Sunday 13 March 2016

Les Manley in: Lost in L.A. - Final Rating!

written by Aperama

A harkening back to the best part of the game – the down-right impressive Boris Vallejo box art

Les Manley was a terrible game. Les Manley 2? I'm honestly not sure. The game had issues that weren't actually the same as the first game, so that's definitely to be considered a plus. I read over Trickster's comments as to the problems he found with Search for the King – sure, there were more than enough of them in their own right, but this game manages to skirt around them for the most part. The puzzles were illogical, but rarely actually 'difficult' – the game was very big on hand-holding towards the more difficult set of puzzles anyhow, so it passes the 'sequel' test there. The graphics are 'different' – not better or worse, just 'different'. In fact, I'd struggle to give Lost in L.A. any worse points than Search for the King in anything – but that's exactly why I'm not going to be comparing directly. Why, you ask? Well, the reasons here to my mind are two fold. Firstly, this game has technology to its credit that Search for the King couldn't dream of. The 'digitised actors' inserted into the game were always going to look better than the comparative chicken scritch of Les Manley 1 and some of its less than appealing screens. The target audience might be the same, but this feels more like a game where they've actually tried to target to that 'adolescent teenage boy' market a touch better than simply making a game that felt to be the clone of Leisure Suit Larry which Les is oft accused of being. Secondly? I'm a different person, and things affect me differently to Trickster. I have a particular (perhaps somewhat odd) feel that when puzzles have a certain range of feasibility they'll frustrate me – something where I feel like I could have gotten it without help had they explained things better hits me way harder than 'touch the lizard, win the game' on a personal level. I'd have asked for assistance if not for clicking like a crazy person over the screen at one point, and that just drives me bonkers on a very deep level. So without further adieu..

Yes, rilly!

Puzzles and Solvability

Did anyone possibly catch my repeated use of the little 'making of' booklet throughout my posts? Where they stated that, and I quote, 'None of the puzzles are illogical, none of the clues are arbitrary'? The clues? That I'll agree with. The clues were almost hard-pressed to be called clues – they were pretty much direct hand-holding. I'm sure that they were wary of the complaints (warrantedly so) of dead ends in the previous game and decided that this would be impossible in this game, never leaving someone incapable of actually completing the game. Which isn't to say that you'd have to do an awful lot – this is a particularly failed adventure game in that respect with extreme minimal input required to complete it.

If you don't use the torch to look at Helmut in order to free him afterwards, the game smashes you over the head with the fact you should have with all of the subtlety of a brick

The puzzles, on the other hand, are not at all logical. Need to prove you're tough to a gang? Steal a bandana by causing an eclipse. Need to strengthen a raft? Pick some bird droppings off of a car window with a credit card and use it as though that's just what you do. Need to hack into the FBI? Get an obviously fake celebrity photo, trade it for a computer, have an in game character call the tech support hotline and then get free tickets to a mud wrestling club. Where puzzles existed, they largely made no sense. Where they didn't? Well, that sorta says it all. A puzzle is not 'do something or lose' a la accepting Abe Goldstein's offer to become a movie star meaning you're a heartless moron who won't also take the opportunity to continue grilling about Helmut. In the hardest puzzle in this game, you have to put your mouse cursor in the small amount of screen in the bottom right of a screen that otherwise is purely made of descriptions – hovering over the dresses above the (quite small) area gives the 'question mark' symbol which throws you off the track. There's so few places to go that you're bound to find it if you persevere, however. This game could really have done with some 'red herring' items/interactibles.

Also, including a cash source, having almost everyone in the game ask for money, and not allowing you to use it???

So, they made the puzzles so easy they virtually didn't exist or so obscure I'd not even call them puzzles.. yeah. Rating: 2.

Interface and Inventory

It's all well and good to say that the point and click parser – any point and click parser – is going to largely be more user-friendly than a typing-based one which obviously has a far larger number of permutations. Does it work? Sure. It pretty much did what it needed to in this game. It was extremely easy to forget that the 'touch' command was hidden inside the inventory menu, but this is probably not the biggest sin in the world given that the 'touch' command was only actually necessary once.

