Sexy times are in the cards
Seduce Me is only on our radar because it was developed by folks who worked on the Triple-A Killzone franchise, and later denied a place on Steam's Greenlight project. We likely wouldn't have noticed it, much less be reviewing it, had Valve not opted to shut it out. But here we are.
There are myriad reasons that gamers of all stripes should support a game like Seduce Me. Games should be free to tastefully tackle sex as a subject without being punished commercially or by culture at large. As an effective outlet for base urges, games should be able to do more than violence and still be commercially successful. An "AO" rating from the ESRB shouldn't be a kiss of death. The culture at large should be less shy about one of the most natural human activities. The list goes on.
Unfortunately, for gamers and for developer No Reply, Seduce Me is not the game that will do the things above.
Seduce Me (PC)
There's no getting around it: Seduce Me is a porn game, straight up. It's not a visual novel with sex scenes, and there isn't much in the way of "romance" as one might expect from the likes of Mass Effect or Dragon Age. The prime (perhaps only) motivation for playing Seduce Me will be to see fictional people boning.
With a title like Seduce Me, one would be forgiven for expecting little more than that. And yet somehow, the game manages to both fulfill - and betray - those expectations.
Now, it's not as if Seduce Me lacks sex. There's plenty of it to be had, and it's not shy about being explicit. Gamers who worried that it would limit itself to simple innuendo and "sideboob" have nothing to fear; there's porn in that thar videogame, and it earns its AO rating.
Except, the actual process of getting to the porn, the gameplay and mechanics, are rather different from the initial pitch. In truth, the game has more in common with titles labeled "Strip Poker" or those old cocktail table machines where customers would play Arkanoid to gradually uncover a picture of a naked woman, than it does with Mass Effect, the Sims-like Singles: Flirt Up Your Life, or a Japanese "bishoujo" game.
For one, despite its touting "RPG elements", Seduce Me has little narrative to speak of. You are a strapping young man invited some reason to a wealthy socialite's Mediterranean villa for a vacation of sex and debauchery with four nubile young porn-movie stereotypes. And though the developers insisted in interviews that the women "are more than just their bodies", there's not much to go on, unless one counts developing certain sexual fetishes out of one formative relationship or another as significant characterization.
The girls do have their own endings, so the skeleton of a story exists, creating an end goal beyond "Look at naughty pictures and maybe bust a nut to them." Random events scattered about the map also help flesh out the characters slighty, but the fact that they can be encountered by chance lends itself to repetition.
In truth this is more than one gets from your average porn game (particularly one outside the Japanese sphere) and one can hardly blame it for not having nuanced characters or a complex plot, but Seduce Me's approach to the act of seduction itself is reductive, baffling, and is borderline offensive, depending on one's tolerance for pornographic content and/or crude interpretations of human relationships.
This is where the game's "Erotic Strategy" classification comes into play. As they roam the island seeking opportunities to bump uglies with a lady, players can build up "Popularity Points", "Intimacy Points", and "Attraction Points".
Popularity points act as a health meter of sorts. Losing minigames (more on that later) decreases them, and when they reach zero, players are kicked off the island and sent back to their pathetic, sex-party-less lives. Intimacy and Attraction points are earned by winning minigames and choosing correct actions during cutscenes.
All these points are needed to er, enjoy the island's various pleasures. Some dialog options require a certain amount of Popularity, characters will reveal their fetishes at high Intimacy levels, and actually doing the deed with the ladies requires Attraction. The dirtier the deed, the more points demanded.
Boiling complex social interactions down to high scores is problem enough - though to be fair that kind of quantifying isn't limited to porn games - but the way to get those points is where things get strange.
As stated earlier, points are mostly earned by winning minigames. The issue is what the minigames actually are. One might expect these minigames to be ripoffs of classic arcade titles, ala recent Leisure Suit Larry games, or Quick Time Events ala God of War, but no. To Seduce Me, "Erotic Strategy" is to win a card game, and not in the fashion of a Strip Poker scenario.
Every single minigame, from "Flirting" to "Small Talk" to "Intimate Chat" to "Confrontation," involves playing - and winning - some form of card game. If not for the sex, Seduce Me would not be out of place alongside Minesweeper or Solitaire in your operating system's pre-installed game selection.
