Publisher: Wild Hare
Release Date: August 21, 2007
I don't understand reality television. It's clearly anything but "real"; the contestants are B-grade actors at best, delivering terribly scripted dialogue and ham-fisting their way through contrived situations designed to facilitate the worst in human behavior. How is it entertainment? Yet somehow, this intelligence-insulting display has become like a viral rash, it just keeps growing and spreading. It seems only natural then that some development crew would decide to ride the trend and produce a game that uses this theme. Thus we come to the subject of today's review assignment, Prank TV, a pseudo-humorous (and ostensibly strategic) foray into interactive reality television.
The premise is simple enough. An entire apartment complex has been fitted with cameras à la "Big Brother" in order to capture the shenanigans of the denizens within. All of this tomfoolery is caught on film and played out nightly on the BBB (Bla Bla Bla) network news. If evening newscasts have really sunk to the point where they report on the happenings of reality TV, then I'm glad I get all my news from FARK. Anyway, the occupants of this complex are all intolerant, spiteful and eager to enact endless vengeance on each other for the heinous crime of existing, all in the name of entertainment. This is the crux of what you do in Prank TV. You play different people within this apartment block as they sneak into their neighbors' abodes and places of work and perpetrate as many different (and harmful) "pranks" as they can without getting caught.
The manner in which you go about doing this is fairly lackluster. The game itself is in 3D, with your point of view set to a top-down isometric angle. You point and click to move your avatar around the screen, looking to pick up various items. Once you've collected these items, you need to find the object into which they fit in order to cause a serious malfunction. Once you've done this, two things are achieved: serious bodily harm is inflicted on the despised neighbor, and hilarity ensues … theoretically.
The unpleasant truth of the matter is that everything (and I truly mean everything) that Prank TV has to offer is experienced within the first two minutes of play. The sum totality of this title can be broken down into two actions; find an item and then figure out what it fits in. Repeat ad nauseam until you've completed the game. Finding an item consists of moving your mouse pointer over everything until the pointer changes into a scissor-like icon. Finding what an item fits into is a matter of moving your mouse pointer over everything until you see a magnifying glass icon appear. Then it's just trial and error to figure out what fits with what.
Now, I've made it pretty clear that there is little to nothing involved with the play mechanics. Even still, there is absolutely no tutorial whatsoever, nor is a manual included to help people get accustomed to their task. This is a grievous oversight, although I suppose one could argue that it was done on purpose, so as to prolong play time. With such a complete lack of replay value, it seems possible on some Machiavellian level.
As a detailed example, let's start with the first level. You're an impish poindexter (read: nerd) with a vendetta against your heavily muscled jock neighbor. Apparently he stole your lunch money. You've broken into his gymnasium, and it's time to wreak some havoc. Making sure to keep an eye on the habits of the grunting "athlete," you move about his bathroom, change room and gym, seeking objects with which to invoke laughter while also causing maximum collateral damage. Among the combinations you'll "discover" are fat burner pills to replace muscle builder protein pills (causing instant degeneration, who knew?), a screw driver to disable the treadmill and butterfly-press weight machine, dumbbells to put in the punching bag, an extra springboard to put on the safety mat for guffaw-inducing accidents with gymnastics, extra plates on the free weight bar to cause an imbalance and head-crushing injury, and a wrench to disable the showers so that the hapless steroid abuser slips and falls while trying to walk across the wet floor with a headful of shampoo. Are you laughing yet? Me either, yet this is the formula on which Prank TV falls back for every level. Jam-Games.NET, the developers, have put a muted laugh track in place, but these understated canned chuckles only seem to accent how not amusing this display really is.
Furthermore, most of these guffaw-inducing combinations don't really make much sense. In the casino level, you place a jelly you've stolen from the catering table on the "test your strength" meter. When the blackjack dealer walks up and gives the ol' hammer a swing, the jelly somehow causes the hammer to fly out of the hapless fool's hands, straight up about 15 feet, before crashing down upon his head. Incredibly high ceilings aside, how would jelly on a platter cause such a thing to happen? For that matter, why is the dealer not actually dealing cards, and instead just wandering around playing all the games on display? I realize Prank TV isn't meant to be realistic, but most of it is just illogical.
On a technical level, Prank TV has nothing to really boast about, either. The graphics are first-generation at best, with extremely low-poly count model covered by low-detail textures. The developers have some leeway in this regard, as the design direction is extremely cartoon-ish, with some clear nods to the old British TV show, Spitting Image. Even factoring in the freedom a non-realistic environment like this affords, there is still nothing to really grab the eyes — no spectacular effects, no elegant lighting and no shader or particle effects to dazzle the player. Overall, it's as lacking on the visual front as it is on the humor front.
The audio also fails. There aren't many actual sound effects in place, and those only trigger about one-third of the time. Thus, what little "action" there is to be witnessed is usually seen in silence, excepting of course the repetitive muzak that runs in the background of every level. Even here we see flaws, as frequently the score repeats itself and overlaps, inadvertently blaring out a Frère Jacques-like delayed cacophony. Elevator music is soul-scarring enough on its own, but toss in an incorrectly scripted loop point, and the effect is truly hellish.
I think I've made it abundantly clear how little I enjoyed Prank TV. It is absolutely not worth playing in my opinion, not even as a bargain bin purchase. Its pacing is dreadfully slow, its "story" is so flimsy that no one (not even the children for which this game is supposedly intended) would be enthralled by it, it looks extremely dated, the audio doesn't really work and its abysmal lack of genuine humor thoroughly defeats the point of a title that banks on being comedic. As a final slap in the face to the consumer, Wild Hare (the publishers) have embraced Starforce copy restriction. This, in my journalistic opinion, automatically lowers the final review score of any title that packages known malware in this manner. More to the point, I found no less than six different cracked versions of Prank TV in a single search. Clearly the only people who will be inconvenienced and/or harmed by the inclusion of Starforce are the ones who paid honest money for the game in the first place; nefarious script kiddies are obviously not even remotely bothered by Starforce "protection." It's the final insult from an insulting game.
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