Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. Today, sex and physics puzzles meet for a quickie in an oddly familiar place. From Half-Life to No Life, welcome to City 17. It's sleazier here...
Ever played one of those games where you just have to pause, reach for a Post-It note and write "THIS IS NOT A FEVER DREAM" as a comforting reminder for the next time you need it? Meet Venus Hostage, a porn game sent from Russia with love. I'd joke about it maybe making more sense after downing a bottle of Vodka, but that would be cheap. I'm not however saying it wouldn't help...
Venus Hostage is the Georgian Police of porn games - though there's almost no sex in it, and the most graphic scene is in the intro. It's an adventure. It's a puzzle game. Sometimes it tries to be more ambitious, and those sections are adorable. Start to finish though, it's a game that'll have you blinking at the screen until tears stream down your face, while constantly pitching its tent in that perfect bad-game buffer zone where the creators appeared to have enthusiasm but still made... well... this.
Here's the trailer, though I'd hold fire for the moment since it does give away a lot of the game, without actually giving any idea of what the blessed thing actually is. It's a fairly short game.
It starts, as all the great love stories do, with a boy and a girl. His name is Jack, hers is Unknown. At least, in the random internet chat that starts the game off. Jack simply goes over to his computer, and this happens. This or a Memory Access Violation crash, anyway. (That happens a lot.)
Now, I'm no expert at online dating or anything - tried it once, give up after a promising series of exchanges ended with "I'd love to meet up, but I decided this week I'm moving to Norway :-(" - but this seems to have a few warning lights. An anonymous lady/gentlemean contacts you, already knows where you live, and wants to meet up in a desolate part of town where refugees opt to leave that he/she knows is 15 minutes away? This is probably not a blind date worth making, unless your fetish is being robbed and left in a ditch. And if it is, hey, I'm not judging. I'm just saying that if I ever buy you a new calendar for Christmas, I'll be giving you the pages on a month-by-month basis to avoid being wasteful.
And when I say this is a both desolate part of town and City 17, I am not kidding.
After a quick tutorial in the art of moving, picking things up, and discovering one of six sexy postcards, the mysterious woman bounces into view. Her name is Mila, she has breasts that constantly move around like water balloons full of custard, and if that sounds like an un-gentlemanly observation, it's nothing compared to our Jack. As soon as she steps up, his eyes slam straight to her feet and up to get the full approving picture, and he spends the next few minutes with them locked tightly on her backside. Probably not just trying to read the sticker on her right buttock. Which says Ice-Iceberg.
No idea why. Perhaps in honour of the maiden voyage of the Assanic.
Mila invites Jack to a nearby apartment owned by one of her friends, that she promises is empty, and asks if he'd like some coffee. He says that he would, but it turns out that what she actually meant was sex. We don't find out if Jack was disappointed about this, or if there was a quick chat about maybe popping out to at least get some tea-bags or something. I'm just saying, that if coffee is offered, it only seems reasonable that coffee be provided. Instant, if necessary. But no, there is no coffee. Nor will the promised coffee ever appear, unless it's in a secret area I didn't find. Like a cupboard.
Sex over - which is thirsty work, and a good reason for promised coffee to be provided - the two take the time to get dressed and collapse in post-coital afterglow bliss... for some reason, Jack hanging over the edge of the bed, despite it being a quite comfy looking double. From this, we have to assume that something happened on the other side, perhaps Jack's weak bladder spoiling the mood.
Anyway, it's at this point that a gimp with a baseball bat shows up.
Surprising nobody sensible enough not to make sex-dates with anonymous strangers over the internet, but coming as a bit of a surprise to Jack, he wakes up in a decrepit locked room with his clothes on, but no idea what just happened. There's a bed. A TV. A security camera. And a VCR keeping up a theme that this game was neither programmed nor based on anything from the current millennium.
With the door firmly locked and almost nothing in the room actually interactive, obviously the only thing to do is pop in the videotape and see if it has any answers. And it does, if the question is "What kind of fiend could be masterminding a kidnapping like this?" so the answer can be "Jigsaw, with boobs."
"Welcome to our show!" says the girl, Stella, "If you're a good boy, I'll be nice to you." She then gives him his first of many twisted tasks... to repair the bed in the room by stacking bricks under it.
