It’s time for a bit of glamour here at VGJunk. Sunny Beverly Hills, high-end plastic surgeons, Playboy models – they all feature in today’s article, an article about an action game that made the bold decision to contain as little action as possible. Brought to the Playstation in 2001 by the Shanghai branch of Ubisoft, it’s the all-expenses spared cheesefest VIP!
You might recognise the lady with the gun as former Baywatch star Pamela Anderson. Or you might not, I don’t know how old you are. Is Pamela Anderson still famous? I’m not sure, I don’t keep up with these things. I get the impression that she’s not famous enough to land a starring role in a television series these days, but back in the heady days of 1998 Pamela Anderson was enough of a draw to get her own starring vehicle in the form of VIP. That’s right, today’s game is a licensed title is based on an America action-comedy show starring Pamela Anderson and a bunch of other people you’ve never heard of. I’d say the odds on this one being a lost classic are fairly low.
Now, I’ve never seen an episode of VIP, so I’ve had to get my information about the show from the internet. This was one of the increasingly rare occasions that looking for said info didn’t immediately send me to a vast and comprehensive wiki on the subject, so this might not be 100% accurate. From what I can tell, VIP is the story of Vallery Irons, portrayed by Anderson in a way that plays up her ditzy blonde image. Vallery accidentally saves a famous person’s life, and is then hired by an agency of bodyguards to the rich and famous to act as the public figurehead of the company as a publicity stunt. Potential clients are lured in by the charms of Vallery Irons Protection – hey, that’s where the name of the show comes from! - while a team of professionals do the actual work. However, despite being a klutz Vallery always manages to save the day herself. She’s basically Inspector Gadget, except only one part of her body has been surgically enhanced. And speaking of plastic surgeons, that’s a good introduction to the game itself. Segue-mobile, away!
This disturbing lump of turn-of-the-century CGI is Dr. Kindle, a plastic surgeon who loves plastic surgery so much he’s crafted his own hair out of plastic. Those aren’t sunglasses, they’re the result of a twisted experiment to give people the eyes of the common housefly. Dr. Kindle has a problem, and it’s not just that he owns the world’s ugliest mobile phone: a small army of hired killers is storming his house. Naturally, there’s only one place that he can turn to for help.
Yes, this looks like a job for the VIP team! Thankfully, the CGI work is much better on Vallery than the good doctor, and I’d say that’s a fair likeness of Pamela Anderson. The face might be right but the voice isn’t, however, and none of the show’s cast performs any voice acting in the game. Instead, Vallery sounds a bit like Malibu Stacy from that episode of The Simpsons where Lisa designs her own talking doll. That won’t stop Vallery Irons, though, and she’s straight over to Dr. Kindle’s mansion to save him.
Okay, here we go. Vallery’s ready for action, and she’s not going to let some bloke in a suit stop her. Combat is joined, but how is this going to work? Like a side-scrolling beat-em-up? Or maybe a God of War type - square for light attack, triangle for heavy attack, that kind of thing?
Ha ha, oh, you poor fool. If that was the case, VIP might have turned out to be mildly interesting, and Ubisoft weren’t about to allow that to happen. You beat up the bad guys, sure, but Vallery’s attacks are performed by inputting the short button sequence that appears in the middle of the screen. That’s right, it’s a rhythm-action game with no rhythm. Imagine Parappa the Rapper without any music or fun or charm. Kick, punch, it’s all in the sequential tapping of buttons.
Enter the sequence correctly, and quickly enough, and Vallery will attack. In this case, she’s bashing the guy with her handbag because, erm, she’s a lady? I have no idea. I know she’s got guns knocking around the VIP office, but she neglected to bring one and instead pummels her way through the villains. I can’t fault her confidence, that’s for sure. Fail the sequence and the enemies will either move closer or attack, but that’s not likely to happen when all you need to press is down and then X.
Have created a small pile of unconscious men with the Louis Vuitton logo forever imprinted onto their skulls, Vallery runs to the next scene. The animators have done an incredible job of capturing the awkward, stilted jog of someone wearing a skin-tight dress and six-inch heels. I don’t think it was intentional. Everyone in the game runs like that.
