Crap Shoot: Les Manley: Lost in LA
Richard Cobbett discovers that some games are so bad, even changing absolutely everything for the sequel can't help. Yes, it's Les Manley 2. And it's even worse than the first one... Note: if you're in an office or public place with a zero-tolerance approach to pixellated semi-naked ladies, you're probably best emailing a link to yourself and reading this at home. In private.
As we saw last time, Les Manley in Search for THE KING was a truly terrible adventure that didn't understand the importance of story, personality, comedy, or puzzles that could be solved without psychic powers or a hint book. Nevertheless, it did well enough to get a sequel barely a year later... or at least, developer Accolade had high enough hopes for it doing well to green-light one. Of course, this left it with something of a serious problem. Normally, a sequel is the game that takes the good bits of the original and makes the most of them. Since Search for THE KING had no good bits, Lost in LA was in trouble. Its solution? Grab a camera, hire some bikini girls, and hope like hell that sexism would sell.
What could possibly go wrong?
(NOTE: If you haven't read Crap Shoot: Les Manley in Search for THE KING yet, you should probably do that first - if only for the background, and to see the quality of game we're looking at here.)
As mentioned in a few of these write-ups, like Leather Goddesses of Phobos, there's nothing wrong with sex in games when it's done properly. Leisure Suit Larry, the game Les Manley so desperately wants to be, actually does it pretty well in a few instalments, notably the first, where the griminess and pathetic nature of Larry's quest is the whole point, the third, where he actually finds love, and the seventh/sixth (don't ask, but it's "Love For Sail" I mean), which cranked the naughty-postcard style to full and let rip with shameless fan-service and sexy fun that was played for laughs rather than eroticism.
Generally, the problem with games that try to use sex is that they use the naughty stuff to cover up how worthless they are, without even having the guts to be particularly naughty. They claim to be mature, but they're more childish than anything else, and typically in unpleasant ways that just end up being sleazy, misogynistic, insulting and stupid. Les Manley: Lost in LA is absolutely no exception. The best thing you can say about this adventure is that you don't need psychic powers to play it.
Actually, more than three braincells is probably overkill for this one.
In the interests of protecting the English language, try not to think of the words 'plot' or 'story', for Les Manley: Lost in LA has neither. What it has is an 'excuse', for exactly three would-be sexy sequences. They are the only bits of the game that any work whatsoever seems to have gone into, with everything that actually matters treated as an afterthought. Is it worth it, even if all you want from your rubbish adventure game is a bit of childish grot? Amazingly enough, the answer is 'no'.
The excuse starts sometime after Search for THE KING, with Les still a nobody, and his friend Helmut Bean - The World's Smallest Man - a major Hollywood star. Despite success, fame, money, and a bodybuilding girlfriend called LaFonda whose only role in the game is to shed her clothes like autumn leaves (and actually gets described by the box as a "digitized love doll", setting the tone early...), Helmut is stupid enough to not have forgotten the man who once posted him to Las Vegas to get a 20 year old laundry ticket out of a drain, and invites Les to come visit him in his mansion.
There's just one problem: celebrities are going missing, so instead of spending the weekend hanging with Helmut and his gratuitously naked partner, Les arrives in town only to find himself trapped in... another Les Manley adventure. Yes, it was inevitable. So are dental appointments. What's your point?
As with all adventures, the first thing to do when arriving in LA is to check your inventory. You have a map. Congratulations, you are no longer Lost in LA! Roll the credits, uninstall the game! Bye!
The alternative, which I mention purely for educational purposes, is to actually bother trying to find Helmut, and absolutely nothing good can ever come of doing something silly like that.
Case in point, it means talking to these women:
Oh, god. It's hard to convey just how horrible these two are in a single screenshot. That pose? They never knock it off. The heads move a little, the lips flap unconvincingly, but that arm? That remains up for the whole chat, which is every bit as horrible as you'd expect for a conversation a sleazy game that features a woman asking "Private dick?" ("So far" is Les' inevitable reply, telling us that his last love Stella Hart at least had some standards/is now hanging up in his closet along with his other hollowed-out girl suits.)
Much as they'd love to help out Les, they refuse, on the grounds that they don't know him, and they have no reason to think he knows the great superstar Helmut Bean. If this was Search for THE KING, the solution to this would probably have been to have found a secret room in Captain Planet on the Amiga 500, but this being Lost in LA, all you have to do is take a few steps to your left, talk to a lifeguard, and head right back to your new bosumed buddies. OH GOD THE PHOTOGRAPHY. IT BURNS.
Having proved yourself, you're told that... they don't have any idea what happened to Helmut. ("Rilly," they confirm. "Rilly rilly.") All they know is that the police have been told not to look into it, which is about the last time you'll see the Excuse try to convince itself it's anything but. Just to prove this, we get a cut-away to a secret laboratory where the villain of the game is at work taunting his latest victim - not your bestest friend Helmut, whose rescue this game is supposed to be about, but his still naked girlfriend.
