Games are a lot of things. They’re entertainment, sure, but they’re also experiences, a medium for real storytelling, and the most modern form of art imaginable, a combination of user input and feedback, meshed with the work of artists both visually and technologically. Games are an expression of everything great creative people can conjure, be it a big AAA game that grabs millions, or a small indie project made by a dedicated few. Games are magic, and they have the ability to teach, explore, and delight entire generations.
Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties is, technically, a game. To be more specific, this is pure art in interactive form. This is the greatest game that’s ever been made.
PDWT transcends the medium to which it finds itself bound, doing away with the needless parts of gameplay such as gameplay and instead proceeds along its own path, letting the
viewer player sit back and marvel at the literally still images that flash before them. It weaves a tale as old as time, perhaps even older, in such an intricate fashion as to play out like a soft-core porno of old, the kind one might accidentally stumble upon late at night whilst flipping through channels absentmindedly, only to stop and watch for a second before moving on because quite frankly there’s better content online these days.
We begin our journey with a series of disconnected and hazy images of a stock car race, complete with poorly photoshopped panda bear, before the rude awakening of reality, mirroring an experience many of us have found ourselves in. Our hero is John, an average, everyday Adonis of a man whose mother is pressuring him to settle down and raise a family. John seems resistant to the thought, preferring his life as a barely dressed bachelor living on the wild side as a plumber in LA. Shortly thereafter we meet Jane, the femme-fatale of this fable, whose father similarly wants her to grant him the gift of grandfatherhood, even offering to set her up with his friends from the Lodge. Jane doesn’t seem to relish the idea of just hooking up with random men for the purpose of having kids, and yearns to meet a real man that’ll satisfy her every need.
With the stage set and the story laid out we’re then, obviously, treated to a three minute mindless montage of nudity and humour as our players get dressed and ready for the day. Oddly, this sequence feels a lot longer, like several times longer, but that’s just the magic of PDWT as its fingers snake into your mind and deprive you of thought. Finally you, the player, are given your first choice, also known as the “gameplay” of this game as Harry Armis (best known for Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties) informs you that it is your duty to make sure John and Jane end up in love.
One of the most interesting parts of PDWT is how it handles its series of choices and consequences. Should you choose wrong you’ll bear witness to how your choice affected everyone in excruciating detail before the game berates you and lets you try again. As a twist, the “right” choice might not always be obvious, like how not letting the two main characters talk leads down an insane rabbit hole of sexist and racist alternative realities, or if you choose not to get raped you lose the game. It’s these fun little diversions into the bizarre that give the game its charm, and watching these scenes play out is nothing short of amazing.
As the plot progresses you start to get a real good look into the mind of the creator, specifically their views on women. Jane is a strong, independent woman, so much so that it’s possible to turn her into a dominatrix by accident. But she’s nothing if not human, and her feminine side can cause issues for her, creating the perfect opportunity for John to swoop in as her knight in shining armor, long, hard, thick throbbing sword at the ready. Part way through the game it seems to become self aware, introducing a new female narrator to inject some much needed guidance, but our old friend Harry puts that down before it gets too rowdy. Atta boy Harry!
Finally the action progresses to what can only be described as “the world’s weirdest, and most incriminating series of LA vacation photos” as we witness Jane on the run from the evil Mr. Thresher, who chases the poor girl all through the city, only stopping to take candid photos of landmarks and occasional selfies with random strangers. The climax comes not a moment to soon as Thrasher, Jane, and John face off in an abandoned building where, should you so choose, they can spend what seems like forever arguing the price of prostitution and whether or not a weekend package should discount Sunday. If you are of high moral fiber however, John and Jane become lovers at last, leaving the slimy Mr. Thresher in the dirt as they ride off into the sunset, joking about the tie that John has been wearing, and the bizarreness of a plumber caring about his professional appearance.
Graphically PDWT is technically perfect, since it just uses photos of real people and locations. This is literally the best graphics you can create in a game, but just to add some spice, occasionally meaningless filters are added for no reason at all. The game runs at an amazing eight frames per second as the literal slideshow of stills flashes before your eyes, creating the illusion of movement while also giving you plenty of time to take in what’s going on. There was this strange issue where occasionally I??? ?????w???a??n????t??e???d?? ???t????o??? ??r????i???p??? ????m??y?? ???o?????w?????n?? ?????h?????e????a????d??? ???o???f????f???? ??t?????o??? ??c??e??a??s????e??? ???t???h??e???? ????p??a???i???n??, but that eventually went away and the experience was smooth and relaxing.
The audio design is similarly perfect, setting a new standard for audio production in the 1920s. The use of dollar store children’s microphones created an interesting aesthetic to the soundscape and really forces you to focus in your hearing as you attempt to figure out what people are saying. The use of stock sound effects poorly ripped off a CD create this perfect ambiance of insanity that only adds to the humor on screen.
As great as the technical production goes, the game wouldn’t be anything were it not for its stellar cast of characters. The acting is so superb that it elicits memories of drunken stupors and getting high on heroine, and that really made me feel like I was part of the action. From the stumbling, nonsensical ramblings of our boy Harry, to the insane chattering of the two leads, and the outstanding sexually frustrated performance from Paul Brokor as Thresher, who was really channeling his experience as Board Room Member in Death Chase. All around the casting was spot on for the characters and it remains one of the most well-produced games I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing.
Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties is more than a game, and more than just an experience. It’s a memory, one that you need to create for yourself, preferably with friends and several alcoholic drinks. While it may seem short at only an hour or so, depending on how many choices you get wrong and re-attempt, it’s truly like nothing else. And with the in game scoring system, which routinely insults and questions your sexual orientation, there’s plenty of reason to replay the game over and over for the high score. Good luck though because the points seem randomly generated!
There’s no question that Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties is a game that everyone needs to play. And now you can, for free even! Get some friends, sit back, and enjoy one of the true lost gems of the 90s.