What’s this? Another, completely different style of gameplay? You’re veering dangerously towards “collection of minigames” territory, VIP. This time it’s a crosshair shooter, and while Vallery sensibly hides behind a gatepost, her team-mate Nikki stands right out in the open and shoots the bad guys from three feet away. This one works pretty much as you’d expect - you put the crosshair over the enemy and press fire. If they don’t fall down, press fire a couple more times. You get different amounts of points depending on where you shoot them. Turning a man’s kneecap into shattered bone soup with a lead garnish is worth only a quarter of the points you get for shooting him in the face, for example. The hitboxes are a little strange, in that any shot where a part of an enemy is inside the green reticule counts as a hit, making the aiming feel loose and overly-generous. Time Crisis it ain’t, but so long as you remember to reload it’s, oh, what’s the word I’m looking for? Functional, that’s it. Let’s not go crazy, though. It definitely doesn’t put the “fun” in “functional.”
Oh good, we’re back to the hand-to-hand combat. Get used to seeing it, because it makes up about seventy-five percent of i’s gameplay. That’s a shame, because it’s extremely tedious. It’s just so slow, that’s the problem. You have to stand around and wait for the enemies to come to you before you can input the buttons. Then, when you have hit the enemies and knocked them to the ground, you have to stand around again and wait for them to stand up and come in for another try. For every second or so that you spend actually inputting the commands, there are at least ten seconds where you’re doing nothing. Ninety percent of the fighting segments are waiting, and tapping out combinations of buttons is most certainly not interesting enough to be worth the wait. Apart from requiring more buttons to be pressed later in the game, nothing about the combat ever changes, either. It’s the same sequences to activate the same canned animations over and over again, against numbers of enemies so over-inflated they don’t so much bog down the game as tie breezeblocks to its ankles and throw it into a swamp. There are some very minor quirks to the fighting system, though. One is that if you do really badly, eventually the game will start offering single-button commands to help you get out of danger. Sometimes commands come right after each other, and if you’re quick enough you can string two attacks together in a vain effort to speed things along. However, if you are quick at inputting the commands you actually get fewer points, because attacking just before the timer runs out nets you a “counter” bonus. Of course, you can’t see the timer, so getting counters amounts to nothing but blind luck.
The stage ends with Nikki threatening the mansion’s door at gunpoint. The door remains tight-lipped, so Nikki kicks it down. That’ll teach it.
The search for Dr. Kindle continues inside, with plenty more of the already-tired fighting “action” to wade through. This time it’s Nikki’s turn to put the tensile strength of her leather trousers to the test. The different characters do have different animations, which I suppose is something. Not something especially good or interesting, but something.
Vallery bravely fights on, despite losing her left arm from the elbow down. She’s a real trouper, this one. She’s clinging onto that handbag with the grim determination of someone who will do absolutely anything to protect her client, apart from swapping her bag for a billyclub or something.
It turns out the doctor was hiding in a cupboard. Judging by his still very unpleasant-to-look-at face, I suspect this is something he does a lot. You know, when the villagers storm his house with pitchforks and burning torches. He looks like a creature given life after being formed from clay, a golem created by an artistically challenged Rabbi who’s only reference picture was of Gordon Ramsey.
Our heroes attempt to flee, but there’s a shocking twist: a Jesuit priest has taken up a sniping position and he has them in his sights!
This leads to an astonishingly dull sequence in which Vallery runs away while Monsignor Assassino takes pot-shots at her. Never for a second imagining that the player might want to have direct control over their character, Ubisoft instead made this a section where you have to tap left or right every now and then so that Vallery can use her incredible precognitive powers to dodge the bullets before they’re fired. It’s so insultingly simple that you’ll have no trouble clearing it unless staring at Dr. Kindle’s face has sent you blind, and the sniper faces a long trip back to the Vatican to inform the Pope of his failure. I think we’ve got real potential for a VIP / The da Vinci Code crossover here. Potential for it to be the worst form of entertainment ever conceived by human minds, I mean.