Demonstrating that it's not what-you-know but who-you-vaguely-spoke-to that gets you places in LA, Les pumps a nearby traffic cop for help. He's reluctant to divulge any information, until you tell him that you know a couple of beach bunnies, at which point he's simply incapable. Les spontaneously decides that he needs to hack into the LAPD database for clues, but to do that, he'll need a computer. As his credit card is only good for scooping up pigeon poo in this game - yes, really - raiding the local pawn store becomes the first real puzzle of the game. Collect the whole set! Of... er... five. At most.
Just getting in is a bit of a problem. The lamest gang of thugs ever has taken up residence outside, and won't let Les past unless he shows them a symbol of ultimate power. This will turn out to be a red bandana, but that's not important right now. This group might, at a pinch, be able to intimidate a tiny kitten, but only if it had a heart defect. Their comedy schtick is not being very good at rhyming, and insisting that Les ask all his questions in (c)rap form. They reveal everything they know, which is basically nothing at all. Sadly, despite proving himself funkier than a jive something, Les still isn't allowed in. Well, darn.
Getting the bandana takes him back to the beach, and back to the lifeguard. Here's a challenge. I want you to think of the stupidest possible way you could steal a bandana. Don't let sanity get in your way. Really think about it. Spray the lifeguard with water so that he takes it off to dry? Create a trebuchet to fling nits into his hair so that he scratches it clean off? Done that? Good. Was your solution stupider than "read a newspaper to see there's a solar eclipse coming, tell him about it, and swipe the bandana from round his neck while he's distracted by it happening right there and then?" Then you too have a beautiful career ahead of you, designing crappy adventure games back in 1991. Report to the time machine immediately!
(Pssst: Bob? When was the Black Death most virulent? Set the controls for then.)
This is one of the very, very few actual puzzles in the game, with the real hold-ups mostly being of the 'accidentally land yourself in an unwinnable situation' type of game-crime. For instance, there's a sleazy hotel nearby and you need to get a favour from the owner. Turn down the offer to do some work for him, and he won't ask again, rendering you screwed unless you had a recent save, despite the fact that you don't actually come through. He asks you to get some film developed, not realising that it hasn't been used. You promptly use it yourself, taking a fake celebrity picture, which you sell to a guy in the pawn store to get a second-hand laptop. None of this really counts as a puzzle, but still, when you're done with it, the game's at least halfway over. Really. I've barely skipped over anything here, and absolutely nothing that matters. Lost in LA is shorter than Helmut Bean's own flaccid penis on a cold day.
Speaking of which, it's time to move onto the section of Lost in LA that I think can fairly be described as "Why This Game Was Made". Les Manley visiting a mud-wrestling club for no particular reason.
Words alone barely sum up how awful this sequence is, as comedy, as fan-service, and as the work of allegedly sentient beings. Let's start with the first bit. It's a mud wrestling scene without any actual mud in it. At the very least, if you're going to put mud wrestling into your game, you should probably stretch to that. Next, the actresses - and I use that word in its loosest possible sense - manage to be spectacularly awful without even being able to move. The brunette looks so bored in the photos that she may actually lose consciousness, and both are constantly staring at the camera even if they're meant to be talking with Les. It takes real skill to put in a bad performance when your only job is to lie on a pretend bed, posing for still photos with one bra strap dangling off a shoulder, but by god, these women pull it off.
Of course, there's no actual sex involved here, because that would be tawdry. Instead, with a groaning inevitability, comes a joke. The most obvious joke in the world. This joke:
Yes, they haven't actually slept with Les. Instead, they finished their mud-wrestle, then revealed that they're really CalTech students who wanted nothing more out of the evening than to strip down again and hear Les drone on about computers until he actually managed to bore himself to sleep. Please read this in your most sarcastic voice: Ha. Ha. Ha. One of them produces a DOS disk from somewhere, inevitably leading to a "where were you keeping that?" that doesn't get an answer, and then Les gets down to important business: getting out of bed to get dressed and play with his new laptop while the girls watch in geek-struck awe.
Hacking the LAPD computer network promptly spits out the closest thing to a plot this game has - specifically, telling you outright that there are exactly two people who could be responsible for the celebrities' disappearance - pop-diva Maladonna, and Abe Goldstein, owner of Paramounds Studios, which is probably meant to be a clever boob joke, but clearly isn't. The plot thickens. Like custard.
Heading across to Paramounds Studios, Les manages to get past the gate guard by... asking to go in. In an apparent apology for not bothering with a puzzle, the game promptly makes up for it by having you go into a hangar, repair a leaky sailboat with pigeon poo, and end up on a set of a Friday the 13th parody. Here, Jason leaps out and kills Les with an axe, but it's okay! He has a resurrection car-
No, wait. He just magically pulls himself together and the whole thing is written off as merely excellent special effects in action. Then comes the screen that, for me, defines this game...