That one puzzle is very forgiving – you can literally touch just about any of the wax items/statues in here

Pretty consistently, it felt clumsy. Having simple keyboard shortcuts for 'save and load', for instance, would have not gone astray. Moronically, they had the 'game menu' as a scroll bar menu with seven options – with only four allowed on the screen at a time. About fifty percent of the time, scrolling down to 'exit the game' actually hit 'version number' or something equally useless nine out of ten times – it would have been just as easy to make buttons with the cursor selecting a place on screen. The inventory? Well, it never really hurt in any way, I suppose. Simply not having a lot in your inventory at any time, it was never really an issue. The 'conversation' rooms should have had an 'exit' area also. On the similarly negative, the game has a repeatable bug where you can walk into a wall, has its most difficult 'puzzle' as mentioned earlier entirely based around the parser, and was largely clunky through its 'scrollbar' selection method. The dialogue also knocks it down a point here. Why? Because for some reason, they decided that HUGE LETTERS and minimal words were necessary – creating breaks in dialogue all too regularly for a new line really bugged me. I took an amazing 1,184 screenshots in a game with easily under a hundred individual screens – just to get a representative spread of the all-too-forgettable dialogue.

The only time they use more text is to completely block the screen with this ugly orange and aqua screen on entering a room

So, the interface is largely functional (5), is annoying to use a lot of the time (4) and has some definite questionable choices in regards to its use of assets it has (dialogue). Rating: 3.

Story and Setting

I like to think that the more detailed, complex and interesting a game is, the higher it will score here. Typically, I try to make a brief yet descriptive synopsis of the game I'm playing. The harder this is to do, the better I feel about the chances of the game scoring high here. So, here goes: Les Manley is invited to L.A. where his old friend Helmut Bean is now making a living as a stuntman. He is kidnapped along with his girlfriend, LaFonda Turner. He is the only one looking into a bout of celebrity disappearances (why the police don't get involved much if at all is unexplained) and ends up tracking them down to a wax museum, where he finds that a scarred ex-stuntman has essentially taken over Hollywood. He saves the day. The end. Four sentence plot synopsis, and I don't think you'd need much more if I went 'in depth'.

Probably the most interesting character in the Les Manley...verse?

L.A. is a town full of stereotypes that are largely written poorly. End 'setting'. Seriously, this game did itself absolutely no favours here. It seemed like Hollywood was chosen just so they could constantly cop out of logic by using the hilarious punchline of 'oh, you crazy Tinseltown people!' Nothing felt even remotely believable, but the game's use of digitised actors purely to create that slight level of 'believability' really makes the setting crumble apart. The scene with Les 'exciting' the college co-eds was pain incarnate (he's a geek, so we love him!) Inversely, I may have truly enjoyed this game if it had been Helmut saving Les. That one short flash of the game that could have been was great. A shame that the game wasn't all about him, though, because Les, for all that the game repeatedly states he has 'raw charisma', has all of the intrigue of a wet noodle. Or, indeed, a green weenie.

It's the story of Les Manley. If Les Manley were a little stronger a character, I could get behind it. Or if Helmut were controlling him like Krang and his bodysuit.

Uninteresting story? Poor protagonist? Lacklustre, B-movie styled climax? Rating: 2.

Sound and Graphics

I'm going to be honest and say that there is only one game that this one compares to for me – Jones in the Fast Lane. Largely due to the fact that I played it when I was quite young, it was the first game that used the 'digitised actors on a drawn background' that I ever played. I've played several others since, sure – but that's always what my mind comes back to because it was my personal first. I always thought that for all that they were very simple in Jones, it worked fairly well. The technique is definitely a difficult thing to do – particularly when the 'actors' you have on set are so incredibly, er.. how to put this politely.. 'uncaring'?

Oh yeah, baby. Act. ACT!