The VIP team are a target now, and as their headquarters are attacked by the villains, control switches to Tasha as she attempts to sneak away. That’s Tasha in the screenshot above, demonstrating why you should never run on wet linoleum. The “escape” segment consists of the worst “stealth” gameplay I’ve ever had the misfortune to come across, which is saying something considering the amount of times I’ve complained about enforced stealth sections in modern games. It takes the brain-dead simplicity of the “avoid the sniper” scene and marries it to the drawn-out waiting of the fighting sections: stand out of sight until the nearby enemies aren’t looking, then press either left or right when the prompt appears to move to a new hiding spot. It is to Metal Gear Solid as chewing on discarded underwear you found in a roadside puddle is to haute cuisine, and twice as likely to make you ruefully reflect on the life choices you’ve made.
Kay, the team’s computer expert, gets her chance to shine with this minigame. It’s difficult to explain the concept concisely, but here goes: the red line is the pattern you need to match. It scrolls from right to left, and as each segment reaches the left-hand side, you can move your line – the grey one – either up or down in an attempt to get the two lines to match up. Once you’ve got a segment correct, it turns green and locks into place so you can’t accidentally change it on a subsequent pass. That’d be very easy to do, because the amount of time you’re given to manipulate each segment is only a couple of seconds, so there’s some frantic button-tapping when you’re trying to the get bigger spikes into place. Fortunately it loops around a few times so you get more than one shot at each part, and overall it’s not a bad little diversion. It’s hardly the most graphically compelling interface you’ll ever see – it looks like the ECG results of someone in the middle of licking a plug socket - but it’s fast and fairly unique. It beats the hell out of a sliding block puzzle, I’ll tell you that much.
Kay has proven herself to be a valuable asses to the team. She describes herself as “the Shaquille O’Neal of computer hacking.” Yes, I can see the resemblance.
The world’s dictionary-makers may have launched legal proceedings against me to prevent me from using the word “action” to describe VIP’s gameplay, but I will not be intimidated and the action continues as one of the VIP members beats up a tree. This man’s name is Quick. I’ll leave it up to you to ponder how he got that name. It certainly wasn’t for his speed in beating up trees, and this scene that adds absolutely nothing to the game manages to make minutes feel like months. For her part, Vallery stands transfixed in the background, horrified by the meaningless arboreal abuse she’s witnessing. It makes sense to me: judging by Vallery’s wooden pose, she’s part tree herself.
Quick moves on from hassling defenceless trees to shooting thugs. He has a rapid-firing assault rifle rather than a pistol, but that doesn’t make much difference to the gameplay. What did make a difference was that I figured out the quirks of the reloading system. You fire bullets, and when you run out you press circle to reload, right? The thing is, “reloading” in this game magically makes more bullets appear in your gun’s magazine. There’s no reloading animation, no vulnerable moment while you slap in a fresh clip – press reload and your gun’s reloaded. It’s an efficient system, that’s for damn sure. This means that you can fire and reload at the same time, so if you press circle and X together you’ll never run out of bullets, meaning you can spray lead around with wild abandon. You have to hear the reloading sound effect repeatedly, sure, but it might make you feel nostalgic because I’m fairly certain it’s the same sound effect that plays when you collect a weapon in Goldeneye. But what about my accuracy statistic, I hear you cry? Well, yes, there is an accuracy stat on the between-stage results screen. However, the accuracy stat - get this - has no relationship to the shooting stages. I assume it only measures the accuracy of your button presses during the fighting scenes, so if you want to take a novel approach to gunfights and defeat you foes by putting so many bullets into the air that they end up breathing them in and choking on the bloody things, go right ahead. VIP’s not going to penalise you for it.
