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Desperate Housewives

Score: 89%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Buena Vista
Developer: Liquid Entertainment
Media: CD/2
Players: 1
Genre: Simulation

Graphics & Sound:

I found the most unusual things inside the jewel case for Desperate Housewives: The Game: inserts for Bertolli Frozen Foods, Chrysler Crossfire Roadster, and Sears Virtual Kitchen. I've seen inserts for Alienware and NVidia... but Bertolli Frozen Foods? And that's just out-of-game. The in-game placements are even more reckless: Slimfast on the player character's kitchen counter, Chrysler Pacifica in the player character's driveway, and Caress and Suave in the bathroom. Desperate Housewives takes product placement not only to an all new high in video games, but to some place totally different; this game is marketed specifically to females between the ages of 25 through 40. This is of course none too surprising, since the show is marketed to that same demographic. Desperate Housewives illustrates that video games are not just for white, affectless, teenaged boys anymore -- our world, it is a-changin'...

Graphics are better than adequate. Wisteria Lane is fairly fully realized, with white picket fences, houses of different design with lots of curb appeal, and fairly well-detailed characters. The five leading characters all resemble quite well the women of the TV show -- so much so, in fact, that I have to assume publisher Buena Vista Games had to pay handsomely for the right to use the actresses' images. The game is 3D, with a 360-degree in-game camera; occasionally when the camera passes awkwardly through a tree (like they do) you can see the somewhat poorly rendered leaves, but this minor shortcoming doesn't draw anything away from the game's sense of space. On the whole, Desperate Housewives is a satisfying graphical experience.

Audio is essentially as satisfying as the graphics; all of the musical score for the game comes from the TV show soundtrack. The voices, however, do not: with the exception of Brenda Strong, who is the voice of Mary Alice Young in both the show and the game, none of the actresses provide their voice talent. Nonetheless, the voice performances are plausibly representative. But I am neither desperate nor a housewife. For that matter, I am not a regular viewer of the show. Hardcore fans of the TV series may find themselves disappointed not to hear their favorite (or most hated) character sound, well, not quite right. Still, Brenda Strong does a splendid job with the cutscene voice work.

And fans will be interested to know that Scott Sanford Tobis, writer of the TV episode "Could I Leave You?" that aired in March, wrote the script for Desperate Housewives: The Game. Tobis puts together more than 21,000 lines of incredibly juicy dialogue for the game that fans of the show will no doubt appreciate.


Like The Sims, the player sets up her avatar by choosing facial appearance and clothing as well as the appearance of her husband and child. Unlike The Sims, however, the player's choices for her family's appearance are much more limited. Upon choosing her family, the player character joins the neighborhood and takes her place in the scandalous affairs of Wisteria Lane -- with, however, one catch: the player character has no recollection of anything about the early part of her life. The amnesia trope is a no-no in game design textbooks, but I for one found it quite intriguing not only to participate in the unfolding storyline of Wisteria Lane, but also to discover my avatar's own secret past life.

The player character has needs, such as social interaction, cleanliness, and composure, but the player does not need to attend to these needs nearly as much as in The Sims. In fact, Desperate Housewives is like The Sims in all of the best ways, and unlike The Sims in all of the best ways as well. Desperate Housewives provides the player with goals where the player must complete certain tasks in order to move forward in the game. The net result of the gameplay is the player's participation in 12 episodes of sordid and seamy storyline. As a simulation, Desperate Housewives is in many ways superior to The Sims, because the player must bring her own goals to The Sims, and often this game structure becomes tedious and repetitive. Desperate Housewives neatly avoids this trap by structuring the game around achievable episodes (or levels).

There are mini-games for cooking, gardening, and poker with the gals, all of which are fun, and beat the daylights out of The Sims.