Lost in LA quickly clarifies that it's talking about the movie, not itself, but it's too late. If you had any doubt that the designers were utterly contemptuous of their audience, there's your proof. In another game, it might be possible to take that as a joke. Here, it's simply a confession. As if to prove it, if you don't take the axe from the ground right now, you're hosed when you get to the end of the game.
Die in a fire, Les Manley. In a fire.
Sadly, instead of dying in a fire, Les stumbles from the Friday the 13th parody into Maladonna's latest video, where he gets Discovered. Now, he needs an agent, and a portfolio. If that sounds suspiciously like a puzzle... it's not. Both the agent and the photographer are on the same street, and a plastic surgeon (who ends up handing you a wax nose to wear) isn't much further. Oddly, despite all the fake names and not-funny-enough-to-be-parody characters in the game, the plastic surgeon has a big prominent picture of Michael Jackson on the wall. When I think of attention to detail, I think of Les Manley.
(Although that said, it is quite funny that all of the parody movies it mentions during its run - Terminator 3, Friday the 13th part 10 and Star Trek X, did actually end up being made.)
Portfolio in hand, Les' agent agrees to set up a lunch with Abe Goldstein, but only if Les goes and gets himself better threads. This may or may not count as a puzzle, since the game only progresses when you hide in the corner for no reason, and the hotspot to do so is precisely half a pixel wide - something that's physically impossible, yet Lost in LA somehow manages. Let's charitably say that this is intentional, because the alternative is for this whole game to have fewer puzzles than failed attempts to be sexy, and that would be sadder than a whole sackful of drowning kittens at Christmas.
While hiding out, Maladonna shows up to collect a dress and talk loudly about her plans to 'get Goldstein back' at nobody in particular. Les, deciding to save the animators the job of creating a new sprite, promptly blows off his hunt for new clothes to go see him first, and then... promptly doesn't bother telling him.
Instead... Instead he...
Instead he starts...
...telling Abe his life story.
NO! NO, NOT AGAIN! I'VE ALREADY PLAYED THAT ****ING GAME TWICE! I'VE PLAYED THIS! DON'T START THE SERIES AGAIN! IT WASN'T WORTH IT THE FIRST TIME! LOOK! I'M TEARING UP MY RESURRECTION CARD! IT'S IN PIECES! I'M THROWING THEM, SCATTERING THEM TO THE FOUR WINDS! JUST KILL ME ALREADY! MAKE IT QUICK! I BEG YOU! PLEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAASE!
Okay. Okay, calming down. The flashback is over now. The shitty game can't hurt me any more. Where was I? Oh, yes. Abe is so excited by Les' exploits, he decides that he wants to make a Les Manley movie - no doubt ruining Uwe Boll's plans to make his own, starring Kristanna Loken as Les Manley, Til Schweiger as Helmut and two beachballs taped together as LaFonda. Les refuses him, but Abe brushes that off, inviting him to a big party that evening where absolutely nothing can possibly go wrong.
Les waits until both Abe and Maladonna are together, then hits them with everything he's discovered. For a moment, it almost looks like this game has a plot, but don't worry, it's just a narrative burp, clarified by the two of them going "Am not", "Are too" "Am not" until Abe's lady-goons finally give up, announce the "Are"s have it, and abduct Maladonna, taking her to their master's lair: the Hollywood Wax Museum.
Somehow following their speeding limo on foot, Les hacks his way into the museum using the axe from the movie studio, or angrily reloads a saved game if he forgot to pick it up. Grr.
Inside, the developers forget that they're not supposed to use actual characters who might have lawyers defending them and stuff, and Les finds himself surrounded by Superman, Indiana Jones, the Joker, Conan the Barbarian and assorted other famous types whose jock-straps this game is not fit to tenderly lick clean. It does however have its own characters too - a Missing Celebrities display featuring wax 'statues' of LaFonda, Maladonna, and Helmut. And LaFonda, Maladonna and Helmut alone, despite the number of celebs who were meant to have gone missing before the intro.
Using a flaming torch that it makes total sense to find in a wax museum, Les investigates the Helmut statue in the display and discovers to his amazement that... oh, you'll never guess!
Les gets captured by the villain, who reveals the SHOCKING SECRET OF LOST IN LA. Do not read on if you want to be spared THE SHOCKING SECRET OF LOST IN LA! Who was the arch fiend responsible for the madness? Was it Abe Goldstein, ruthless Hollywood producer? Was it the plastic surgeon you barely met? Was it the agent who promised to give Les his big break? Was it the warrior of love, Cutey Honey? No! It's all of them. Well, okay, not that last one. The rest are all the same guy though, the evil master of disguise known only as... Mad Wax! That was THE SHOCKING SECRET OF LOST IN LA.