At some point, a little more plot is revealed. Dr. Kindle tells the team that he did some facelift work for the Mafia, and now they’re coming to kill him. Why? Supposedly the doctor worked on the mob boss’ nephew. The mob boss says the doctor is blackmailing his nephew, while the doctor says all he did was send his patient the bill. It’s difficult to know who to believe. On the one hand you’ve got the Mafia, not know for being the most honest and upstanding members of society. On the other hand, did you see Dr. Kindle’s face? He looks like the title character from an Eighties comedy where a caveman somehow travels to the modern day and takes the medical community by storm. And he never takes his sunglasses off, you can’t trust someone like that. The thing is, this is never resolved in-game. The mob sends more gangsters than you’d find in a complete box set of The Sopranos to kill this guy, but you never find out who’s telling the truth. Vallery Irons is a strong believer in the “kill ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out” school of thinking.
Oh, by the way, the head of this crime family is called Don Macabre. He had better be a god-damned vampire gangster. C’mon, VIP, you’re 99% of the way to being completely bananas, you might as well go for the gold.
There are a few fight scenes that take place on a beach, the terrified holidaymakers presumably fleeing as Vallery and her friends do their best to fill every hospital in a thousand-mile radius. Having beaten one of the tougher thugs, Quick exclaims that he should go back to his boss and “tell him how that floor tastes.” Okay, Quick – if that is your real name – a couple of things. One, who refers to a sandy beach as “the floor”? The ground, maybe, but the floor? That’s just weird. The other thing this guy can taste is a mixture of sand, blood and his own broken teeth, so give him a break and lay off the trash talk, okay?
The gang then learn that the Macabre mob family are dealing in stolen microchips – a revelation that inspires one of the cast to say it’s “time to download some hurt,” and they don’t mean a torrent of Johnny Cash covers. Honestly, I’m not sure what they mean. An email with a Word document full of insulting phrases attached, maybe. Anyway, they head to a computer trade fair to put a stop to the Mafia’s plans, the upshot of which is that Tasha ends up in a boss battle with the sniper priest. Like all highly-trained snipers, the priest stands in plain sight, at a distance from which throwing house bricks would be just as effective as using a high-calibre rifle. He pops out every now and then, and you have to shoot him before he shoots you. Thankfully, his oversized hat means you can always see where he’d hiding. Not exactly a tense shoot-out, then. Shooting him when he pops up feels more like training a cat to stop scratching the furniture by shooting it with a water pistol than anything else.
Once you’ve shot the priest enough times, he runs away. I was half expecting him to drink a glass of water and have it spray out of the holes in his body like a Tom and Jerry cartoon, but no, he just leaves. Good job he wore his bullet-proof cassock, I guess. Anyway, with him out of the way, the VIP team can access Macabre’s computer files – so long as they can break the encryption. So, what high-tech cybersecurity measures must Kay bypass to get the valuable intel?
Sliding block puzzles. Not one, not two, but three sliding block puzzles. This is why you don’t put Fisher-Price in charge of your computer security. Ever the hallmark of laziness in game design, the sliding block puzzle is a perfect fit for VIP, a game that never makes even the slightest effort to be fun to play. The only saving grace is that because they’re pictures of faces, sometimes the pieces will align in a manner that creates a portrait of a weird, potato-faced alien.
So, what else happens in this game? Well, how about a scene where you tap X as fast as possible so that Vallery can hold a door closed. That exciting enough for ya? No? What if I told you that Vallery can hold the door closed with such raw force that the three grown men on the other side are sent flying backwards, even though the door doesn’t actually move? Good work, Hodor.
Another segment sees Vallery fending off a group of gun-toting mafiosi by hurling bottles of booze at them. I know your eyes are inevitably being drawn to the chairs in the foreground, with their avant-garde design and the faces of what look like serial killers from the Seventies printed on the upholstery, but ignore those and instead focus on the gumption of a woman who fights fire with a half-full bottle of Disaronno and wins.
I might have joked about Vallery beating people up with her handbag earlier, but honestly it’s nice to see Vallery (and the other female members of the VIP team) getting things done for themselves. They all perform plenty of brutal beatings and gun crime, that’s for sure. There’s a section where Vallery is abducted, but rather than waiting for a rescue she escapes on her own and pummels dozens of people in the process. VIP even passes the Bechdel test. I’m not saying it’s a feminist masterpiece or anything, but still, I expected worse from a game that lets you use the points you earn to unlock photos of Anderson in her lingerie.
