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Written by  :  Unicorn Lynx (181705)
Written on  :  Oct 02, 2003
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars

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What happened to you, Sierra?..

The Good

Larry 5 is one of Sierra's VGA titles of the early nineties, a row of games with wonderful graphics, rich MIDI music, and conveniently elegant interface. The technological gap separating this game from its predecessor is so huge that sometimes it seems there really must have been a "Larry 4" between them. It also has a cartoony look that later became widespread among comedy adventures: some rooms are viewed from strange angles and have strange shapes, planes wave their wings when taking off, and a few people look appropriately disproportional, such as the hilarious maitre d' in Hard Disc Cafe. The visuals could be the game's saving grace, although the much more rewarding remake of the first game looks just the same.

Al Lowe probably could not have created a completely unfunny game even if he tried. While much less memorable than the previous installments in that regard, Larry 5 still has some spark here and there. The situations themselves leave a lot to be desired, but there is attention to detail that has always distinguished the series, and it has survived the departure of the text input. Some of the game's optional actions - looking at unimportant objects, etc. - may yield jocular descriptions that belong to the more tolerable material it has to offer. The company directory with omitted letters (where ".uck You.." ends up being deciphered as "Duck Youth") is a definitive highlight.

And, of course, playing as two different characters is always a good thing. At least seeing Patti nicely recreated with 256 colors could be vaguely stimulating, especially if you got attached to her in the previous game and want to know whether she and Larry will ever be together again.

The Bad

I have no idea what exactly happened there. Rumors of the company's boss actually instructing the designer to make a game anyone could finish may be quite close to truth, because Larry 5 ended up being just that. Perhaps they were intimidated by the success of LucasArts with their death-free policy. In any case, by throwing all danger overboard, they went further and eliminated any kind of challenge altogether: Larry 5 is unabashedly, mind-numbingly, infuriatingly easy.

I'm completely serious when I say that what is supposed to be the meat of the game - the plot-related tasks - can be completed by clicking through them. You see, in an inexplicable move, Sierra made all the puzzles of the game optional. I really mean it: all the puzzles in the game are there only to score extra points. You can procure an item and give it to a person who might need it - but you can also fail to do that and still proceed with the game as if nothing happened. This terrible decision utterly ruins the game. There is no sense of reward and no feeling of achievement, which is a crucial component of game design. The final segment is particularly horrible: Larry manages to fly a plane, safely land it, meet several people, and stop the villain in the final scene without a single input from the player!.. Often the game simply becomes a string of cutscenes with barely any control, almost like a Japanese visual novel.

It gets worse: Larry 5 is also aggravatingly linear. Whether you play as Larry himself or as Patti, the chapters all follow the same routine: you are taken to a single location where you must make a few steps, perform the most obvious actions, and automatically proceed to the next segment. There is no exploration involved: most of those areas consist of a few screens at best, each offering next to nothing to do. You can't even wander around, take stuff, or talk to people aimlessly - each chapter confines you to one tiny area only, without anything connecting between them. The scarcity of available objects and the restricted movement would make all the puzzles too easy even if they were mandatory.

Even in terms of humor, Larry 5 fails to reach the bar. The situations depicted in the game are simply not funny - not even in a vulgar sexual sense. Speaking of which, there is something coarsely lewd in the entire premise of the plot - having sex with overly horny young women and videotaping the act. This is a step below the risky, yet for the most part tasteful humor the series is known for. Since seducing all the woman requires no effort whatsoever from the player, the whole thing feels even cheaper and less attractive.

The plot makes little sense - and not in a good, entertaining way, like in the second game. The whole amnesia issue and the spy activities intertwined with corrupted porn industry are not particularly amusing and feel fake and disjointed. The overly symmetrical, formulaic structure of the game precludes any surprises already from the lukewarm start. And, like a sour icing on a stale cake, the omnipresent copy protection is more annoying than ever.

The Bottom Line

Even the greatest ones have their dark hours. The lovely visuals and the remnants of humor in Larry 5 prevent it from completely tarnishing the glory of its developers, but its inconceivably simplistic, shallow gameplay comes close to doing that kind of damage. Sadly, this is not only by far the weakest installment in an excellent series, but also a game way below any kind of standards set by its creators.