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PlayStation 3 Review: Monopoly Streets

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Monopoly is an incredible game, a true, timeless leader in the board game genre.  The notion that Monopoly can be improved upon by making it a console, PC, or mobile game is just silly.   That’s not to say that it hasn’t been put on such platforms before and that it won’t be done again, it is just hard to imagine a world in which I would rather play Monopoly on an electronic device rather than on a board.

That caveat out of the way, let me tell you that Monopoly Streets is nearly as good as the board game version in every way.  It manages to retain nearly all fun and excitement of the board game version and even has some major advantages over the original.

First, the good.  Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the biggest advantage Monopoly Streets has over the board game version is the ability to play against computer opponents.  While Monopoly can be played with two people, it is more enjoyable with more individuals, and putting together a group for a rousing round of the board game can be difficult.  With Streets you can play with up to four players, only one of which needs to be human (that would be you).

There is also a slight negative here, the AI comes in several different levels of difficulty, and the Easy AI is just a joke.  Anyone who has ever played Monopoly before ought to be able to beat the low level computer player with no difficulty whatsoever.  Medium AI presents a slightly greater challenge, but a semi-skilled human Monopoly player should have little trouble with as well (bad luck can of course destroy you, but if you don’t find yourself on a cold streak, a win should still be in the bag).

While there are numerous issues with the way the Easy and Medium AIs play, the simplest illustration lies in their use of the auction.  While Monopoly Streets does allow play by a number of rules (discussed below), one thing that cannot be altered is that once an unowned property is landed on, it must end up in the possession of a player (human or computer).  In a traditional game this is determined by either auction or purchase – it is up to the player who lands on the property to determine if they want to own it or if they wish to allow others to bid on it.  The Easy and Medium AIs have an affinity for auctions that will make you scratch your head.  Should one or more properties in a single color group be owned by the computer it makes no sense for the computer to offer up for auction another property in that group instead of simply buying it.  And yet, they will offer them up for auction… and then not bid enough to win them.  The computer will even put up for auction properties that will allow other players to gain a monopoly should they win the auction. 

Such a stance is ludicrous of course, but the foolishness doesn’t end there.  Oftentimes auctioned properties will go for below regular value – even when it gives a player a monopoly.  The auction system allows people to both raise and lower their bid, and the computer on Easy and Medium (and a little on Hard) has a tendency to raise the price hugely only to drop it when there is little time on the clock, leading to properties being sold for insanely low prices.  In short, if you own Park Place, the computer should never allow Boardwalk to go up for auction (especially when they have the cash to buy it), and if somehow it did go up for auction it should never sell for less than the $400 it normally costs.  Both of these travesties can and do occur regularly in Monopoly Streets if the AI isn’t set to a high level.

Making bad trades is one thing, but to have the Easy and Medium AIs dismiss obvious logic so completely is disappointing.  The Hard AI isn’t perfect, but it is certainly better than the Easy and Medium versions.  The best solution to this problem is to simply not play against the Easy and Medium versions (or to make sure to throw a Hard into the mix to balance things), but those versions still ought to be smarter than they are.

Should your skills be up to it, you can humiliate human players around the world by going online on the PSN and playing.  Both ranked and unranked, quick and custom matches are all available.  However, it must be noted that should one of the human contestants quit the game in the middle, you will instantly be knocked back to the lobby.  It would be far more satisfying – and far less frustrating – if the computer just took control of the player who leaves.

As for the aforementioned rules options, Monopoly Streets comes with several different sets of rules and styles of gameplay.  As every household I know plays the game with a slightly different set of rules, this is a fantastic addition to the title.  You can play to a maximum number of turns (with whomever has the greatest net worth winning), play to get a set number of monopolies, play with more cash available, only auctions, etc.  The game also comes with the ability to tweak the rules to a “house” set of your own which can be saved (in fact, many different sets of house rules can be saved).  Like to play with cash on Free Parking?  That can be done.  Like to earn double when you land on Go?  That can be done.  Want more houses and hotels available?  Done.  Want to build houses and hotels without owning a monopoly?  That too can be changed.  I have often played with all money from house repairs, Income Tax, Luxury Tax, etc., going to Free Parking, and that too is a choice; almost anything you want to alter can be altered.

Monopoly Streets also features trophy support and several different unlockables.  There is a shop section within the title that allows you to purchase more pieces (and thereby characters as each piece has a different character associated with them), and more boards.  The initial game only starts with two different boards available – the traditional one and a three dimensional “Monopoly Streets” board which has the tokens and characters actually going around a city.  By playing games you earn Monopoly bucks (associated with your net worth at the game’s conclusion), and it is with those dollars that you buy the new boards and new tokens.

The graphics sported by the title are fun, but not quite as good as they perhaps ought to be.  There is a definite problem with the shadows characters throw – they are jagged (as are the character models) and have a tendency to flicker.  Additionally, too many of the characters make annoying sounds when they go around the board.  It may be best to turn down the volume as you play.

Shortcoming aside, the fact remains that EA Games has done a fantastic job translating Monopoly to consoles here.  If you’re looking to hone your skills or try various experiments before your next game night, Monopoly Streets is a great place to do that.  Or, if you’re like me and simply can’t find anyone who will play against you as your real estate trading game skills are known far and wide to be exemplary, Monopoly Streets can provide hours of fun (plus, the game autosaves up to three files if you have to leave in the middle – no writing things down or setting the board aside). 

No, it doesn’t replace the board game version, but it is certainly the best electronic edition of the game I have seen to date and may be well worth thinking about.

Monopoly Streets is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB. This game can also be found on: Wii and Xbox 360.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.