Desperate Housewives: The Game
Published by Buena Vista Games for PCs; rated Teen, age 13 and up.
I sleep in lingerie and high heels. I have a pastel-shaded house in a ticky-tacky suburb where I live with my surly teenage son and cheating husband. I cook French toast for breakfast, talk continually with my neighbours and change outfits five times a day. And after a few hours of this, of playing house on Wisteria Lane in Desperate Housewives: The Game, I understood where the intrigue comes from on the show and possibly in suburbs the world over: They are desperate because they are bored.
That's when I started breaking into those neighbours' houses.
This interactive Desperate Housewives mixes the game mechanics of The Sims, the micro-managing of a household and the virtual human being who runs it, with episodic content and characters from the hit TV show. It begins with the creation of a slim housewife, clothing her and choosing her skin and hair colour, and then you do the same for hubby and son. Your little character has four "needs" — composure, appearance, social and happiness — that are represented by sliding bars. These can be topped up by interacting with the environment, so if the happiness meter starts to nosedive you can turn on the television, play some on-line poker or hop into bed with the hunk across the street. (I played a lot of poker.)
Before you get too far with any of this, there is a knock at the door. Instructions pop up telling you how to open that door — instructions appear quite often, even though everything in this game can be accomplished by clicking the left mouse button — and you find it is Edie Britt, who looks like Nicollette Sheridan but sounds like a voice actor. (All of the main characters from the show live on your virtual street, but only Brenda Strong, the TV show's narrator, appears in person, so to speak.)
You have a conversation with Edie, selecting from three or four possible lines that range from Stepford-like perkiness to sarcastic grumpiness, and then more neighbours appear. Soon, you have tasks to complete to keep the story going — and this is where the game, for me, broke down. Like so many of its interactive peers, the writing in Desperate Housewives: The Game is substandard. Episodic television is offering up some of the best storytelling going in arts and entertainment these days — Deadwood, The Wire, Battlestar Galactica, they are golden — but the dialogue and the subplots you scroll through here are leaden and lifeless. I would trade the whole thing for one line from Weeds, let's say the one where the mother tells her young son, "Don't be ignorant just because it's in these days."
In many games, you can get past the banality of the writing because the playing, the action scenes between the plot points, can thrill or move you. The mini-games in Desperate Housewives, the cooking and gardening click-fests, are cute for a few minutes, and there is some fun to be had treating Wisteria Lane like a sandbox and doing some exploring (also called breaking and entering). But all of this pales next to the complexities of the Sims series it so blatantly copies.
If you are a Desperate Housewives fan — or if you want to act like a desperate housewife — you will be much better served by playing The Sims 2 while watching repeats.