Oh look, It’s another April 8th so it’s time to look at another great game! This year I’ve opted to look at a title that just about crosses the precipice into greatness: How to Be a Complete Bastard on the Zx Spectrum.
As games go, How to Be a Complete Bastard is unusual for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s a licensed title that was based on a book rather than a cartoon or film (and a book by comedian Adrian Edmondson no less.) Secondly, it’s the only game I can think of that creates a three dimensional perspective via two different two dimensional view points. Finally it has a NAUGHTY WORD in the title teehehe!
Now that’s grabbed your attention, what’s it all about then? Well, as the name suggests, the aim of the game is to basically be a complete bastard! Having gate-crashed a party populated by a load of unpleasant yuppie types, it’s your job to encourage your fellow guests to leave by searching the place for hidden items and using them to carry out as many pranks, disgusting social faux pas and general bastard-like actions as you can actively get away with.
There’s a balancing act to be done, mind you. Though you’re supposed to be unpleasant, you can’t be criminal: chopping someone to pieces with a lawn mower is the act of a psycho, not a Bastard. Oh, and speaking of killing people, the game’s also over if you recklessly end your own life – so no breaking wind near an open flame or attempting to drink all of the ‘Monster XXXXXXXXXX Get-Pissed-Quick’ lager in one go (though urinating in the kitchen sink is fine)
If you’re thinking this all sounds a bit puerile, well you’re right – I’m definitely not going to pretend that there’s anything adult about a game that includes a wee/drunk/fart/smellometer. Yes, the inclusion of condoms as edible objects might technically make this game fall into the ‘mature’ bracket, but it’s not the sort of maturity that anyone over the age of 12 year would respect. If you can get past the smutty hijinx, however, there’s quite an interesting social simulator at work.
You see, in practice How to Be a Complete Bastard is actually quite a clever open-world adventure game. The house you find yourself in is both large and fully explorable without any sort of impediment. Unlike your average adventure game of this era, there are no arbitrary lock/key puzzles to keep you hemmed into the initial areas until you solve them. In fact, the only puzzles to be solved here are ones related to the unpleasant pranks required to remove your fellow guests from the party and acquire the game’s all-important ‘bastard’ points. On top of this, the world is constantly on the move. Guests mill around from room to room, giving the impression of a real living-breathing party. It’s impressive stuff for a game designed to fit into a 48k of RAM.
In fact, speaking of the puzzles, these are generally quite fun – but they do range in tone from the slightly mischievous (cling film on the toilet seat) to the worryingly disturbed (using matches to burn down the furniture.) It’s also probably worth warning you that, as adventure games go, it’s definitely at more of the Sierra than the LucusArts end of the spectrum.
Though most of the puzzles are in themselves logical, there are a couple actions (such as putting an ‘adult’ film in the living room video recorder) which can bring your game to a bit of an abrupt end without providing any real logic or warning. On top of that, using an item inappropriately (which unfortunately includes stashing it in the rubbish bins outside) also means it’s gone for good and won’t be available if you need it later – an imposing restriction in a game where the character can only hold two items at once.
Another potentially problematic thing about How to Be a Complete Bastard is its’ bold double-screen interface. As you can see from the screenshots, the player character appears on both screens at once, with each half representing a different angle of the same room. Consequently, pressing the left key will move the player towards the left of the screen in the top view, and towards the top of screen in the second. It’s completely disorientating at first, but it works surprisingly well once you’re used too it. Considering that the Speccy was already awash with isometric titles by 1986, this interface was a bold and truly original take on the three dimensional problem.
Original, however, doesn’t necessarily mean great. Does How To Be Complete Bastard do enough to rise from the sea of mediocrity and sit on the shore of greatness? I’d argue yes. Though i suspect that many these days would question whether this game is still in good taste, it’s worth remembering that all of the thematic content springs from the book – and the book is most definitely meant to be in bad taste. Based roughly on the character Ade Edmondson had already played in The Young Ones and the one he would go on to play in Bottom, the book is written as an instructional guide to being a bastard and features dangerously off-colour advice on everything from getting on at school to filling in job applications.
From this perspective the game actually does a really good job of sticking within the spirit of the original (non-narrative) material, but adapting it into a form that makes for a playable game. Not only does the game include several direct references to the text (Such as the Monster XXXXX Get-Pissed-Quick Lager,) but the theme of being unpleasant to people at parties is actually a recurrent recurrent one in the book – so it’s a clever one to base the game around.
Indeed, speaking of text, another impressive feature of How to Be a Complete Bastard is the way it manages to achieve a lot with minimal resources. Armed with basic graphics and very little sound, the game does a great job of making its events come to life via vivid text-based descriptions of your actions – descriptions which mimick the style of writing found in the book perfectly.
In fact, perhaps the only problem with the adaption is that, while Edmondson’s television characters were inevitably the victims of their own social ineptitude and the butt of a lot of the jokes, it’s not so clear whether we should be laughing with or at the Bastard here. To be fair, however, arguably just as much an issue with the source material as it is with the game.
On top of that, I’d argue that the design of the game is more clever than it appears on the surface. As i said above, the game is closer to the Sierra end of the point’n’click design spectrum. However, there is one crucial difference between How to Be A Complete Bastard and the average “Quest” game: Bastard is completely non-linear.
Though it is possible (and indeed likely) that you’ll hit upon one of the actions that will bring your game to an abrupt end, as any puzzle can be solved in any order the player doesn’t need to immediately redo everything they did in their last play through once they start a new game. Instead, they’re effectively free to set about finding new and more ingenious ways of pranking people, with the puzzles they’d solved in the last game on hand to unleash if things start getting a bit desperate. In that respect, It’s a bit like the point’n’click genre’s answer to a rogue-like, and a lot less frustrating than the average Sierra title as a result.
Overall then, How to Be A Complete Bastard deserves its place among the greats. Though the game’s most striking feature might be its total crassness, look beneath the surface and you’ll find a text-book example of both how to adapt difficult non-narrative material into a playable game and a template for how to create a frustration-free adventure. Consequently, It gets a thumbs-up from me…even if the main character would probably describe the act of writing this review as ‘a bit girly.’
How to Be a Complete Bastard can be downloaded legally (and for free, you cheap bastard!) from here
Do you like awesome music? I have made a ZX Spectrum talk here