“PLEASE COME AND STAY A WHILE IN MY BEAUTIFUL NEIGHBOURHOOD”
A It doesn’t always take a zombie AN unexpectedly lurching out of the shadows or an affecting, grim and imposing environment to creep us out. Some of Spore’s user-created residents made us shudder; Deadly Creatures brought out a previously unknown arachnophobia streak in several of our number; Marvel Nemesis had us rocking backwards and forwards in fear of an armed assailant demanding we play it again at knifepoint. But more akin to the likes of System Shock or Silent Hill, we’ve been troubled by The Sims on a psychological Level. Simply by building likenesses of friends, family and colleagues and assigning them a handful of personality traits, we’ve seen everyday events and aspirations reflected with chilling frequency and accuracy. Either EA has managed to identify and recreate a complex network of personality profiles or
we’re just incredibly generic people. After extended trial, it’s with a sigh of relief that we report it definitely seems more the former than the Latter.
One of the most important new features is the ability to assign traits to each Sim, which govern both day-to-day activities and far bigger aspirations. Based on the personality fragments you piece together, each character will have a selection of lifetime goals to choose from and shoot for. These often involve maxing out skills, or career progress in a certain field. And while attaining these as a young adult can leave you pushed for time, raising a Sim from childhood gives you a little more leeway.
In addition to your one main aspiration, the game constantly throws smaller, more immediate goals your way based on the way your Sims are interacting or progressing their skills. Achieving these goals earns you points that can be spent on perks that make Life that bit easier, reducing hunger, making befriending others easier and so on. Naturally, the most useful of these aren’t available until Later in life, but there are a few along the way that will try to tempt you into spending your hard-earned points.
But while the individual personalities and dreams of each Sim have been fleshed out, it’s the newly expanded neighborhood that gives you the means to realize such ambitions. Panning back to the town map reveals all manner of social spots and friends’ homes, allowing you to venture out on the town to meet new people. It’s not just new faces either: this expanded area introduces a plethora of activities and options to keep Sims’ lives varied and exciting. You can visit stores to buy skill books or get a part-time job (ideal for students and those who work silly hours) while other locations can get you onto certain career ladders or enable you to put on concerts once your Sims become creative enough. To ensure you get out of the house once in a while, keeping a Sim cooped up inside can make them go stir crazy, just one of many mood lets’ that make micromanagement easier and more user-friendly than ever.
Rather than simply relying on a series of sliders to see how happy or miserable your virtual friends are, each of the factors that goes into mood calculation is now visible in handy pictorial form. This allows detrimental effects to be easily pinpointed and addressed, while a series of positive buffs has been added to make maintaining a happy home that little bit easier. Things like making new friends, getting a good night’s sleep or enjoying a good meal result in a temporary mood boost that helps improve performance at work or school, making experimentation with these buffs highly advisable. The old gauges are still. there – albeit in a streamlined form – but with any glaring issues now highlighted by the relevant negative mood let, they’re far less important in keeping tabs on your little computer people than they once were. Which is just as well really, since you’ve many more A factors to juggle thanks to a slew of other improvements.
With this vastly increased play area comes a legion of potential new friends, and given the huge scope for variety among them, it’s great to see this reflected in dialogue options. As well as fishing for information about people (picking up on which traits they have is often a good way to gauge how they’ll react to different lines of questioning), your own traits, relationships and background often allow unique dialogue options – workmates can choose to discuss or berate life at the office while Sims with the ‘inappropriate’ trait always have the option to kiss others should you be particularly fond of rejection. You can’t just queue up a day’s worth of the same old conversation, either, as your conversation partner will slowly tire of each subject until they give up listening altogether. Luckily, there are hundreds of options with which to try and keep their attention, so with a little thought, quick relationship building is still very much a possibility.
