I quite enjoyed Larry 1, 2 and 3. Two was probably my favourite, because – of the three installments thus far, it was closest to an actual adventure game with an adventure game plot. It didn’t focus that much on the women and I thought it was better for it. See, I really do think that Larry – as a series – should be about the idea of Larry hanging out with women and somehow screwing it up for himself by being basically silly.
Two did some of that [though it almost completely de-emphasized the women].
So, when five rolled around, I was hoping that this game would do what some other games had done: follow up a ho-hum installment with an interesting one. And this one is kind of interesting, but for all the wrong reasons.
Sierra were coming out of the 80’s and into the 90’s at this point, and it’s clear that this game was still built with a very 80’s style in mind. There are the vibrant colours, the fact that you go roller skating and the very nascent beginnings of rap all in there. Very 80’s. The trouble is, they also tried to cram a very 80’s cartoony aesthetic onto the actual characters and that kind of falls flat.
Everyone looks – for the most part – like they’re from Nightmare Fuel Central. Especially during close-ups. About the closest to “human” someone ever comes is Larry’s boss, Silas and even then…his angular presentation is just off-putting enough to make this not work.
Since we’re talking about the graphics, I may as well talk about the animations. As in, there aren’t a lot of them. The few that get presented aren’t terrible – there’s a whole sequence where Larry is trying to impress a fitness expert that’s fun to watch and the plane taking off and landing is cute, but that’s about it. Larry 5 is quite stilted. Some of this has to do with the new close-ups when people talk – Making full-size people animated in the days of static bitmaps was a chore, so Sierra didn’t bother with it. About as close as they come is animating the mouths, but this makes the game feel particularly lifeless – which is a weird contradiction in terms, given how much like a cartoon they were trying to make it.
This sort of sloppiness carries over to nearly every aspect of the game. One central conceit – that you’re traveling the United States looking for women to put onto TV takes this to crazy extremes: every airport you walk into and every limousine you ride looks IDENTICAL. Down to the placement of objects in the terminals and the items you can see and interact with in the limo.
The soundtrack, too, is middling and somewhat forgettable. There’s the now-requisite Larry theme, and one or two memorable songs, but most of it seems churned out – and that’s bad, given that this game represents the series shifting to 256 colours and decent sound card options.
The sound effects aren’t terrible, but are kind of representative of the era, that is: they’re low quality bite-size chunks of noise that are pretty workmanlike. There’s the sound of Larry’s heels clicking against the marble floor of the airport coupled with an announcer who doesn’t make the least bit of sense.
All of that is the surface. More troubling is the plot – or lack thereof – and the way Larry’s character has evolved.
The plot is pretty bare-bones with Larry being sent off on a mission to reconnoiter three ladies across the United States for a new TV show known as “America’s Sexiest Home Videos.” This plot is pretty cookie-cutter. Then there’s a second, slightly more interesting plot thread with Patti, Larry’s love interest from the end of Larry 3. She’s down on her luck after being fired from her job as a piano player, so the FBI makes her an offer she can’t refuse: do research into the mob who are trying to smear smut all over the airwaves in various forms. There’s a third [and quite silly] strand of plot that has nothing to do with Larry or Patti that sees the mob trying to “clean up” the airwaves through bribes as well. Presumably [though this is never well explained] they’re trying to throw the FBI off their scent? You tell me. I don’t know.
One final note on the plot, if you’re wondering why it’s Larry 5, not 4, then you will be rewarded with an “explanation” of sorts at the end of the game. And the idea of this missing sequel is amazing. It’s one of the best quirks of this series.
Then there’s the matter of Larry’s character. In the first three games, he’s basically a buffoon. A dude that so wants to “score with the ladies” that he’ll go to any lengths, sometimes even completely embarrassing himself to do just that. In one and two, he was looking for true love. An admirable trait for a guy like Larry, but by the beginning of game three, he’d ditched that idea, instead, he just wanted to meet as many women as possible. By game five, his character starts turning positively toxic – and this – above all else – is what I had the most trouble with.
Larry’s tonal shift includes stealing a quarter from a charity box, stealing someone’s bill-fold with all their money and – finally – not paying a dude for a mock-up visa. There’s one especially bad scene where you as the player controlling Larry can make him grope a woman’s clothing until it comes off. Something that prior iterations of the character would never have done. It felt awkward and tacky.
And that, really, is this game in a nutshell. Larry 5 is tacky and you’ll feel kind of embarrassed and gross after working your way through it. Yeah, the Patti arc isn’t terrible, and sure, the idea of a “missing sequel” is absolutely awesome, but those are the only real redeeming features here. This was /way/ more miss than hit.
On that note, I can’t really recommend this game, If you absolutely need to play an installment in the Larry series, go play any of the first three. They’re far superior.
I did a let’s play of Larry 5. You can watch that here.