I won’t lie here – this article is primarily about how awesome the Sims 3 is. But in the interests of fairness I will cut through my own enthusiasm and state here the pros and cons of the latest release. This review is not exhaustive and doesn’t cover all aspects of game-play, but hopefully you’ll be able to see the scope of the game and the points most worthy of note!
To start with you will be using the same disc whether you’re using a PC/Mac much like Spore, which is great for those who don’t want to shell out twice for the same game. Linux users are unfortunately out of luck as there is no native or wine support (the Sims 2 is listed as ‘garbage’ on the Wine App Database) though I’ve yet to try it in a virtual machine using seamless mode (Sun Virtualbox has this available as part of the ‘Guest Additions’). System requirements vary but you may be pleasantly surprised that you can still have things working with an old Intel Pentium 4 processor and just 1GB RAM (though as with any game it is recommended that your hardware configuration outstrips this!)
But what about the cool new features? First of all is that you are free to explore. While you’re out of the house you can ask your sim to ‘jog here’ and off you go on some exercise! You can then travel around town while earning fitness points. However, the far more elegant way is to use the all-new ‘town view’ and select a building for your sim to go. There are all kinds of places. For instance a gym, a pool, a school, a library, a police department, a hospital, a book shop, and even a grave yard (where you may catch the occasional ghost!). There are far more buildings and facilities than this (such as beaches, etc.) and I’m sure future expansion packs will allow the range to extend even further. But, how do you get back to your sim? Well, click on ‘sim view’ and you can follow your sim as they travel. If they own a car (or ‘borrow’ a bicycle) they’ll get there under their own steam. Otherwise they jump into a taxi (which is free-of-charge). Once you start making friends you can even go and visit their homes.
There are still a few caveats however. For one you still aren’t really involved when your sims are working. Though you now have drop-down options which allow them to ‘work hard’ (increasing stress), ‘take it easy’ (decreasing it) or grovelling to the boss/socializing with co-workers you don’t ever see this happening – you just ‘hear’ it happening. I’ll admit that this is better than the Sims 2 where your sim goes to work and you just whizz through the clock until they come back (and need only keep them in a good mood to progress) but it still feels as though there’s room in this area for expansion. Also, you lose the functionality to develop random plots without families. While this functionality encourages the player to interact more with their sims it is a little annoying when you’re used to sculpting grand mansions and community lots in the Sims 2 without the need for cheats. On the upside building houses with odd-shaped floor-plans (i.e. with diagonal/octagonal walls) this seems much better supported than before, and the new builder seems a lot more intuitive (i.e. you click on a picture of a wall and you can build one, click on a picture of a floor and you can apply flooring tiles, etc.).
But where one avenue of creativity seems a little stifled, another appears! In the sim creator you now have the ability to use ‘patterns’ which you can customize (i.e. change the colour scheme) and then apply this to the clothes your sims may be wearing. You can do similar things with the items your sims can purchase, meaning for instance that you could have a very goth-y sim or a chrome-coated kitchen. With the Sims 2 you had to buy expansion packs with more ‘stuff’ to match together to do these things before, but now players can sculpt these themselves.
In terms of live game-play you have more freedom than before. You can interact with objects in more ways (for example you can deliberately leave the fridge door open – though this is not recommended!). And yes, you can even make your sims rummage through other peoples’ bins (this can lead to some interesting rewards, but also has the effect of disgusting the said sim). If you’ve decided your sim is evil (using the ‘traits’ I’ll explain in a moment!) then all the options are context sensitive (i.e. ‘evil slumber’ rather than ‘sleep’, etc.). Your sims also have ‘traits’ (you get more of these as your sims grow). Once you hit ‘young-adult’ you can set your sim a life goal. If you satisfy all a sim’s wishes then they become much happier as they are fulfilled (these wishes can range from anything between reading a book to seeing a ghost) and this progresses towards your sim’s life goal.
There are plenty of hours game-play in this, and for most casual gamers you won’t need to start downloading stuff from the Sims 3 community exchange for a good long while. You get £6 free Sim-Points in their shop, but once the exchange is up and running and you work out how to create interesting custom content yourself then this may not necessarily be as attractive a proposition as it first seems. And on the subject of custom content, you can still leave music files in C:\Program Files\Electronic Arts\The Sims 3\Custom Music and listen to them on your sim radio (or at least that’s what the manual says. To get to this folder on my Vista machine I had to head to C:\Program Files\Electronic Arts\The Sims\GameData\Shared\Unpackaged\Custom Music – but I’ve yet to hear of this being the case for anyone else).
The Sims 3 is an excellent addition to the Sims series, no doubt expansion packs will expand things but the potential is awesome. Though you don’t need to rush out and buy it, it’s re-assuring to know that this game is well worth the money.