Does it look great (or would it have back then)? No, not really, but it's definitely not the ugliest game we've seen of its era. It doesn't really hold up today – but I'm willing to give it a pass on this one. (The animation used to show emotion etc ranged from 'eergh' to 'kinda funny', but animation is animation after all.) That's only half of the experience, though. Sounds? What sounds! The only 'sound' used throughout the game was a high-pitched lady's scream – the rest was some really uninteresting music. Bad? No, not really. Just not interesting. Were I not playing for the blog, I'd have likely kept my copy of DosBOX on mute and played other music – but I don't suppose anything was actually bad. I actually quite liked the Les theme from part 1, and wouldn't have minded its return here – a missed opportunity for Andy Panthro's sequel pitch.

I think that it also has to be given some plus points here for actually showing how far they came in a year

Rating: 5

Environment and Atmosphere

I feel like so much could have happened here if the folks at Accolade hadn't busted their entire budget on hopeless models and digitised acting. The setting of L.A. failed them somewhat, but they could still have made something a little different – 'their' L.A. - but instead, they fell into tropes and got mired by them. There was certainly no point at which my mind told me 'actually, I'm sorta interested in what's going to happen next' here. Except perhaps the point at which Helmut breaks out of his wax prison and saves Les – that five minutes of playtime was legitimately pretty fun, even if they didn't do a great job of making a difference between Les and Helmut. Just a different colour to the inventory bar and a couple of new screens would have made the Helmut section so much more interesting to me.. but it was clearly an afterthought, sadly.

We are KILLER ZOMBIE.. ugh.. line?

That's how I see it.. if I take this game with any seriousness. The issue is that as a comedy it falls flat also. Punchlines that are funny the first time are reused over and over again. I had a little bit of fun with Lance T. Bodyguard at first with the 'ha ha I'm a geek so I know all about IT' line – but then they redid the same gag with Blade/Peacechild, then with Monique and Dominique. 'Credit card won't work here!' line about fifteen times, and then you melt the Killer Zombie Wax Bimbos with? A supposedly useless credit card. Joke about the Terminator 3? But then they talk about Arnold about five more times. It really felt like they were working so hard to make a 'funny game' that they forgot to make an 'interesting' one. As this game really isn't about the areas you visit in any more than a cursory manner, I'm more using this to evaluate how they used the potential of 'Hollywood' as a joke setting. Problem being, LSL5 did it earlier in the year.. and better. Still, if I didn't have to take in the actual game surrounding and was just watching, say, a silent Let's Play? I'd not be retching. I guess.

I'll admit, I laughed. Why? Because this is the only joke in the game not re-referenced three or more times afterwards

Rating: 4

Dialogue and Acting

Les Manley: Lost in L.A. features an awful lot of dialogue. Or at least, it sorta tries to. The fact that it was constantly disjointed throughout (in a way that I suppose has a small degree of 'realism' in regards to small talk, albeit with everything in the game apparently being offered as small talk) really distracted and annoyed me in a way that it probably shouldn't have. There were a few legitimately fun characters, maybe? The hacker who wants to receive a phonecall without a phone? The stereotypical 'sketchy roadside salesman' actually being quite eloquent and reasonable? That's where this game got it at least moderately right. I also quite liked 'The Boyz', which I suppose was culturally relevant at the time – though again, crazy stereotypes abound.

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air started just as these guys were probably written, maybe? I think that must be the influence?

However, this category also has the oft-ignored 'Acting'. And this game definitely has some of that. Some horrible, horrible acting. Admittedly, there isn't a great deal of range that can really be had between 'person smiling' and 'person screaming' in just a couple of shots? I'm alright by that in several frames. But the majority of the models that they casted to certain roles are clearly uncomfortable, as though they were either struggling with the direction they were being given or simply didn't care and only went into the job for the money. I know which way I'd guess on this one.

I actually feel sorry for these girls. They look so damned uncomfortable!

Rating: 3

Final Rating

So, 2+3+2+5+4+3 is 19, and 19/60 rounded up is 32. If I remove a point, the only other game at present with 31 is Softporn, which feels bizarrely appropriate. This game definitely deserves to have at least a point taken away. Why? Because it's just not fun! The sad truth is that I actually entered Les Manley 2 remembering it as being 'largely innocuous' and came out realising that I was being far too generous. It misses the mark repeatedly, making itself feel a chore to play. Sure, cleaning the bathtub doesn't take long? But it's arduous and you'd usually rather not do it if you can avoid it. This game is exactly like scrubbing away at enamel. If you're not thinking about much of anything, it can go by quckly – but there's just no joy to be had. (It also comes without the bonus of having a clean bathtub afterwards, as you may need to wash yourself down for all of the 'hot pictures of models' that this game was clearly built upon the back of).

