james debate
james debate

Monday, 15 June 2009

Let's begin by saying that it is very VERY unlikely that anyone reading this has never ever played the Sims or the Sims 2. Will Wright's life simulating epic changed videogames in many ways and created the best selling videogame franchise of all time. Now that franchise is back for the latest and what they hope will be the greatest installment yet, the Sims 3.

So just in case you've never heard of the Sims (crazy I know), this is a game where you can design little people, build them a house from the ground up, make friends for them, get a job, make money, and buy a bigger and better house. It's a fun little game that let's people live out their own soap opera/dream life/sadistic fantasies. And it's always been fairly fun, but flawed stuff.

Now we have the third installment, and right from the start it doesn't seem that much has changed. The character creator is a little more flexible now, meaning that sims look a little less cartoony and allows better likenesses to be created, but otherwise I personally would have expected a bigger aesthetic change between the Sims 2 and 3. However, when you look deeper, one can see that major changes have been made.

The biggest of these changes has to be that the sims are no longer confined to their houses. In previous installments sims have had to endure a rigid 'lot' system, where every house, shop, restaurant was one 'lot' and the only way your sim could move between these 'lots' was with a long and annoying loading screen and owning a car, calling a taxi, something like that.

Now for the first time, the neighborhood is completely open. As soon as you load your game, the entire neighborhood is simultaneously loaded all at once. Now think about this for a sec, because it fundamentally changes the way the game is played.

For a start, your sims can now move freely from place to place, you can zoom all the way out and just tell your sim to jog across town, or drive, whatever you feel like. This whole process is smooth and occurs without a single loading screen. Which is pretty amazing if you think about it, just shows how far technology has come since the first sims game.

However what this also means is that every other sim in the game, including others that you have created, will also be 'in play' living their lives simultaneously while you control whatever sim you've chosen. This means they will age and die without you playing them, and it means they will develop friendships, change friends, move houses, get promoted, fired etc etc. Basically all the things I can see a lot of players not wanting them to do. I can see this being particularly troubling for fans of the old game who are used to being able to control every little thing about their games and sims.

To their credit, EA have included the option to turn off aging without cheating this time, and an option to prevent non player controlled sims from making any big changes to their lives. Unfortunately the game seems to completely ignore this last toggle and other sims still get married, get fired, die and do all kinds of stupid things I don't want them to do.

EA have acknowledged this issue and promised a fix, but still it's pretty ridiculous to allow something like this in the final release, though not at all unexpected for anyone who played the buggy, yet brilliant mess that was Spore.

Another major bug which was quite shockingly not ironed out is the inventory each sim has. It has a nasty habit of deleting all its contents whenever you switch sims. This is not such a major problem, merely a minor inconvenience when it comes to most inventory items which you can just take out of the inventory and place in the sim's house whenever you want to switch sims. However for some items like property deeds and invaluable 'lifetime aspiration' awards that you can purchase in exchange for lifetime points earned over many many long hours of play, which can not be removed from the inventory, it is completely inexcusable and almost a gamebreaker.

This is even more annoying for anyone who attempts to deal with the EA technical support department, which is about as much use dealing with a technical bug as a cut of rancid meat... that's been left out in the sun too long... and urinated on. Honestly I may as well go ask my cat for advice, I knew more about my technical issues before I contacted them than they did.

However aside from these two major bugs, most everything else is presented with impeccable style and even little things like jobs have been tweaked and refined to be more interesting and involving. Now sims will far more often have work related 'incidents' happen which will present a challenge for a sim to do or a decision to make which will either negatively or positively impact on his work performance.

Even cooler are adjustments like the painting canvas sims can use. Now each sim will have it's own painting style determined by their personality traits. And indeed the entire skills points system has been modified. Rather than just the same 10 or so skills from the old sims games there are now loads of them to be improved, though you can't see how many there are from the start until you start gaining points in them. Each 'skill' also has it's own statistics page involving various related statistics, for example how many chess games you've won, how many books you've written and what your favorite genre of book is, and various challenges associated with these stats.

However the other major major change for this game, and in my opinion the most positive change, is the 'create-a-style' mode. This is basically like 'create-a-sim' except for clothes, furniture, wallpaper, carpets and pretty much everything else. This allows you to fully customize all these things with patterns, textures, colors and it is truly a remarkable tool allowing for a staggering amount of customization, though the inability to change the appearance of paintings and other art pieces to create a little variation is a missed opportunity.

However the biggest problem I have with this game is the same problem I had with the old sims games, namely that after you play it for a few days solid you've done pretty much everything there is to do and you get bored very very quickly until the next add on pack comes out. Admittedly the added flavor in pretty much every aspect of the game makes a decent attempt at getting around this problem, so much so that I could see myself returning to the game in a week or two if I'm bored.

And speaking of add on packs, it is bloody cheeky for them not to include some of the features that were added on to the sims 2, notably pets which is frankly a necessity in any real life simulator. And this is just so they can re-sell us the exact same add on pack in a few months time and take 20 more of my hard earned quid. But again this is what you expect from a company like EA.

And speaking of greed, there is a new online store for new items, but it involves charging you about the amount you'd pay for a whole game just for a table and a couple of chairs, and it's fucking absurd.

In summary, this is as good as the core 'sims' package has ever been, and they have refined the game into one mighty fine product, aside from a few glaring bugs that could have benefitted with a longer development time, except that knowing the EA techies it probably would have taken the better part of the next decade to deal with. The lack of certain key (read: bloody obvious) features from the add on packs for the old installments simply wreaks of cheap moneymaking ploy, but nonetheless they've turned out a decent game here.

If you like the sims, you will like this if you can get over some of the more annoying changes. If you don't like the sims, you will like this if you can get over some of the more annoying things that haven't been changed.

The style creator
Livelier gameplay
Attention to detail

Paying silly amounts for more content
No pets

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