That’s right, there’s a photo mode – after each stage some new shots are unlocked and you can purchase them with points. Some of them are photos of the real actors, so if you want a blurry, low-res picture of Pamela Anderson and you’re not willing to travel back in time to an internet newsgroup from 1998, this is your chance. Some of the pictures are stills from the game’s cutscenes, just in case you can’t get enough of the incredible graphics. Even better, some of the early photos are from cutscenes that play much later in the game, so you can spoil VIP’s plot for yourself if you like.
Here’s a screenshot that really sums up the experience of playing VIP: grindingly dull button-tapping combat between two ugly polygonal models against a muddy, boring, pre-rendered backdrop that could double as the car park in one of the more psychologically subtle version of Hell.
The gang decide to go after Don Macabre himself and put a stop to his criminal enterprises once and for all. Quite why they feel the need to bring down the mob all on their own is never discussed. I suppose now that they’ve battered or gunned down hundreds of the Don’s men, they figure they might as well finish the job. This is Don Macabre himself, by the way. He is not a vampire. Look, I’m as disappointed as you are.
Having chased the Don to his private heliport, Nikki has to blow through the doors using C4. The C4 is planted by, you guessed it, performing a sequence of button presses. These sequences are such an integral part of the game that it’s a shame VIP didn’t manage to make them work with 100% accuracy, and sometimes the game will tell you you’ve pressed the wrong button even though you definitely haven’t. I played a lot of Just Cause 2, and that game has some much longer and more involved button-pressing sequences. I don’t think I’ve ever made a mistake performing them in Just Cause 2, but VIP was semi-regularly telling me that I wasn’t doing it right. Normally I’m happy to admit that I might just be bad at something, but in this case I’m convinced the game has to take the blame.
During the final confrontation, Vallery is held at gunpoint by the Don. With a level of sheer appropriateness that borders on ironic genius, you beat the final boss by tapping X as fast as you can. That’s it, that’s the final boss battle. You don’t even have to hit the button that quickly. It’s kind of perfect: what other way could a game so utterly devoid of imagination end?
Once you’ve tapped enough to fill the bar, Vallery’s berserker rage kicks in. Ignoring the gun pointed at her head, she spins around – all of this with no input from the player, mind you – and beats the everloving shit out of Don Macabre. Like, absolutely batters him. There’s no way that she hasn’t beaten him to death with her bare hands. The Don is dead, his internal organs rapidly becoming external, and the VIP team have saved the day.
Vallery’s post-murder quip? She says “trick or treat that.” No, I don’t have a goddamn clue, either. Unless he really was a vampire and this game takes place on Halloween. She says it with a look of genuine psychopathy on her face and her hands on her hips. Everyone’s got their hands on their hips, except Tasha. Always a rebel, that one.
The game ends with a brief cutscene that’s nothing more than a joke about breast implants and then boom, VIP is over and we can all return to our loved ones, haggard and raw from the experience. Okay, so maybe it’s not quite that bad. It’s a terrible game, sure, but at least it’s insane enough to be worth a laugh or two. The real problem with VIP (aside from the inclusion of sliding block puzzles) is that it commits the worst sin any videogame can – it’s boring. Really, really boring, outside of the cutscenes. What a shocker to learn that QTEs: The Videogame is boring, right? There’s just such an embarrassing lack of effort in every aspect of the game, and if the developers couldn’t be bothered to make it interesting, then why should I bother playing it? Exactly. But I did, and I hope you enjoyed reading about it. Writing this article is what I think they mean when they tell you to turn lemons into lemonade, although in this case the lemons were emitting a soporific chemical that threatened to put me in a coma while I was squeezing them. Watch the cutscenes on YouTube if you enjoy sub-B-movie action and nonsensical trash-talk, otherwise pretend this game doesn't exist.
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