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Jones in the Fast Lane (PC) artwork

Jones in the Fast Lane (PC) review

"Jones isn't perfect but offers revealing rat-race insights beyond the densely-packed jokes that never get cynical or fluffy. I found myself calculating how to cram in quick cheap education before week's end, or even working way more than I needed to or putting off asking for a raise (yes, it's just a game. Yes, guilt from playing it at work may've factored.)"

Jones in the Fast Lane is a Sierra game that slipped through the cracks. Since it came in near the end of their golden age and has features beyond early DosBox versions, you may've missed it. But it's still a very Sierra game in the best way, with silly jokes and drawings and general absurdism falls apart if you think too hard--but if you are, you're in no state of mind to be playing games anyway. People commonly say it's a precursor of The Sims, but it has a fun all its own, and the humor is easily accessible and holds up well.

Your object is to achieve certain levels of education, happiness (e.g. FUN THINGS,) wealth and career success. These can be set before the game, and you can play by yourself or compete against Jones, a computer-controlled character with a wretched ginger fade and clothes clearly meant to show off the colors that spiffy new VGA card allows. Red bow tie. Purple jacket with yellow dots.

This light-hearted grotesque fits, though--Jones, in hunting the American Dream for the Me Decade in clothes that don't work, channels Leisure Suit Larry before his games descended into a quest for a lower purity test score. And on the easier levels, he's an entertaining combination of mistakes and clever strategy not covered in the flimsy manual beyond "Watch Jones, try stuff and learn!"

During his block of time, he applies for random jobs at the employment office, then games the last bit of the weekly clock so he uses one-tenth the time he should to learn something. He gets robbed all the time because he avoids the bank, and he never moves into LeSecurity Apartments to protect what he's bought at Socket City or at various Z-Mart discounts. He takes epic trips to Monolith Burgers (the cashier has some of the best lines in the game) and avoids the more sensible prices at the nearer Black's Market, which he visits every week to buy a newspaper anyway. He can still beat you on easy, but sadly, he takes too long to move, which makes playing against the computer tedious once you've learned enough to be competitive. And learned how big a part randomness plays. While there's some clear, risk-aversion, deflation can make buying anything ridiculously tough.

Jones's interface problems can nag, too, such as giving you entirely too much sight of your character, who is as satirical as Jones but with less overt intent (hint: even if you think you love irony, don't play as the guy wearing sunglasses more than once.) as only being able to buy one stock at a time at the bank (important for money goals,) or forcing you to go to a statistics sub-screen and scroll to see which quality-of-life items you have (it fits six. There are nine. It's in a different order from Socket City's inventory.) Time's not quantified, either. You have to guess from the game-clock how much you have left this week or how long a trip will take.

And when it lets you skip optional text, that's kind of a bummer, because the jokes are quite good. You just need to save when close ti winning, then visit all the stores to see what the clerks have to say. This is a sort of unintentional meta-commentary on enjoying things like random jokes once you can afford to. The vendors have dozens of things each to say, far better than an AGI game, and they're as well-depicted as your characters aren't. But perhaps the best bit is the "Oh, what a weekend!" commentary at the week's end. From fourth-wall Monopoly references to tragicomedy ("You went to Vegas in a $20k car and returned in a $200k Greyhound bus") to acknowledging the "fun" you have with a new gadget (from a computer, which can break for repair or magically make you money, to a dictionary you have nothing better to do than read,) it's a pleasant let-down in case you goofed your strategy, didn't do everything you wanted that week-turn, or you just got randomly zapped.

Jones isn't perfect but offers revealing rat-race insights beyond the densely-packed jokes that never get cynical or fluffy. I found myself calculating how to cram in quick cheap education before week's end, or even working way more than I needed to or putting off asking for a raise (yes, it's just a game. Yes, guilt from playing it at work may've factored.) Given Jones's relative simplicity, I'm impressed these emotions lasted over several play-throughs. And while some technical limitations grate, they're ignorable during a solo game that takes at most a half-hour once you know what to do. Not that you'll need scratch paper--you'll probably want to write down the jokes instead, if anything. That's a sign of good fun regardless of era or genre.

aschultz's avatar
Community review by aschultz (August 14, 2013)

Andrew Schultz used to write a lot of reviews and game guides but made the transition to writing games a while back. He still comes back, wiser and more forgiving of design errors, to write about games he loved, or appreciates more, now.

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