Is this a fetish I'm not aware of? Are there websites out there devoted to fully dressed people performing mundane tasks, for people who'd like to watch voyeurism porn but are concerned about being smited from on-high with a lightning bolt? Or maybe it's how dominatrixes get started. After intensive training they'll be ready to have people lick their boots or whatever, but to start with it's all "Oh yes. Reprogram that video recorder, you bad boy..." and "Help me unpack my shopping, loathsome worm ."
Stacking some bricks under a bed that's not simply broken but actively levitating seems to please Stella though and she shows up in person to... uh... something rapey. Jack blacks out a couple of times, with the conversation limited pretty much to "Who are you? Where is Mila?" "My name is Stella. Forget about her. Or am I not good enough for you?" And so on and so on.
Without wanting to ruin the story, Stella is in charge of what's going on here, and yes, she wears that outfit for the entire game. Now, part of running your own business/snuff porn empire is getting to wear whatever you like, even if it means taking Casual Friday to a whole new level. Floss bikini and knee-high boots can't be comfortable though, especially when handling the admin side. Performance evaluations are awkward enough at the best of times, and after an afternoon at a desk, that G-String is going to rise high enough to take a whole team of hook-handed proctologists to get back out.
Now, if Stella enjoys wearing that outfit to work, fair enough. As a modern businesswoman, that is obviously her choice. It does seem rather a spring/autumn kind of sluttiness though, with summer likely to spoil the effect every time she sticks into her chair, and winter meaning all the chafing. But I'm sure she's considered that, and bought in suitable alternatives. In winter for instance, maybe she still comes to work in an itsy-bitsy-teeny-weenie bikini, but couples it with a big pair of furry thermal underpants. After all, no sense risking all-out pneumonia if you can get away with merely freezing your tits off.
Introductory probable-unconscious-raping over with, Stella departs, leaving Jack a note under the door so that he has something to look forward to when she returns. That note... says this...
A toy? Well, toys are fun? Right? Right?
Oh, no, you misunderstand. Those ... weren't for what it is, prostate-quivering as the idea is. No, it's for what happens next. Obviously, Jack decides that 'escape' is a good thing to try at this point. And how do you escape? Glad you asked. You escape by picking up the motorised dildo...
And ripping down the naughty poster on the wall...
And busting through it with the dildo...
To escape to here...
To clarify. Yes. The first puzzle in the game is using a motorised dildo to literally fuck your way into the villain's back passage. This is a thing that happens in a game that exists and is real.
Now you see why the Post-It note comes in handy?
At this point, Venus Hostage becomes a lot tamer - a puzzle game that only compare to the likes of Portal in that they're completely incomparable. None require any brainpower at all. The first, in this corridor, involves the path being blocked by one of those electric-wires-in-water-puddle affairs that are far more common in games than anywhere else. The solution is to pick up a hammer lying just next to an electrical box, smash it open, and use a lever also sitting right next to it to switch off the power. It's a puzzle only in the sense that you might be held up for a moment figuring there has to be more to it.
Another thrilling puzzle? Here's a sewer that you have to get through. Yes, a sewer. Everyone's favourite gaming location since 1987. Our hero refuses to go near the rat on the right, and in fairness it's massive , though he's okay with diving under the surface of the water to look for stuff. The solution is to spray it with steam from a pipe. But how? It's tricky, so I've marked the location of the item you need.
This section is followed by a platforming jaunt around a slum full of burning barrels not apparently put there by anyone, where you use a toilet plunger to remove the grate from an air duct. Again, this actually happens. Luckily, just as it seems that Venus Hostage might be losing its weird edge, it serves up what can only be described as 'this bit'. Actually, two 'this bits' in sequence. Video time!
Venus Hostage then temporarily gets back to its porny routes, as the building at the end of the street conveniently turns out to be where Mila is also being kept prisoner, handcuffed topless to a bed in front of a video camera. This seems a little... well... mild for these guys, whoever they are, so presumably we just stumbled into their Dailymotion "Slightly Too Hot For YouTube" division.
Jack comes to the rescue by knocking the gimp out with the baseball bat. "So... looks like you're a prisoner too, just like me," he comments. "Well, hello Captain Obvious," snaps Mila, and while I can't show it, the close-up of her torso is truly hilarious. Bad artists will often just take two big lumps and weld them onto a female character because they don't know how breasts actually work, but this looks distinctly like a retexture of her model from when she was wearing a shirt and bra earlier on. Complete with a surgery type scar where the cloth was earlier that's visible at least when she's lying down.