Wisteria Lane is by its nature an insulated world; Desperate Housewives delivers that insular feeling while still giving the player a sense of mobility. Naturally, there isn't much beyond Wisteria Lane because of this insularity, but the player character does often have need to go the shopping mall, which is a woefully uninspiring place. Beyond the gameplay driven needs to visit the shopping mall, there is very little to do or discover there; this strikes me as a missed opportunity.

And, alas, while the player may choose which type of response she will have with other NPCs, this player is not confident that very much at all changes in gameplay. For instance, if you wish to bite Edie Britt's head off (which I did), her response may or may not feel like a direct result of your choice. Of course, the experience is unabashedly linear; but if the response choices are intended to give me the illusion of a vast world of decisions, I didn't buy it.

But here's the thing about Desperate Housewives: The Game: I'm not a woman that recklessly cusses people out or quickly spills all the contents of her thoughts. There is something of a guilty pleasure about Housewives: The Game, in that the player can slap people, get angry, and say stupid and demeaning things without too much consequence (and actually, after Gabrielle caught me breaking into her house, her respect for me went up). Housewives gave me this all too rare opportunity. And on top of that, I actually discovered just how difficult it is for me to be rude to people - especially nice people like Lynette. As a potential voyage in self-discovery, Desperate Housewives: The Game is an interesting and unusual PC game experience.


Desperate Housewives is not difficult at all. Your goals are set out transparently for you, and you have merely to walk all over Wisteria Lane or go to the shopping mall to achieve them. There are no pesky puzzles or tasteless timed sequences. The cooking mini-game is timed, but that results only in a grade on a given attempt. The game gives hints for achieving goals, which are hardly necessary as the goals and the means to achieve them are strikingly translucent. This is not a hard-core PC game; it is designed for fans of the show who may or may not be casual gamers.

Game Mechanics:

Sadly, game mechanics is the area in which Desperate Housewives fails at least partially and what puts this reviewer's score for it below an A. To begin with, the in-game camera in the shopping mall is miserably limited. There are no low angles, and while I can live without seeing the storefronts in their entirety, I cannot live with the navigation issues that the camera causes. The player may walk forward through the shopping mall space only in small increments, as the camera simply does not allow enough view on the screen to place the cursor. Moreover, there is no 360-degree camera swivel in the mall, which if available, would have at least resolved the problem of access to storefronts. The shopping mall feels unfinished and underdeveloped. I would have been content with this limitation of space in the shopping mall since Wisteria Lane is so well-developed, but the navigation frustrations clipped my patience.

And the game is buggy, most often in the mini-games, but in the larger game as well. The game doesn't freeze, but it skips, in much the way 33 1/3 albums skip (or skipped -- should I put that in past tense?). The game always managed to get itself unstuck after a few moments, but it happened often enough for me to speculate that some corners were cut during testing.

Add these two somewhat serious things together and one gets the impression that Liquid Entertainment and/or Buena Vista Games were under some sort of deadline. On top of these mechanical issues, the game fails to conceal the illusory nature of its offer of multiple response choices. The result is a well-conceived, fun, pretty, casual franchise game that is hindered only by its occasionally frustrating mechanics and just slightly disingenuous decision tree. (Oh, and I'll take the product placement as a testament to the profound value of video games and leave it at that.)

-Doc Holliday, GameVortex Communications
AKA Valerie Holliday

Minimum System Requirements:

Microsoft Windows XP; Pentium IV class processor 1.4 GHz; 256 MB RAM; 2.5 GB free hard disk space; 8X CD-ROM; 16-bit DirectX compatible sound card; 64MB DirectX compatible video card, 32-bit color (NVidia GeForce 3 or equivalent); Optional: Internet Connection

Test System:

Microsoft Windows XP Professional; 1.8 GHz AMD processor; 1 GB RAM; NVidia GeForce 7800 video card with 256 MB; Creative Audigy 2 Sound Card; 52X CD-ROM

Microsoft Xbox 360 Import Tuner Challenge Windows Evidence: The Last Ritual

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