So, long time between drinks for Life of Healey. Oh well, it’s back (at least, until I forget again) and what better way to celebrate than with one of this year’s biggest releases. I’m referring to, of course (and as the title probably gives away), the Sims 3, the latest cash-cow from EA Games (or “Electronic Arts”, as they like to be known). Despite all the criticisms thrown at EA, much of which echoed similar criticism given to Spore, The Sims 3 actually shines as the defining game of the series so far. It could say that’s expected, being a sequel, but a formula like The Sims makes it so easy to keep the same damn game going over and over again. Indeed, this is evident in the myriad of expansion packs released for both the first two games, and no doubt EA will really be planning to cash in on this installment. However, the Sims 3 has taken the series and expanded it out even further, and the improvements that this game brings to the franchise is something that the fans, as well as any potential newcomers, will really appreciate.
From the makers of SimCity, SimTown, SimCopter, SimEarth, SimFarm, SimAnt, SimMusic, SimPark... And Spore.
The Sims, for those of you who don’t know, is Will Wright’s crown jewel of gaming. Sure, there’s SimCity, SimEarth, SimAnt and a plethora of other simulations, but The Sims continues to be the best-selling and most popular PC game series in history; considering the sheer amount of PC games, that’s a big achievement. In a nutshell, The Sims series is a virtual dollhouse – You make a family, you build the house they live in, and you control their lives. This god-like power instilled on the player is what seperates The Sims from Will Wright’s other, possibly more serious, simulations. We’re not talking meta decisions such as those found in SimCity (wheee, zoning!) and SimEarth (possibly the most convoluted “game” I’ve ever played), but instead the nuts and bolts of life itself; individual manipulation of relationships and the arc of a virtual being’s life. Okay, maybe I’m overhyping it, but there’s no denying the control of people with relatively realistic looks and attitudes is what gives The Sims such a cult following. In particular, that with the female gamer genre – a notably difficult to broach market. The Sims is all about designing things (building houses, picking outfits for Bob Newbie to wear), but also about playing relationships and little stories out; stories that tend to be made up completely by the player. Unsurprisingly, the Sims 3 has a lot to live up to. The previous installments have revolutionary in their own rights, so the expectations for The Sims 3 to make a new spin on the genre is palpable. Fortunately, it mostly lives up to these expectations. Mostly.
If you had to define one thing that The Sims 3 had over its predessecors, the answer would be “Freedom”. It’s apparent in so many of the new features and elements of the game, so here are a few of the big ones. One of the most-touted new features of this game, as seen in the many press coverages, previews and plastered all over the official site, is the Sims’ new ability to go anywhere in the town. It might not sound like much, but this new factor blows the scope of the game wide open, as no longer are you constricted to individual modules of properties, but instead your Sims literally have the ability to go anywhere in town. This really helps the game feel dynamic, as the seamless world makes for a lot more freedom. Not only does this decrease your total of loading screens to maybe two throughout an entire playthrough, but it gives the player a greater feeling of being part of a real world that is the Sims. Your Sim could spend a whole day wandering around town; a quick stop at the bookstore, a dip in the local pool, then round it off by holding hands with the love of your virtual life in the park, listening to some hippy play guitar. All without a single loading screen. Unsurprisingly, the town becomes a much bigger feature of the game, and it’s a good thing the town’s so meticulously created, then. Although there’s no neighbourhood creator (for now), the neighbourhood that ships with the game is a beauty of design and implementation, and there’s always a new neighbourhood available for download at the Sim Exchange.
To best show off the second big feature of the game, I decided to enlist a little outside help. Well, not really, seeing as it’s me. Argue on whether it actually resembles me if you like, but I think it’s not bad:
Fun Fact: That shirt's modelled after one of mine.