That said, the card games themselves are fairly engaging...for card games. All of them use cards of varying suits and ranks, though the suits aren't limited to the standard Clubs/Spades/Hearts/Diamonds quadrachotomy. Like the pictorial symbols used to represent conversation in The Sims, one might "talk" about a bottle of wine, a puppy, a plane, a house, a pile of money, or two people engaging in foreplay.
Each minigame has different rules, but all seem to be point-based variations on Crazy Eights, Rummy, or Sets and Runs (though I'm not familiar enough with card games to tell for sure). "Flirting" has players discarding and drawing cards to try to keep their score as close to their "opponent's" as possible (closer scores yield more Attraction points). "Intimate Conversation" constructs sets and runs in an attempt to shed cards, and simple chatting means trying to beat the dealer's highest-value suit, or putting down a trump to win (for lack of a matching suit).
To make a great logical stretch, one could see how these card games thematically align with the back-and-forth of relationship building and trying to get into one's pants. Matching point scores could be like finding common interests. Finding good sets could be interpreted as displaying knowledge, and discarding cards could be similar to winning an argument with a strong hand.
But really, come on. These are card games. In a title that's ostensibly about getting people to have sex with you. Calling it a tough sell would be the understatement of the hour. Worse still, that nasty aspect of card-based games, namely the effect of the random draw, rears its head at times. Since all the games are score-based and use the card ranks as multipliers and modifiers, one's ability to win consistently is often determined by the quality of the initial hand. Players can't "hit" by drawing additional cards to improve their hands, and the rules for passing are a tad too strict, so players will occasionally find themselves in "death spirals", with rounds lost the moment they start and no option except to swallow the loss or abuse its autosave system to restart the match (only one save is allowed at a time). It can be frustrating, especially given the fact that seducing people is usually considered a skill rather than a windfall.
But enough with all that. I've yet to answer the most pressing, important, and perhaps only relevant question to be posed about Seduce Me: "How's the porn?"
In a word, it's decent.
As mentioned, the game is unafraid to be explicit, and its scenarios could be classified as "hardcore" though not quite approaching "deviant". Think of the "Hot Coffee" minigames from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, but a little more graphic than that. Scenes consist of a single image accompanied by descriptive text, arranged in the manner of a comic book (sans word bubbles). The writing sits at about the quality of fiction found in a Penthouse letters column. All the sex is depicted as consensual and between legal adults, so players needn't fear looking like criminals for playing. Sadly, in a blow against diversity, the game doesn't include same-sex relationships, or for that matter, the option to seduce a person of African ethnicity.
Unfortunately, there aren't too many sex scenes, or events for that matter. In the three to five hours it takes to raise enough points with a single character and see their ending, I encountered multiple incidences of the same scene event. Each girl has only a handful of encounters to explore, and as mentioned, has little if any dialog to speak of. What content there is is of decent quality, but there's simply not enough of it. A more expansive, diverse cast of romance options, or even the ability to...engage with some of the minor characters that are otherwise just there to bring up Popularity points.
Environments are rendered in 3D (via the Unity Engine), and look smoothly rendered, though the colors seem somewhat washed-out, and the villa, ostensibly the site of debauched sex-party socialites, is devoid of people besides whoever players are talking to at any one time. There's also not much reason to explore a location unless telltale sound-effect text emits from its direction, indicating a character or cutscene's presence.
Characters are shown as 2D cutouts, drawn in a realistic style that should appeal to folks turned off by the anime-style character design that populates most available erotic games. Everyone looks like a legal adult, and not immediately sleazy (excepting one character's maid outfit).
If its developers had lofty goals for Seduce Me, the final product simply does not reflect them, and is outshined at most turns by its peers, most of which are not porn games.
As a game about relationships, it pales beside the likes of Digital: A Love Story.
As a game meant to tackle issues of sex and gender relations, games like Catherine, Persona 4 and Don't Take It Personally, Babe, It Just Ain't Your Story are better for that sort of thing.
As a strategy game or RPG, it compares well to Solitaire, but that's not really saying much.
However, taken simply as it is, as a game where solving puzzles leads to porn, it's near the forefront of its field, particularly among non-Japanese games. It does make an effort to provide more than naughty pictures, including cursory character development and some semblance of a narrative. It's pretty and technically sound.
While slightly anemic in content, it's titillating when it needs to be, and is at times even fun to play - I wouldn't mind playing the card games with real-life friends (minus the sex).
And frankly, for a porn game, that's sometimes all one needs.
THE VERDICT - Seduce Me
Reviewed by Josh Tolentino