Similar options are evident elsewhere, too. Most household items are now usable in a number of different ways, with personality and skills again sometimes adding more still. The more you use your home gym equipment, for instance, the more options present themselves to enable a quick blast of training or a slower, more relaxed workout that doesn’t leave you dripping with sweat. Even cooking equipment now comes fully equipped to prepare all kinds of dinners and snacks, although in this case what you can make is entirely dictated by skill levels and recipes learned – repeatedly making a certain dish improves your proficiency at doing so for future attempts and makes it more likely that the end result will be delicious enough to set your Sims up for the day. Then again, would-be handy sims can mess about with electrics and plumbing in an attempt to improve each item, later learning the skills to upgrade such objects so that they never break or need cleaning again.
Even the customization of the various appliances and luxuries impresses, the new Create-A-Style mode allowing you to alter not only colors, but also materials. Foolhardy as it may seem, you can have an entire kitchen carved out of wood if you so wish, perhaps with a stainless steel theme to the rest of the house for when the homestead inevitably burns down. Of course, this tweaking is purely cosmetic, but don’t assume that means your oven is safe whatever color you paint it. Particularly early in the game, Sims are so appalling at cooking that they often either bum dinner or set fire to the entire kitchen. But as those who played The Sims twill be aware, culinary accidents are far from the only way to pop your digital clogs.
Life is a fleeting privilege in the world of The Sims, with your characters able to go from cradle to grave in a matter of hours. Trying to cram in everything your Sims demand before retirement beckons can be stressful, but by leading a healthy life – and with external help from a handy menu option that slows or stalls the ageing process – their lives can be prolonged. On the flipside, Sims can be aged prematurely by throwing them an early birthday party, where blowing out their candles presumably grants their wish to move up to the next age bracket. But even death is not the end of the amusement, with unfortunate Sims often returning to haunt their old abode. There’s apparently even a way to regain control of a spectral character and enjoy the afterlife in the same way you do the land of the living.
But by far the most entertaining quality of The Sims 3 is its ability to create gaming anecdotes in the same way as the expansive worlds of Fallout 3 and Oblivion before it. With only the loosest grounding in reality, there are grounds for the unexpected to happen at any turn and somehow it’s more often than not a surprise when it does. There’s just something about the juxtaposition of the humdrum routine of everyday life against the more eyebrow-raising moments (like when the Grim Reaper sits down for a cheeky blast on your console after sending one of your Sims on to the next Life) that allows the game to constantly amuse, shock or startle – a quality so seldom found even in the games that go out of their way to do so. And given the ridiculous amount of playtime most Sims players are likely to notch up in this definitive edition, that’s high praise indeed.
As ever, EA has managed to make an alchemic experience, one that has no trouble miraculously turning minutes into hours, hours into days and light into dark without the player so much as noticing. Vastly improved personalization options – barring the distinct tack of hairstyles, which is sure to be addressed by downloadable items or the inevitable expansions – make it even easier to make a set of characters with whom you can connect and identify, making chasing their dreams and clinging to their lives all the more emotional an experience. You’ll feet their elation when they get a promotion and a fat raise, share their pride when they upgrade to a fancy mansion then wake up with the imprint of a keyboard on your face as the sun comes up – this really is one of those games that’s nigh on impossible to stop playing even when you feel your eyelids growing overbearingly heavy.
With much-needed alterations to the way in which moods and needs are displayed and managed backing up a wealth of new options and content, The Sims 3 is without doubt the series finest hour. More choice leads to more variety, which in turn adds exponentially to longevity. By playing around with character traits, you’re able to create all kinds of people, and just watching them interact is a joy in itself. Even before the inevitable myriad updates and add-ons, The Sims 3 can boast hundreds of hours of potential entertainment and builds wonderfully on the foundations set by its forerunners, its much larger play area only adding further to your everyday decisions. If just to assemble a rag-tag crew of friends and family, dump them in a house and watch the fireworks, this is must-play material. Our initial Sim quartet wound up dead from electrocution, bereaved, insane and horrible respectively and still we had a blast. That’s how good a job EA has done in Maxis’s absence, somehow turning life’s tragedies into entertainment. And one thing’s for sure – we won’t be fiddling with any electrical wiring any time soon. Y’know, just in case.