|Ah, the Game of
Life. As a kid, I remember the Christmas my parents gave me the board game. My brothers
and I spent the next several weeks playing it, shouting in joy at our fortunes and
laughing mercilessly at our opponents miseries. Over the years, Life became a game
that was played during family get-togethers such as Thanksgiving, and is still played
today by nephews and nieces at those events. So it was with a bit of nostalgia that I
installed and prepared to run the computer version of this timeless classic.
The install proceeded smoothly, but my anticipation quickly turned to frustration as the game crashed while loading with a fatal exception error. My wonderful computer that has no problems running demanding titles such as Caesar 3 and Total Annihilation refused to load this game! After a couple of reboots and a bit of tweaking my startup configuration, I decided to contact Hasbro technical support and see if there were any known problems. A quick trip to the web site proved fruitless no patches and no useful information in the online database. Swallowing my pride, I called technical support. Within 5 minutes I was talking to a technician, and 5 minutes and a reboot later I had the game running. The technician was polite and helpful, staying on the line with me until I had the game working. Kudos to Hasbros support team for a job well done.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Game of Life, each player starts with a car at the end of high school. By spinning the spinner, players move down the Road of Life, gaining a career, spouse, home and possibly children, while dealing with the ups and downs that life deals them. The object is to retire with the most wealth, proving that you are the winner in the Game of Life.
Not having many expectations, I was pleasantly surprised by the simple interface and the sharp, colorful graphics. The game board, viewable in either a close up or zoomed out mode, is a work of art. Buildings, trees, signs and even a toaster fill the spaces alongside the road of life. The entire game is played on this screen, so you know exactly where you and your opponents are at all times. Watching the cars move along the road is fun, but even more impressive is the first-person perspective (which can be toggled on or off) of your car as it drives down the road. In this view, the graphics are the same high quality, and the motion is perfectly smooth with no pauses or stutters. Every square has a different animation sequence (which can also be turned on or off), and some have more than one, resulting in hundreds of scenes, all of which were quite humorous. I found myself laughing out loud many times during the game.
The audio is also very well done. The background music consists of 6 different styles, one for each decade starting with the 1950s, and changes depending on your position on the game board. The styles are very distinct the 70s tunes have a disco feel, while the 80s music has that pop-electronic sound. There are several different tunes for each decade, and the music changes often enough to avoid becoming monotonous. The sound effects are excellent, especially the sound of the spinner, which has been perfectly captured. I almost felt like I was playing the actual board game.
As far as gameplay goes, well, its the Game of Life. Designed for ages 8 and up, there isnt much strategy to it. Most of the decisions you make are no-brainers, such as which way to go when the road forks. There are some decisions that can affect the outcome, like whether or not you buy auto insurance. For the most part, though, the game is simple so children can understand and enjoy it. The computer translation maintains this simplicity without detracting from the fun.
The interface is simple yet effective. Along the bottom of the screen is a bar showing each players status. At a glance, you can see all the important information, including money, occupation and salary. Clicking on a players display brings up a full screen window showing everything insurance, stock, marital status, children, etc. Animations show when wealth is gained or lost, and voice narration announces everything that happens during the game, though you can turn it off if you prefer.
The game has a few shortcomings, however. Though the portraits in the status bar will smile and frown when money is gained or lost, this only happens for the current player. If you pay money to another player, he/she does not smile, nor frown if you take money away. The main drawback, however, is due to the nature of the game itself. Its just not very interactive. Theres lots of watching, and times when all you do for several minutes is click the left mouse button to spin. The enhanced version, with Lifes Little Games, alleviates some of this, but doesnt change the nature of the game. Unless you have a group of people playing together, the social aspect is missing, which detracts from the fun. The computer opponents are okay, but they cant replace real people.
Overall, the game is quite enjoyable and very well done. The problems are minor and dont detract from the fun. Families, children, and anyone who enjoyed the board game should consider this little gem.