Privates Review

   10/08/2010 at 21:04       Tom       11 COMMENTS. - Score 4/5
 - Privates, Zombie Cow, Condomn headed marine, WTF?, Jizz

Educational games. Not a genre from our favourite past-time that has many good memories attached to it. In fact I struggled to think of any and had to resort to Googling the subject. And even then the only ones I really recognised were Oregon Trail and Where On Earth Is Carmen Sandiego... Yeah, not so great.

Then there's Zombie Cow Games. By that I mean the game developer, not a bizarre sub-genre that involves undead bovine cannibals. No, Zombie Cow are best known for the indie point-and-click adventure games Ben There, Dan That and Time Gentlemen, Please. I'll forgive you if you've never heard of them but you would be doing yourself a favour if you were to purchase them from Steam. Both are loving tributes to the Lucasarts adventure games of old, with genuinely funny childish humour and what I'll kindly call "charming retro-styled" graphics. So when I heard of their new game Privates I was immediately interested. It may be educational but it's also free.

Available from the E4 website, Privates is an attempt at sexual education for teenagers, not to discourage them from sticking their bits in other people's bits but rather go about it the right way. A slice of Edutainment if you will.

Pink and Hard

So you play a little humanoid creature called John "Jack" Sterling. Well I assume he's not human as he's smaller than Sperm and looks nothing like Dennis Quaid. He's a rough and stern character, a clear parody of the likes of Modern Warfare's Soap McTavish (one of a few video game references – look out for tributes to Left 4 Dead and Gears Of War as well). Jack has been placed in charge of a squad of three privates. That's privates as in the military rank by the way - see what they did there? These privates are introduced as Foxtrot Squad, they are "the worst of the worst" sent on dangerous missions to... *ahem* harden them up and make them into lean, mean STI killing machines.

The player only has direct control of Jack himself, with mouse and keyboard controls being the order of the day. Presented in the 2.5D platforming style the keyboard moves Jack with mouse for aiming and shooting. The privates follow behind, loosely following his lead, but don't expect any squad based action. The privates cannot be ordered around, there are no squad based mechanics, they at least will use the correct ammo type for their weapon (anti-viral and anti-bacteria for example) so are basically extra guns to be protected.

The tone is instantly set with a quick briefing/introduction "on site" as it were. The tutorial takes place across a range of pubic hairs, with red blobs representing herpes blocking the way at points. It soon becomes obvious the education doesn't extend to accurately mapping the human body as the entrance into the vagina amusingly has an escalator leading down into the gunky, oozing, infected depths. I doubt you were expecting high-brow comedy and Privates does not intend to go against these expectations, preferring to sit giggling at words like "winkies" and "choo-choo".

But the super tiny world of Privates is full of nice little touches like that escalator. The internals of the infected people that Foxtrot Squad explore are lit up by neon signs proudly declaring the locations like VAGINA and G-SPOT with Christmas lights for decoration. The enemy design too is amusing, with weird and wonderful representations of the different infections. My particular favourites being the top-hatted scoundrel syphilis and the invincible AIDS monster who chases you while shouting "AIDS AIDS AIDS". I felt particularly bad laughing at that one.

Jonny Quest

Thankfully each of the Privates is wearing protection is the form of a condom hat. These jonny caps can be knocked off after a few good hits allowing the STIs to hurt and kill the privates. At the end of each of the 5 levels bonus points are awarded for caps left on and privates alive so it's for the best interest of your high-score to make sure they don't get knocked into a large yeast infection by giant sperm. High score or not, let's face it, that's no way to go.

Of course there's a serious message behind the spunk filled crevasses, a quick press of the space bar activates the scan mode which identifies the nasties in the local area, not only telling the player which weapon will beat them, but also giving facts such as symptoms and methods of transmission. The privates themselves are a clueless bunch who believe such fallacies as preventing pregnancy by getting the woman to jump and down after sex. Quickly corrected by the clearly annoyed Jack they are not just the comic foils to Jack's straight man but also cyphers for the teenagers that Privates is aimed at.

Sadly what may be most off-putting for the audience is likely to be the amount of bugs in the game. No amount of amusing reference to spunking cocks and video games will disguise the performance issues that are apparent within Privates. Looking at the Zombie Cow and E4 websites it seems they are well aware of the problems but it's little comfort in the face of yet another crash to desktop. I haven't even made it to the end of the final level as I experienced three crashes in one session causing me to give up in frustration.

The game itself is far from perfect too. Each of your guns firing modes is designated a colour as well, such as red for anti-bacterial. Each type will only affect certain baddies as well, so the red bullets will do nothing against the viral Chlamydia. Since there's nothing on the HUD to remind you which colour does what at a glance it gets annoyingly fiddly when under attack by multiple types of infection. The Privates too can be a nuisance, sometimes running off ahead or refusing to follow Jack for seemingly no good reason, eventually being killed by bacteria with a bad attitude.

But having said that I think it's important to keep in mind that Privates is a free educational game. In context Zombie Cow have made quite an achievement. It educates without becoming preachy and is a decent couple of hours of (admittedly immature) entertainment. Assuming it doesn't crash on you that is.


UPDATE: Since this review was published yesterday, Zombie Cow have released an update for the game that focuses on performance, bugs and crashes. As they say themselves, Zombie Cow is a tiny developer with very little money (that's what she said! Woo!) and as it's only 24 hours removed from my review I felt it would be fair to download the new version and have a play. I can happily say that I have now completed Privates. Not only have I had no crashes since, performance is also much improved. As such the game feels more responsive and “zippier” making it a much better experience all round. Well worth an extra point on the score I feel. Well done guys.

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