It's been nine years since the first Sims game hit the market, and boy, EA and Maxis must be pleased they released it.
Since then, we have seen countless expansion packs, along with multiple new versions on multiple platforms.
The Sims 2 was released almost five years ago now, and all in all the franchise has managed to sell over 100 million copies worldwide. Clearly there is a massive following, and even I have to admit to having been enthralled by The Sims several times over the years. I was pretty excited to check out the newest version, The Sims 3 which has been a long time coming.
The Sims 3, for those of you unfamiliar with the concept, is a game in which you essentially mirror real life. You create Sims who go about their chores, buy things, go shopping, cook dinner, go to work, get married, have children, die, the works. Why would you submit yourself to this when you already have to go through these steps in real life? Well, because it's fun experimenting with life in the wackiest ways you can imagine, in what can only be described as a life simulator.
The Sims 3 goes further than any title in the series to date in its efforts to accurately and entertainingly simulate aspects of real life, in it's own slap-stick humorous style.
The series’ graphical overhaul is immediately obvious from the Create-A-Sim screen, where you create your characters at the start of the game. Personally I prefer to start out with just the one character to get a grips on the controls and also to minimise the initial learning curve, which makes the whole game less overwhelming. With the overhauled Create-A-Sim I had no trouble creating my virtual likeness. The wealth of information you can change to manage your character is phenomenal, and the detail is much more impressive than ever before. You can manage anything from your Sims body-size, to their hairstyle and birthmarks. Along with the ability to fully customise their faces, in the smallest ways. It's a very complex character builder that is surprisingly easy and relatively fast to use.
Once you’ve created your character you need to select character traits. As in real life these are things like party animal, heavy sleeper, never nude, childish, frugal, genius, daredevil, the list just goes on. Each of the traits gives your character unique abilities and some entertaining attributes with true Sims humour. For example the kleptomaniac trait means your character will compulsively steal from other Sims, whilst also giving you the option of sneaking out at night and robbing your neighbours. The frugal trait allows you to clip coupons from the newspaper that will give you discounts when you head to the shops, or to the day spa, and my Sim does this almost religiously, and on top of this gets overly excited when he scores a bargain.
These traits really spice up the game impressively, and make a very big difference to the way the game plays. On top of these, your Sim can select a life-time wish, which is essentially what your Sim aspires to in life, be it becoming a Top Chef, or even having a large number of boyfriends at the same time.
Clothes are the next element, and this is probably where the most impressive change has taken place. The implementation of the Create-A-Style customisation means that you can change the material and colour of virtually every object in the game (not limited to clothes either). This allows you fully customise your house, making it 100% your own. If you create something really great, you can even save it and share it with your friends. Generally though you have a bunch more customisation options than in The Sims 2, with a rather large range of items to decorate your pad with. I felt rather spoiled after the The Sims 2 which in its basic form felt like a step back.
To match this addition of better and bigger items, including hanging cupboards and the like, is a new GUI which has the items sorted by the function they serve in the individual rooms. This makes it very easy to find what you are looking for.
So now you're in the game, and your characters are created, and you’ve selected the community you want to live in. This is where the Sims 3 has done something wholly different. You now live in a real town, a town with neighbours, shops, beauty parlours, supermarkets, movie theatres, art museums, army bases, science labs, parks, beaches, lakes for fishing and more. Depending on your rig you can set the number of neighbours houses you can view from your own pad, and heading around to their place for a drink or to hit on the hot neighbour is seamless. Going further? Jump in a cab, on your bike or your car (yeah you heard, YOUR car) and be driven or drive yourself. The town is your oyster so to speak. Stock the fridge up, or go to courses, participate in pie eating competitions and much much more.
The game is dominated by moods and needs, influenced I’d say by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. You have basic and advanced needs to fulfil to make sure your Sims are happy and reasonably contented. On top of these you have "moodlets", which are desires such as buying a new TV or going fishing, and these give you life points when completed which can be invested into special traits. "Steel Bladder", for example, means you need to use the bathroom far less, though this only scratches the surface of what’s available.
Needs such as Bladder, Energy, Hunger dominate the majority of your day, however these are far easier to manage than in past iterations. This leaves you much more time to go out and have fun, and maybe even do some gardening if your Sim is keen. It's certainly great to be growing your own vegetables for the fridge or for the market.
A big ease-of-use improvement has been made to the careers. Now when your Sims go to work you have a number of options such as slacking off, sucking up to the boss or hanging with your co-workers. The nice part about this is that your Sims co-workers will become your friends, allowing you to increase your Sims friends base without having to constantly seek out people to communicate with. This was the bain of my previous The Sims experience. Having to have ten friends simply to rank up in my Sims career would result in endless headaches, and generally once I befriended the tenth person the others no longer liked my Sim. It made it a tedious process, and yet now it's just so easy. The career track itself too is much easier, and simply getting close to the boss can be enough to get a promotion, even if your skills aren’t quite up to scratch in the field.
Once things are running smoothly for your Sim and they have enough money coming in from their jobs to pay the bills and upgrade some of your things (such as getting the new flat-screen telly) then you can think about getting married and having kids, and even same sex relationships aren’t a problem for our Sims. This process happens much as you would expect, with the life phases allowing you to have a baby which grows through several stages. These stages can get set to any length in the options, in case you don’t want your original Sim dying quite so quickly, or if it's all going too slowly for you. But you will have manage the rigours of teenage years, as well as the difficulties surrounding old age and losing loved ones. In that sense, the Sims hits on a slightly disturbing note.
The game looks and feels fantastic - much like The Sims always has, but new, and shiny. The animations are beautifully done and much more detailed than ever before. There are some aspects which are a bit frustrating, such as the time acceleration feature which has been slowed down considerably. Perhaps this is designed to prevent you from missing life’s precious moments, however it is excessively frustrating when it takes a minute or two to get through a night.
The other element is that it feels almost unnatural to have so much of life’s detail in a game. The Sims 3 is almost so real that its slightly uncanny. Once the character I created in my likeness starting acting like me I became concerned, and this was possibly the point where I started wondering if the realism simply has gone too far. Though perhaps this is simply The Sims 3 trying to eat away at Second Life. None of this really matters when the game easily eats up hours and hours of your day without you realising that they’ve passed, which seems to be the true test of a solid game these days.
Sims 3 has done a great job at advancing the series. It's not simply a graphical overhaul, but a total revamp of the old gameplay and GUI. The game has de-emphasised the extreme micro-management by easing your ability to manage the needs and desires of your characters, though the element is certainly still present. The new way of dealing with friends and work is certainly going to be a welcome change for most people. Simply put, the ability to do most things that you would like or can imagine doing is refreshing, and the freedom to be all the Sim that you can be does not go unnoticed. The fact that Sims 3 will allow you to play out almost any conceivable fantasy (in a strictly non-sexual way) certainly is a highlight, and possibly one of the biggest draw cards of the series.
All in all, Maxis have done an amazing job at making the game deeper and more exciting in almost every way, and yet somehow have managed to make the game overall much more manageable and understandable.