Leather Goddesses of Phobos! 2: Gas Pump Girls Meet the Pulsating Inconvenience from Planet X
Gas Pump Girls is the sequel to Leather Goddesses of Phobos. The player can choose between three different protagonists: the alien Barth, the gas station owner Zeke, or Lydia, the daughter of the astronomer who discovered Planet X. Barth's scenario involves different tasks, while the humans' gameplay is largely identical, with the exception of different dialogues.
Unlike the previous game, the sequel is a graphical adventure without any text input. The player interacts with the environment in a point-and-click fashion, with a "smart cursor" that automatically changes its shape depending on the possible action that can be executed with a person or an object. The game has multiple-choice conversations, many of which are optional.
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Leather Goddesses of Phobos 2 is to me the most unjustly reviewed game of all time. Everyone only compares it unfavorably to its predecessor, which is apparently a much superior game. I haven't played the original, but I feel that this second installment of an unfinished series is a good game on its own.
LGoP2 sets out to capture the style of campy 50s science fiction movies and it succeeds perfectly. You'll get all the superficial archetypes you could hope for, like the reclusive scientist, his nerdy, hyperintelligent son who's shy of sunlight, the hot, but hard to get daughter, the scientists hopeful future son-in-law Zeke, who is a handsome and good built macho guy, and others like the green tentacle-y alien or the commiephobic general. The opening cutscene, narrated in hammy exclamations, introduces us to a pulp fiction back story involving the titled women, and features faked special effects. Typical pseudo science with its impossible inventions and nonsensical scientific terms is sprinkled through the game.
The presentation transports the style perfectly: the music is as over the top as it should be, consisting of dramatic and mysterious themes, but also featuring Rock 'n Roll tracks, a pompous march and funky, happy ditties. Voice acting is wonderful, with appropriate overacting and terrible accents. The graphics are mostly beautiful, but they vary in quality. Some places look a bit bland, devoid of details and shading. Dialog screens consist of closeups of your conversation partners. The characters don't move their lips while talking, but at least there are stills for various expressions.
Compared to its predecessor, the interface is hugely simplified. At the same time, a huge arsenal of interaction possibilities got stripped away. The game features a "smart cursor", an epidemic that has spread through countless contemporary adventure games. The implementation here is pretty good, though. Depending on the hotspot the cursor changes its form. If you hover your cursor over a character it turns into a mouth, but changes into a hand over items you can manipulate and pick up. So, contrary to other implementations, you always have vaguely an idea what will happen when you click, letting you still feel in control. Dialogs are multiple choice with each topic represented by an icon. One interface irritation I experienced was that some inventory items are so big that it's hard to hit the hotspots. You might call it a reverse pixelhunting problem.
The humor of LGoP2 mostly stems from the self conscious silliness of the situations and characters. The absurdity and bizarreness expectable of a game imitating corny 50s sci-fi films helps, of course. Planet X, which sports a giant X on its surface discernible from outer space, inhabits aliens apparently much more advanced and peaceful than human beings, yet they name themselves "Pulsating Inconveniences" and "Tanned Annoyances". Their life style and technological advancements might be what people of the 1950s envisioned the future to look like. While Steve Meretzky got a bad rap for his work on this title, I thought LGoP2 was much more amusing than both Superhero League of Hoboken and The Space Bar.
LGoP2 offers three paths through the narrative, yet fundamental differences only exist between the humans and the alien, while the last third is basically the same for all. The humans Lydia and Zeke share the same tasks that have to be done to complete the game, but the optional content, like the dialogs, vary. These progression irrelevant portions are of great interest, though: barely any dialog has to be witnessed to complete the game, yet you might talk to poker players at the local barber shop, a bartender, gypsy and more. You can visit locations you don't have to, but are included to create a sense of place. They aren't only backdrops for puzzles, but often there to be explored. And that's the most fun you can have with the title: exploration, like the experience of the small town and and its inhabitants. The puzzles on the other hand, one of the main criticisms, aren't the high point of this adventure. If you found out what has to be done then you already nearly did it. You never have to ask yourself for long how to solve a problem. This isn't tragic while you're having fun exploring the small town, though even then I wished the game would throw some more obstacles in my way, but it hurts the game when you're leaving planet Earth. From then half the time will be spent waiting until events happen. You'll wait til someone arrives, til something is said or til you land back on Earth. There's nothing else you can do, except listening to some shreds of dialog weirdly interrupted with long pauses. While you'd expect the adventure just to get started when you fly out of the earth atmosphere, it's nearly already over at this point. Additionally, there's not much to explore besides the main path in the last third, making it a weak ending.
People who bought the game at full price were understandably disappointed: even if you play through the eyes of all three characters it won't take longer than six hours to experience everything the game has to offer. On the other hand, the valuation based on price isn't appropriate anymore. Today LGoP2 is, more or less legal, widely available in abandonware circles. And collectors who buy it off eBay know what they'll get. So while the game is disappointingly shorter than it should be, even from a structural and dramatic point of view, it shouldn't hurt where your pocket is.
Overall, despite its shortcomings, I had much fun with the adventures of Zeke, Lydia and Barth, especially thanks to a great sense of exploration, my constant amusement and the perfect campy 50s scifi movie style.
Worst Adventure Ever! by Ye Olde Infocomme Shoppe (1521)
Activision apparently released this game only to try to recoup some of their losses from developing it. It's too short to be worth the exorbitant price you'll spend acquiring it, and not entertaining enough to keep you from feeling royally ripped off. This game should be Avoided with a capital DON'T WASTE YOUR TIME.
Ho hum by Tony Van (2692)
If you have never played this game, you aren't missing much except the novelty of it.