I was just a kid when Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? first aired. It was 1999, when a million dollars still seemed like an unfathomable amount of money. Movie stars and CEOs, the rich and the famous, now they were millionaires. Average schmucks like us? Like my mom and I, and the other 99% of Americans who tuned in every week? Well, we could dream. Billionaires were almost unheard of. Sure, Bill Gates was a billionaire, everyone knew that, but if you asked 11-year-old me to name another I’d be hard-pressed to do so. Numbers like billions were often used to humorous effect, as in Austin Powers. Dr. Evil’s plan to hold the world hostage for 100 billion dollars was comically absurd. Not so today, when the national debt in the U.S. alone is 17 trillion dollars. According to inflation calculators, one million dollars in 1999 is equivalent to $1,405,456.18 today. But Who Wants to Be a Little-Less-Than a 1.5 Millionaire? just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Nevertheless, the show was wildly popular and vastly entertaining.
I can’t say the same for Deep Silver’s game, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire: Special Editions (yes, plural). Developed by deepsix, this faithful, albeit formulaic, adaptation of the show can be purchased for $9.99 on Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, and Steam. While the game boasts 1,200 questions, and decent enough graphics, I honestly can’t imagine anyone paying 10 bucks for it. The game adheres to the basic format of the show: you, as the contestant, must answer a series of 15 increasingly difficult multiple choice questions. There are “safe points” (the $1,000 and $32,000 mark), but you can “walk away” at any point. And, of course, you have three “lifelines” to assist you while climbing the ladder toward the grand prize of a million dollars. Since it’s an officially licensed game, it definitely looks, and sounds, like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Something the game does well, perhaps the only thing the game does well, is that it has good questions. They’re varied, interesting, and feel extremely contemporary and relevant. While I was playing I got a “Fastest Fingers” question asking me to put the following “critically acclaimed dramas” in chronological order: The Sopranos, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Boardwalk Empire (that’s the answer, by the way). And since there are so many questions, seeing the same one again is extremely unlikely. But let’s be real here: you’re going to want to stop playing long before questions start repeating. I know I did. The game has so many flaws. Firstly, and most importantly, there was real money at stake in the TV show. Real people, trying to win real money. I remember being glued to the edge of my couch as I watched contestants nervously fidget in “the hot seat.” Regis Philbin would ask, “Is that your final answer?” Then a drawn-out pause, sometimes even a commercial break. The suspense would build as the audience held their breath. Shaking his head solemnly, Regis would look disappointed, as though to say “You FOOL! I had such high hopes for you!” But then he’d grin: “Congratulations, you just won $250,000!” Dammit, Regis, you tricked me again. There’s absolutely no suspense in the game, none whatsoever. There’s no real money involved, so there’s nothing at stake. When you “risk losing it all” by answering the next question, you’re not really risking anything. Say I got the million dollar question wrong and left with $32,000. My thought isn’t “FUCK I just lost $468,000,” it’s “Shit, now I have to do this all again to get that stupid achievement.” The worst part is that you have to sit through the same introduction every time, you can’t skip it. Nor can you skip the boring cut-scenes in between. Not that you get questions wrong. 1999 was a simpler time. People could look up stuff online, sure, but dial-up was so slow that it took a while. If a contestant on the show used the “Phone a Friend” lifeline, chances are the 30 second timer would be up before the AOL homepage had even loaded. There’s no timer in the game, so when in doubt, Google it! I certainly had more fun Googling answers than I did playing the game. Now let’s turn to the virtual “host.” It’s no lovable Regis Philbin. Hell, it’s not even Meredith Vieira. Instead, we are stuck with this weirdly long-limbed monstrosity whose hands are bigger than his face. He’s pretty much Slender Man.
As though his horrific appearance wasn’t enough, the way he incessantly repeated the same inane quips over and over again will drive anyone mad. He’d state the obvious: “It’s your choice.” Don’t you think I know it’s my choice? I’m the only sentient being playing this godforsaken game! “Take as long as you need,” he’d offer. You’re goddamn right I’ll take as long as I need… to Google the answer! And the absolute worst: “You might as well play this, you can’t lose anything.” It’s almost like he was mocking me, mocking the fact that, in playing this stupid game, I had literally nothing left to lose. And while the “50-50” lifeline works to some degree (when the fake host asks the “computer” to randomly eliminate two of the incorrect answers, I can suspend my disbelief), the other two lifelines are completely ridiculous. “Ask the Audience” and “Phone a Friend” lose all meaning when the “audience” and “friends” are virtual. It was actually uncanny when, to my horror, I phoned a “friend” and an unfamiliar middle-aged woman’s voice came on the other line. If, for some reason, you feel compelled to buy Who Wants to Be a Millionaire: Special Editions, you should know that you can also purchase DLC. These “expansion packs” come with 600 additional questions each, and are themed: movies, South Park, Star Trek, you name it. Why you’d prolong the torture is beyond me.
[+Interesting, varied, and contemporary trivia questions] [+Looks and sounds like the TV show] [-Can’t skip boring intro or cut-scenes] [-Host is creepy and annoying] [-No incentive not to look up the answers] [-No real money means no suspense]