimes literally forcing you to save on every screen just to ensure you'll be able to complete it.

The Bottom Line

Looking for Love can draw a lot of hate for being the quintessential demonstration of Sierra's most maligned design flaws. And yet, I'd take this nerve-wrecking, tense experience over some of those overly safe cases the adventure genre eventually started to prefer. Great variety of locations, plenty of suspense, dramatic situations at every corner, imaginative situations, and brisk humor make this unusual escapade of the lovable loser an essential contribution to the company's library.