The game gives you the option of playing in mission or free-form mode. The mission mode provides you with additional goals to meet as you publish magazines, throw parties, and expand the Mansion, while the free-form mode stays true to its name by letting you play however you feel fit. Though the PC version's mouse-based controls feel a bit more natural, especially given the heavy influence of The Sims, experiences with the PS2 and Xbox versions aren't too different from each other, both in terms of navigation and overall presentation.
The most compelling bit of content inside Playboy: The Mansion involves the unlockable extras, which include classic Playboy covers, centerfolds, and interviews with celebrities ranging from Snoop Dogg to Jimmy Carter. The dozens of photos from across Playboy's history provide an interesting retrospective on the magazine, and to a certain extent, American pop culture at large. The interviews hold up without any nostalgic assistance and simply represent good reads. Ironically, the articles might just be the best reason to subscribe to Playboy: The Mansion.
The game plays an awful lot like The Sims, and its presentation similarities to Maxis' suburban lifestyle simulation are many as well. The game is mostly played from a three-quarters overhead perspective, though you can spin the camera around and zoom in and out at will. The people in the game all have a pleasantly nondescript look to them, Ã© la The Sims, and after interacting with dozens of unique celebrities and staffers, they'll all start blending together. Similarly, the girls who pose for the cover and centerfold shoots, despite having different hairstyles, skin tones, and bra sizes, are otherwise indistinguishable. Combine this with the limited animation routines the girls go through during the photo shoots, and over the course of publishing a year's worth of Playboy magazines, it'll start seeming like you're just taking pictures of the same girl in a different wig...which, if you think about it, is kind of creepy. The overall look is mildly playful and a little chunky, and despite a bevy of topless models galavanting around the grounds, the game never even proffers a close brush with titillation. It makes some effort, but the bland, somewhat mechanical look of the game keeps it from being anything more than just slightly bawdy.
This is what happens when The Sims goes wild.
Buying sound systems for the Mansion can provide you with some good background music that covers a pretty broad range of tunes, from fairly stock rock, hip-hop, and techno stations to more-unusual options, such as an industrial station, a flamenco station, and a jazz station. More curious than the eclectic nature of the soundtrack in Playboy: The Mansion is the rampant censoring. Having already earned a firm M-rating with its healthy attitude toward toplessness (both digital and otherwise), Playboy: The Mansion's self-censorship seems almost hypocritical. Though Hef and everyone else who visits the Mansion speaks in some house-brand version of simlish, the gibberish language spoken by sims in The Sims, you have a handful of assistants and executives that will regularly dole out useful information in plain English. Their utility far outstrips the chops of the voice actors, whose reading of the expositional dialogue is often stilted and unnatural. The music is the most prominent element in the game's sound design, and it does inject a little personality into the proceedings. However, the game still can't help but feel kind of dry.
Beyond simply not being a particularly compelling game, Playboy: The Mansion really seems to balk at presenting the swinging spirit of the Playboy name, and it openly treats both Hefner and the Playboy reader like a commodity. Like Hef himself, who has gradually shifted from outspoken cultural icon to caricatured corporate mascot, there's not a lot of Playboy left in The Mansion.