Jack is utterly oblivious to this though, simply telling her "I'm going back to that den, to finish it all," with Mila having to suggest that he... y'know... free her first. As if realising "Oh, yeah, I should probably do that," he does so, and they have a kiss, and then he runs off to unleash his vengeance.
But first, videogames!
Yes, for some bizarre reason this game has a room off to one side with a working games console, and two games - a Tetris clone that doesn't even go for a GAG style porn spoof...
...and a top-down shooter where you play a cowboy in the desert, shooting camels. It's like stumbling on something Jeff Minter wrote for the money back in the 80s that's been kept for blackmail material.
Having now had, to use the traditional parlance, 'enough of this shit', Jack goes on the warpath. Outside, two goons sit around discussing the runaway, which doesn't spare one of them from being bashed with a pipe and the other killed by... yes, really... having an oven dropped on his head, Looney Tunes style. Others aren't so lucky. Why? Two words. Shotgun. And, er, blancmange, I guess.
Against the odds, it's not the worst shooter action ever... mostly because it's amongst the shortest. You kill about four guys, all with blancmange where their brains should be. (See? Worked it in!) Unfortunately for Jack, success is short-lived. Again, this is a scene that demands video evidence.
Oh, and see if you can spot the massive translation error. If not, I've highlighted it.
This is more or less the end of the game, and if it seemed pointless... it now turns out that the entire journey has been one big loop back to the room where Jack started. And as if the whole "City 17" thing hasn't been lingering over the whole game so far, guess what he finds when he returns there...
Upstairs is the heart of Stella's business, on the grounds that everyone involved with this game now appears to be totally bored. First up comes the server room, and while I'm no expert on the internet requirements of snuff-porn, this many servers seems a little excessive.
Of course, she's not just going to stand about and let you dismantle her empire. Well, not quite. She shows up along with another gimp, and demands "Why is it so hard to get rid of you?" The answer of course is "Because your empire is spread over a city block, you have a staff of about ten guys to cover it, and the last time you tried involved you turning your back on me while within arms reach and with my penis up your poop-hole. Frankly you're lucky I didn't just grab your neck in an armlock and squeeze until you passed out while thinking 'Wow, this was a really dumb plan I had today!'"
But you don't get to shout that. Still, I do believe this is Final Boss Time.
He's described in the game as a "Sectarian" incidentally. I'm assuming they meant 'cultist'.
Epic battle time? Epic battle time!
Haha, not really. You push the servers over, domino-style, and he's down instantly. Upstairs, Stella just sneers. "What are you going to do with me?" she demands. "Handcuff me to the bed and spank me?"
Brer Rabbit would be proud though, because while the handcuff thing specifically probably isn't the greatest idea for someone who's likely to just end up trapped in an empty building if her backup plan works, this puts Stella in a position to grab a gun from under the sheets and take aim at Jack as he formats her PC and thus her empire... or something. She aims! A shot rings out!
Mila shows up out of nowhere to save the day. Or does she?! Because instead of dropping the gun after killing Stella, she instead just spins to point it at Jack. Bad animation? The writer finally remembering that she was the one who dragged him into this in the first place, and therefore had to either be part of it or know the people involved in some way? It's not entirely clear, or indeed, slightly transparent.
It's probably not a good thing though, because when we next see Jack it's with him sitting in a dark room, with Mila on a television grinning "You know, I kind of liked the idea of this freakin' show."
So... uh. Yeah. The entire game was essentially a pointless trek to get back to exactly the same place, which was a very silly place indeed. That's not quite the end of the game though. It is, but heading back to the Main Menu there's now the option to click on a CD labelled "Not included in the game." Doing so features a wordless short sequence of Jack apparently going on a date with a girl who accidentally forgot to change out of her nightie in the morning. Easy mistake to make, I guess.
It serves no apparent purpose, she's never seen in the actual game, and I don't see any connection to anying. Is this Jack's new life as a recruiter for the show? A flashback to better days? An alternate Mila? A bit of music they figured they'd better use? I have no idea. Nor do I care.
What a strange, strange game that was...
But an endearingly weird one at least.
And mercifully short .