Okay, so he looks like he’s missing a couple of chromosomes; that’s no biggie. Nevertheless, it may or may not thrill you to say that shirt wasn’t a model included in the game. But it kinda was. Here’s the thing: In The Sims 1, every object came as it is. That’s a matter of fact. Didn’t like the colour? Tough. Get a different colour. In The Sims 2, Maxis implemented a “design” system. This meant different objects came with different recolourings, so you could choose from a preset list of design options for that object’s colour. However, this was still a bit limiting. What if, for instance, you wanted a day-glo toilet? Fortunately (for some), The Sims 3 has built on that to incorporate pretty much full design customization for objects. This means you can click on an object and change the colour of different parts or the object as a whole? Don’t like that toilet’s look? Change the base to day-glo pink and the seat to fluorescent green. About 99% of the objects you can buy are fully customizable, meaning you can change the design (make a couch with a plaid design, stripes or relatively anything) as well as the colours that make up that design. Needless to say, it’s perfect for customization and getting the “right look” for your Sims’ house. And what of the Sims themselves? Same story: the customization means you can define seperate colours for a Sim’s roots, base, tips and highlights in their hair, as well as altering their clothes to make a fashionable blue-green-beige pinstriped suit. Whilst some people on first glance may claim the object and clothes selection is relatively limited, that’s only in basic templates; from there, you can customize the pattern and design almost indefinitely.
Unlimited Customization: Not always a good idea.
This is all well and good, but what if you’re one of those people who just wants to make relationships and “stories”? The Sims 3 has catered for that. One of the most-publicised features of the game is the new “Traits” system, which aims to give individual Sims a bit of personality in the way they function. For an adult Sim, you’re able to define 5 traits from a list of 60, each of which makes up a fragment of personality, as well as potentially giving your Sim a leg-up in the world. For instance, for my Sim (creatively named “Ben Healey”), I’ve given him the traits of:
- Neurotic: This means Ben’s able to periodically “freak out”, helping him become a little more tranquil. It also makes him stress rather than cry when things go wrong, and the trait’s reflected in conversation through such conversation options like “Discuss conspiracies”.
- Good Sense of Humour: This helps in social interactions and making friends by making Ben a funny guy, meaning other Sims will be more receptive to his jokes and as such will be positively affected more than a Sim without the trait. Incidentally, I was delighted to see him laugh at certain situations I myself found funny when another Sim didn’t.
- Hopeless Romantic: Rather deceptively, this trait means your Sim is better at romantic interactions, and as such other Sims are more likely to accept his flirting and romantic advances.
- Genius: Unsurprisingly, this trait makes it easier for a Sim to learn the Logic skill, as well as giving him the abilities to be better at Chess and the option to solve tricky maths problems for fun and profit. Incidentally, a Genius is also able to give medical advice and have a deep, intellectual conversation.
- Computer Whiz: Does what it says on the tin, really. A Sim with this trait will enjoy using the computer more, and will also be better at interactions involving computers (as such, they’ll form better relationships through chatting online).
Finally, just like real life.
These five traits alone make for an interesting character, and helps add spice to what was previously the mundane chore of relationship-building. Considering the other 55 traits (including “Evil”, “Loser” and, in a delightful nod to Arrested Development, “Never Nude”), this provides enough combinations to potentially keep you going for a while, and helps inject personability into your creations, particularly when, like me, you like to make Sims based on yourself and your friends.
Okay, not every game is perfect, so let’s tackle that. If I had a complaint to make about The Sims 3, it’s that the idea is still basically the same. Granted, they’ve removed some of the “needs” drudgery by eliminating the “environment” and “comfort” want, but you’ll still find yourself making the same queue for your Sims throughout parts of the day: eat-toilet-shower-computer games-bed. They have reduced this feature though, and rewards for completing Sims wishes can make it even less nessecary to fulfill your Sims’ needs. Secondly, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the money-grabbing approach EA has taken with The Sims as of late. As soon as the game was launched, the Sims Store was online, using the premise of microtransactions to enable players to download more stuff for their Sims. Based on the current pricing, these items appear to be perhaps not the best value for money, and the fact these items weren’t included in the game at launch in the first place is a downright raw deal. My advice? Use the credits you get free with the game, but stick around for the extensive modding community that, if The Sims 2 was any indication of, will pop up and prosper.
So that’s the Sims installment for another few years. Keep in mind EA will soon be bringing out expansion packs, which may or may not add to the game experience. Nevertheless, the Sims 3 is a game worth playing, particularly if you typically don’t identify yourself as a gamer. The creativity and personality this game exudes gives a close feel that hasn’t been felt in one’s creations for a long time in gaming. Worth it.