Fry and paulmfranzen both guessed accurately, which leaves a coinflip as to who gets the sweet, sweet CAPs for guessing how poorly I'd be coping throughout this 'wonderful' piece of gaming history. Given that there are no physical prizes on offer, I might suggest that both of them are just as entitled to their free 20!

CAP Distribution

100 CAPs to Aperama
  • Village Idiot award: - 100 CAPs - for volunteering to play this horrible mess of a game
30 CAPs to Fry
  • Co-Conspiring Psychics award - 20 CAPs - for correctly guessing the score that this 'lovely' game would achieve
  • Witness Me award - 5 CAPs - for evidencing my torture
  • BDSM Awareness Week award - 5 CAPs - for winning the caption contest by a length
25 CAPs to paulmfranzen
  • Co-Conspiring Psychics award - 20 CAPs - for correctly guessing the score that this 'lovely' game would achieve
  • Viewer Loyalty award - 5 CAPs - for his efforts in reading the colossal backlog of The Adventure Gamer
15 CAPs to Alex
  • Loyal Follower award - 5 CAPs - for spurring me on.. and probably being the only reason anyone read these posts as they accidentally clicked on them instead of Conquests of the Longbow
  • Minor Depression award -5 CAPs - for reminding me of what I was doing
  • Grecian Outrage award: 5 CAPs for attacking the game's spelling
15 CAPs to Andy Panthro
  • Minor Heart Attack award - 5 CAPs - for trying to insist that Les Manley might have a sequel or kickstarter plans
  • The hip bone's connected to my.. wrist watch! award - 10 CAPs - for giving us all what we wanted
10 CAPs to Ilmari
  • Danke Schoen award - 5 CAPs - for doing his best to aid in my hasty escape
  • Miniature Bandit award - 5 CAPs - for moustache recognition
10 CAPs to Charles
  • Orbs of Wisdom award - 5 CAPs - for remembering Phil Cook's name from Manhunter
  • Wizened Adventurer award - 5 CAPs - for having played this game and wisely avoiding it
10 CAPs to Reiko
  • Art Critic award - 5 CAPs - for actually trying to work out why the Murry screens looked weird
  • False Finish award - 5 CAPs - for believing in my subterfuge
10 CAPs to Laukku
  • Audiophiles Anonymous award - 10 CAPs - for trying to help me to capture the god-awful music
5 CAPs to The Angry Internet
  • False Finish award - 5 CAPs - for believing in my subterfuge
5 CAPs to The Bard
  • Welcome to the Club award - 5 CAPs - for finally mustering up the will to comment


  1. Congrats! I particularly liked your first paragraph where you state your criteria of why you won't compare this to the first Les Manley, and why certain things hit you differently than Trickster's when explaining why this game alienated you so much.

    Personally, I don't think anything can compete with the "touch the lizard and avoid deadending yourself at the very end" trick pulled by Les Manley 1, so just on the basis of being a more traditional and "fair" adventure I think I would've awarded LM2 a few extra points. That said, it was indeed a dull, joyless traditional and "fair" adventure.

    Thanks for the CAPs! For that, I will let the "without further adieu" pass. :-)

    1. I must also admit to being a fan of your first paragraph, mainly because I am having a similar conundrum of how to relate my own opinion of a game (Maupiti Island) with Trickster's rating of its predecessor (Mortville Manor). Of course, I have the added problem that I haven't played the first game in the series, so I have only Tricky's review to guide me.

    2. Well, I certainly know that I felt worse playing Les Manley 2 (which is a game that simply has no real soul to it, honestly) than Les Manley 1. You can feel throughout LM1 that the designers were really putting everything into it, thought they were being -so clever- throughout and simply gave absolutely no playtesting. LM2 is LM1 without the feel of 'hey Ma! We're making us an ad veeen shure!' through it - it's more an excuse to get badly digitized versions of bikini models on screen. And if I had to read the game trying to insist that Les Manley has a 'certain natural charisma' to him again I am actually going to vomit blood.

