The game is played in real time, with a timer ticking away at the bottom of the screen. If you earn enough tips in one shift, you can play the "Bonus Shot Round," in which you must hand certain items behind the bar to patrons before time runs out. Naturally, recipes get harder to make in later shifts, and customers are harder to please. If you fail to card every customer at least once, you can be fired. On the other hand, you get extra cash if you can catch an underage drinker. Work enough shifts and earn enough tips, and you might just qualify for a spot in Bartender Heaven ;)
There are over 100 real-life drink recipes in the game, ranging from the simple (such as vodka shot) to the exotic (Alabama Slammer is my favorite). The on-line recipe book contains recipes for all the drinks you will be asked to make, listing them in alphabetical order. When someone orders a drink, it automatically flips to that page so you know what you need. It is crucial to mix drinks as quickly as possible, because patrons will walk out if you take too long. Because the interface is not very intuitive and most bottle labels hard to read, it will take you a few tries, as well as memorization of keyboard shortcuts, before getting the hang of things. Mastering the combination of mouse and keyboard presses is key to winning the game. You don't need to get the exact ounces that the recipe indicates, but the closer you get, the happier your customer will be. You can even "spike" the drinks with extra alcohol to make customers even happier. But as in real life, spiking too much or for the wrong person can provoke anger (and thus, no tip). You lose the game if you don't get the minimum amount of tips required by the time your shift is over.
Patrons in Last Call are quite funny, and the cartoon style suits the tongue-in-cheek nature of the game. True to its "mature" rating (this is a bar game, after all), there is foul language and sexual innuendos, so this is definitely not a family-friendly game. The variety of patrons is one highlight of the game: I spent a lot of time just listening to the old couple who argue with each other, and watch young couples try to make out at the bar while ordering drinks with "sex" in them ;) You'll also chuckle at the southern 'belle,' the scrawny nerd, the pimp, and many more other fun characters.
Because both the numbers of patron "personalities" and recipes are limited, the fun factor of Last Call gradually diminishes over time. By the time you are doing the sixth shift or so, you will feel the game getting repetitive. But for a budget title (it was released for $20 and retailed at less than that), Last Call definitely packs much more gameplay than $20 worth. It is one of those games that you will revisit once in a while and the gameplay will remain fresh (as long as you don't play it too long in one sitting). The only game of its kind, Last Call offers lots of laughs, fun gameplay, and even knowledge of drinks you can use in the real world to impress friends. Although most magazines call it "average," this underdog is a Top Dog in my book. Two thumbs up!