There are three kinds of people in this world; a) those who have played and enjoyed the Sims, b) those who have played the Sims but did not enjoy it, and c) those who have not played the Sims.
If you fall into the first category, then you will love The Sims 3. EA has added enough fundamental updates to the game to make it a worthwhile purchase for those who enjoyed the first two games.
If you fall into the second category, then move along. While The Sims 3 does add a series of nifty innovations which make for a deeper and more satisfying experience, it is still the Sims. It will not suddenly appeal to those who shrugged the first two off, or were left wondering where the actual fun was to be had.
If you fall into the third category, then you have probably stumbled onto this website by mistake and are not remotely interested in gaming. Click ‘back’ on your browser and check your search term for typos.
At its core The Sims 3 is really just a refinement of its predecessor, which is a good thing, as it is, after all, a sequel. The basic gameplay is identical to The Sims 2. Players control their sim’s daily activities, from waking up and eating breakfast to showering or going to the toilet. All daily activities are player controlled, such as watching TV, playing PC games (which is surreal when you are actually playing a PC game yourself), learning guitar, reading etc. The list is endless, and all activities affect the sim’s mood and desires.
Sims must work in order to make money which they can use to buy things, feed themselves, and of course, pay their bills. Sims can meet friends, throw parties, get married and have babies, which in time grow into adult sims that the player also controls.
Of course there are consequences to your sim’s actions. Miss a day or two of work and your sim will find itself unemployed. Neglect a friend and your sim’s relationship with that friend will deteriorate. Forget to install an alarm and your house will most probably get robbed within the first five days of game-time.
Like its predecessor, the player’s sim will possess a variety of attributes and skills. Developing the relevant skills will make climbing the professional ladder easier and will affect other internal gameplay mechanics.
The basic goal is to keep your sim constantly happy. This means balancing its various desires; hunger, hygiene, fun, social, bladder, energy. In order to maintain your sim’s good mood it is important to satisfy each of these desires accordingly. This amounts to sending your sim to the toilet when the bladder health bar is low, feeding it when it is hungry etc.
When you fulfill a particular need completely then your sim will receive a special mood bonus which will improve its work performance as well as increase the speed at which it learns new skills.
The Sims 3 makes a number of changes, most of which are great.
The first thing a Sims veteran will notice is that the level of character customization has been dramatically improved. EA has added an entirely new level of detail to the facial features and body customization menu.
It is now possible to have a fat sim, and if players really want to they can use html code to customize things like eye colour.
The personality customization system has also been improved. The previous game allowed players to choose between five unique traits, The Sims 3 gives players 63 to choose from. These range from ‘great kisser’ to ‘kleptomaniac’ and ‘computer whizz’, all of which will have noticeable effects on the gameplay experience.
EA did not stop at the customization changes, and Sims veterans will notice a number of changes to the actual gameplay.
Firstly, on top of the six basic desires, sims now also have wishes. These seem to pop up at random, and the player can choose to indulge a wish or dismiss it. Simple wishes such as ‘order pizza’ will pop into the wish menu which has been seamlessly worked into the interface. The player can choose to right click on the wish and it will vanish, or alternatively left click and it will be saved in the wishes tab.
When you fulfill a wish for your sim you earn ‘lifetime happiness points’. Save up enough of these and you can purchase special ‘lifetime rewards’ for your sim. These range from ‘fast metabolism’ to ‘acclaimed author’ and many more, all of which will have important effects on the actual gameplay.
Your sim begins its life with a lifetime goal, such as ‘Leader of the Free World’ and ‘Super Spy’. Upon achieving its goal your sim will receive a large amount of lifetime happiness points.
The second most noticeable change to The Sims 3 is that the game takes place in a truly open world setting. The player is constantly connected to the entire town. No loading screens separate your sim from the town it lives in, zoom out and you can click around and visit various places of interest. It’s an excellent improvement to the game, and one which I remembered wishing for in the first game.
The Sims 3 encourages players to get out of the house and explore the town, go on dates, visit the beach etc. Numerous valuable and collectable items are scattered around the world of The Sims 3, such as gem stones and butterflies which can be found through exploring the countryside.
The changes are so numerous that to detail them all would require pages. AI and path finding has been polished, furniture and objects can now be rotated 45 degrees. The graphics have been touched up, but like its predecessors The Sims 3 is not going to overly impress anybody with its looks. That said, the visuals are crisp and detailed and work perfectly with the gameplay.
Players can now exercise a degree of control over their sim’s work performance. These are limited to focus points, and players can control whether their sim works extra hard, takes it easy or spends the day sucking up to the boss. Working extra hard for example drains more of your sim’s energy but increases the rate at which the sim progresses along its career path.
What’s wrong with it?
The Sims 3 does suffer from a few unfortunate shortcomings.
We played the game on a high-end PC (Phenom 2 955BE, 2x 4870s in Crossfire, 4GB DDR3) and with all settings maxed out on 1920×1080 the frame rate rarely dropped below 120. However, the game does seem to suffer from an odd sluggishness when scrolling across the map or when following the sim around town. This is a problem that has plagued previous titles.
While the scrolling can be a sluggish, the actual gameplay animations run very smoothly on a fairly entry level E6400 with an 8800GTS 320MB and 2GB of system RAM.
Another noticeable shortcoming is that The Sims 3 has obviously been released with future expansion packs and downloads in mind. This is evident due to the relatively limited selection of household items, and the lack of cool extras that were available in The Sims 2 via its expansion packs such as pets. There is a noticeably small variety of items such as fridges and dining room tables for example, and don’t expect to be buying a pool table anytime soon because there currently isn’t one.
While the online component does allow players to purchase additional items using sim points, these cost real world money, and it would have been nice if the game had shipped with a more comprehensive selection of built in starting items.
The last and most severe problem with The Sims 3 is that we still aren’t sure that it is actually fun to play.
Rich and varied – yes, addictive – maybe, but fun? When one could spend their gaming hours immersed in an epic fantasy adventure, or a hair raising modern action escapade, we are not sure that living a normal simulated life is all that enjoyable.
At its core The Sims 3 revolves around eating, sleeping and working, and for all its merits, it remains debatable whether the concept really works as a game.
Of course this last criticism is wrapped up in subjectivity, and there are millions of Sims fans out there that would disagree.
It achieves what it sets out to admirably, and for that I tip my hat respectfully to EA.
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