Real Housewives: The Game review
Bravo’s The Real Housewives TV franchise now has an official Facebook adaptation. Developed by Eyes Wide Games, the title is a social simulation that casts players in the role of a new girl in New York and tasks them with cultivating relationships, generating buzz and becoming one of the most successful, popular women on The Big Apple’s party circuit.
Upon starting the game for the first time, players are invited to create their (female-only) avatar and dress them in a small selection of outfits. Rather than selecting individual facial features and skin tones, players are forced to choose between an array of preset looks, somewhat limiting customizability — though there is a good array of different hairstyles, skin tones and even ages available, with two “Golden Girls”-style avatars available for those who wish to represent themselves as a more mature new face on the scene.
Once into the game proper, the player is given an initial tutorial in how to move around and interact with people — though the tutorial doesn’t really explain how the game actually works, just how to do several different actions. When the tutorial is over, the player is presented with a series of quests, each of which has a number of prerequisites before it is possible to begin. These could be a certain number of style, buzz, bliss or attitude stat points, which may be built up by visiting various locations around the city (or purchases using hard currency); a particular “friendship” value with one of the titular Housewives (who are based on the TV show’s “…Of New York City” variant); a particular minimum experience level; or a combination of these factors. Once a quest begins, the player is shepherded through a linear series of objectives such as mingling with partygoers or trying to impress specific people.
The game’s “social” system is where the bulk of gameplay takes place, and it is also Real Housewives’ most distinctive, unusual feature. Upon arriving at a location, the player’s outfit is judged as to whether or not it is “appropriate” to the event in question, and bonuses awarded if it is — though one outfit’s bonus may only be used every four hours. When engaging in conversation with another character, the player has the choice of several “approaches” to take in the interaction, and choosing the “correct” approach to a particular character will help them to build up a “charm” meter. Filling this meter provides players with a significant bonus, but is rather difficult to do. Players may also elect to “turn on the charm,” which nets bigger boosts in the charm meter for correct responses but larger penalties if incorrect. Given the seemingly arbitrary nature of most characters’ personalities, this doesn’t work as well as it could — some simple cues as to what sort of person the character is would be helpful before choosing how to approach them. The game would also benefit from a tutorial explaining in more detail how the “Confrontation” system works, as at present it is up to players to figure out what a gradually-filling unmarked meter on the screen represents as the argument continues.
Some characters have “stories” such as rumors, fashion tips or calling cards to share, and the player is able to trade items or stats in exchange for these. These may then be used to trade with other characters or, in some cases, to begin new quests. While the whole system of interpersonal interactions is rather abstract — the player never sees what they character actually says, for example — it works reasonably well, despite the element of random chance involved.
The game monetizes through its hard currency diamonds, which may be exchanged for energy, required for all actions; soft currency; the style, buzz, bliss and attitude stat points; premium home decor items (each worth a small experience point boost); and premium outfits. These are primarily timesaving devices, as none of the “premium” items provide particularly huge bonuses to the player; stats may be acquired through “grinding” non-quest events; and the energy system is relatively generous, particularly when compared to Eyes Wide Games’ other recent release, The Walking Dead Social Game.
Real Housewives: The Game is actually quite entertaining, despite its heavy grounding in rather sexist stereotypes. Its abstract implementation of social dynamics through its stats and “stories” systems make it clearly distinctive from other similar titles such as The Sims Social and The Ville, and also help prevent accusations of cloning. Its presentation isn’t the greatest — the graphics have that rather sterile, characterless “Facebook game” cartoon appearance about them, character animations are extremely wooden and the background sound is rather repetitive — but despite this it plays well and is both an interesting new take on the social simulation genre and a good adaptation of a TV show to the social gaming sector. It’s not perfect — the tutorials and in-game help in particular need an overhaul — but it’s a good start.
Like the show — and reality TV in general — this is often infuriatingly shallow, sexist, pointless nonsense… but surprisingly compelling despite itself.