And this is the worst Photoshop I've ever seen in a professional game:
Back in the Hall of Copyright Infringement, the flaming torch that Les dropped when he was captured manages not to burn the whole building down, but merely melt the wax around Helmut. Since oxygen is optional, he's not dead. Taking Conan's sword and using it to get some scraps of wax from his podium, he makes a little cup and uses it to scoop up the actually acidic drool from a wax sculpture of the Alien, because that makes as much sense as anything else at this point. Using Tarzan's loincloth as a makeshift parachute - see? - Helmut floats down to join the fight against (snigger) the 'true embodiment of evil', who has now been staring at an invisible camera for at least five minutes instead of waxing Les.
Freeing Les by pouring the Alien's acidic drool onto his modesty-restraints, Helmut goes for Mad Wax, and is quickly... picked up. Mad Wax flees, leaving his two Zombie Bimbos - yes, they're actually called that in game - to take care of Les. He defeats them by waving a cheap credit card in their faces to make them literally melt into puddles at his feet. If you're not offended yet, wait... ooh... call it thirty seconds. Give or take one "What the &^£%?" for anyone with a functioning conscience.
Les chases Mad Wax up to the bell tower that the Hollywood Wax Museum obviously has, and they banter for a bit. Finally, Mad Wax gets bored and pulls a gun. Les needs a distraction, but what? Of course! The bell! Pull on the rope! But no! Les hasn't got any ear protection! What can he-
...and you die. Wait, what? You die? This is starting to feel very, very familiar, isn't it? As you remember from Search for THE KING, it was possible to get to the very last screen of the game, only to snuff it from not previously having been a psychic sexual predator. Surely... but no. They wouldn't do something like that again, would they? Nobody would be dumb enough to do that twice?
Oh yes. Oh yes they would.
Yes, the only way to win the game is if you took time out of your day to feel up the helpless, frozen, but still alive and conscious statues of Maladonna and/or LaFonda. Obviously, the main result of this is to reaffirm Les Manley's position as the creepiest adventure game hero of all time, but there's a side benefit too - getting some sexy, sexy globs of wax, which he can stick into his ears to protect himself.
Let's recap, shall we? Les has no way of knowing he'll need these globs of wax, or why. In short, our hero for this game is a man who invites two mud-wrestlers to his room to talk about MS-DOS, then leaves them lying around in their pants while he plays on his computer... yet is so compelled to cop a feel off two women he's meant to be rescuing that the game universe itself doesn't understand why you wouldn't have done so automatically. And yes, it has to be one of the girls you grace with the sweaty palm of the Manley one. None of the other actually-wax, non-living statues will do in their place.
What about freeing them from their predicament? Forget it. "That wouldn't accomplish anything," apparently. Except giving you the assistance of one pissed-off diva and a benchpressing warrior maiden to help beat up the Phantom of the Opera's geekier cousin. But, y'know, they're just women. How much help could they be when you've got the support of a guy who can be mailed out of the fight in a padded envelope? As for their descriptions, LaFonda simply gets "Now she's really a hardbody!", while the game brushes off Maladonna's entombed fate as "That should keep her quiet for a while."
Anyway, pervert wax in hand, it's time to do all that nonsense again. This time, Les can stuff his ears full of shame and disorientate Mad Wax, then kick him to his death. Their victory complete, Les and Helmut take time to end the game with one final hateful moment of gratuitous, pointless sexism.
"Now that Mad Wax is gone, shouldn't we go and free the girls?" muses Les, sticky-fingered king of the creeps. "Yeah, we will," grins Helmut. "But there's no rush. They 'aint going anywhere without us."
But that's a story for Les Manley 3...
No, wait. There was no Les Manley 3. Accolade gave up on adventure games after this one, and that's almost certainly for the best. The Les Manley games failed miserably to knock the Leisure Suit Larry games off their perch, lacking a memorable character, any writing chops, or any real understanding of adventure game design. From the psychic solution puzzles of the first, to the truly jaw-droppingly misogynistic jokes and lines in the second, they really were the game versions of their star - unlikeable, lonely, incapable of working out why the world kept spitting on them from a great height.
As for the cast, we can only guess as to what happened next. Helmut Bean's career probably tanked, sending him into a tailspin of drugs and depression, until finally he took his own life with the world's smallest pistol. Les, broken after years of masturbating to the fantasy of someone actually liking him, almost certainly got arrested for licking strawberry jam off a mannequin's nipples in Marks and Spencer, with his claim that "It's for a puzzle, honest!" not holding much sway with the judge. The hollow corpse of Stella Hart remains available for conjugal visits, but is starting to smell a bit. Les doesn't mind.