      I might also note, Ilmari, that I possibly took CAPs away from Alex, Andy Panthro and myself (though everyone except me had the number annulled conveniently) but hey, everyone seems to win in the end. Even if Andy definitely deserves a slap on the wrist for even mentioning the thought of a Les Manley sequel! *shudders*

  2. Many congratulations on making a disappointing game an enjoyable read! You've certainly earned your CAPs.

  3. Wooooo!! Update: I'm up to Captain Blood, in April 2012. ....Did you know there are a LOT of posts in this blog??

  4. I'll steal the Aperama's comment section for a minute to announce that we've breathed some new life to the game of guessing the order of games to be played in 1991 (announced back in latest Year That Was -post: ).

    Since it was becoming pretty obvious that no one would claim Full House, or even Top5 and Bottom5 -prizes, we've decided to change the rules somewhat. We've created a spreadsheet that calculates how close each contestant's guesses are to the correct ordering of games:

    If in some category no one will get the exact ordering, the one who got the closest will win half of the promised reward (that is, 5 CAPs for Top5 and Bottom5, 21 for Full House).

    A note on reading the spreadsheet: the closer you are to zero, the better were your guesses. So, Charles is leading the Top 5 -competition, Aperama is first on Bottom 5 and Fry is currently on the lead on Full House. Still seven more games to go, so anything could happen.

    Rankings of 1991 games

    1. Conquests of the Longbow - 73 points
    2. Space Quest 4 - 65 points
    3. Willy Beamish - 61 points
    4. Larry 1 Remake - 60 points
    5. Space Quest 1 Remake - 58 points
    6. Spellcasting 201 - 51 points
    7. Martian Memorandum - 50 points
    8.-10. Timequest, Larry 5 and Police Quest 3 - 47 points
    11. Castle of Dr. Brain - 46 points
    12. Les Manley 2 - 31 points
    13. Free D.C.! - 30 points
    14. Hugo II - 18 points

    1. Er.. Charles is actually first on bottom 5 as well, isn't he? :)

    2. Oooh I guess those CAPs for "wisdom" and "wizened adventurer" were well earned. But yeah, everything can change (especially if Ilmari doesn't hate Maupiti and whomever reviews Heart of China doesn't share my love for it) so I'll just sit back and bask in my brief moment of glory. :-D

    3. Aperama: Yeah, of course, apparently I can't read my own spreadaheets ;)

      Charles: I think this gives me incentive to increase the score of Maupiti Island - say, on top of the list ;) It's a good thing you didn't try to do the Full House, or anyone else wouldn't have a chance.

  5. Preorder!

    1. Day of the Tentacle remake coming to Steam too!

    2. Not sure whether I'll buy this.

      One of my favourite games of all time but I still own the CD which works as recently as when I played it last year.

      I'll probably buy it on a future Christmas sale.

      Great game and a classic for a good reason for those who haven't played it before.

  6. Good job Ape. This scored a lot higher than I expected, but your rationale is solid. And I agree that a game where you play as Helmut would have been much better.

    I will say I find it interesting that, even in 1991, a game that is going for this sort of vibe would have such subpar music. I wonder how much of a difference a competent, or even memorable, score would have had? For all of its faults, by contrast, Larry 5 had some really snazzy tunes.

    Anyway, you've earned your combat pay with this one.

    1. Not a lot. Maybe a couple of overall points, but this game was really down to both poor design and uninteresting plot, with everything else compounding those core issues. All humor aside, Les Manley (1 & 2) are both games that fell like they were made by adolescents for their friends, with all too many digs at competitors and "I bet you won't get this in a million years!" puzzles to ever be taken seriously in their own right.

  7. What I'm learning from this and Escape from LA is that using LA as an integral part of your fiction leads to it being bad. ;)

    1. Now you can at least sigh in relief of getting through the posts of this game.