Like it or not, The Sims is the biggest selling PC game of all time by some margin. It's not a success, it's a bloody phenomenon, and each and every expansion pack gets snapped up faster than chocolate drops dangled over the jaws of a slavering canine.
The Sims 2, then. An excuse to sell you the same game all over again with shinier graphics or a lovingly created sequel that'll drag in the few unbelievers that are still not convinced it's the greatest game ever? A bit of both really.
Eh, when I were a lad, it were all C64s around here
When home videogaming was a very small lad indeed, Activision released a wonderful text/icon based decision-making game called Alter Ego on Commodore 64 disk. Basically you went from the first stages of consciousness in the womb right up to (potentially premature) death, and could be as sickly sweet nice or as much of an unhinged arsehole as you wanted to be and everything in between simply by choosing your response to a series of typical scenarios. It psychologically profiled your 'individual' and really was one of the most compelling videogames experiences ever.
Just like Alter Ego, The Sims 2 lets your computer-generated creations grow from babies to children to adults and then to old age, also developing emotionally, mentally and physically. Apparently your creations will respond according to given situations depending on choices you make during your formative years. EA calls these 'Life's Big Moments' and your 'Life Score' depends on how you negotiate your way through these situations.
Included is the rather splendid 'Create-A-Sim' feature, which, shockingly, lets you customise the facial features to an almost infinite degree. On show at Camp EA were a few examples of how flexible the system is, with the ability to tweak everything, including the size, shape and colour of the eyes, width and length of the nose, hairstyle, and so on. Just to prove the point a pre-made Mr. T clone showed off the potential to tailor your avatar exactly the way you want it.
My disturbing offspring
Rather disturbingly, players can see what their offspring might look like if matched with a particular individual - and with aliens among the basic races available you can conceivably have a family of green-faced afro-sporting offspring running around. Thanks to the sure to-be-hyped-to-death DNA feature, your offspring will not only resemble the parents physically, but also pick up character traits, so if your Sims are a bunch of low life slobs, don't be surprised if the sprogs can't be arsed to tidy up either.
Another key enhancement is the much improved house building tool, which allows players to construct abodes spanning as many as four floors, with curves for the first time and various new objects to deck out your palace/slum exactly the way you want it.
Visually, The Sims 2's engine is a revelation next to the severely ageing original, with vastly improved, detailed character models sporting a pleasing array of incidental animations and individual touches that make the game a far more compelling prospect. Aside from that, the background detail and general style of artwork made even the various stills dotted around the presentation area look like renders rather than mere screenshots.
Don't hit on me!
The Camp EA demo session itself showed off a few typical Sims scenarios, with four teenage Sims (two boys, two girls) of varying levels of attractiveness and social skills. While the ladies man Bernie could charm the pants off both the ladies with his 'flirt' social skill, the slobbish Marty had no chance, hamstrung by his comparatively primitive 'hit on' skill. Similarly, the ladies don't appreciate infidelity - as evidenced by Bernie's dalliance right in front of his previous target resulting in a display of waterworks.
Upstairs in the Jacuzzi, we got to see the same foursome sharing the hot tub Big Brother style, with various examples of how the game allows players to engage in progressively complex activities the more they engage with one another. One such event was the ability to engage in some mock synchronised swimming, while later the use of a gym showed off the ability to spruce up the physical appearance of your Sim, and potentially win the heart of that shallow bint you've had your heart set on.
With the game still some six to eight months away from release, it'll be some time before we get proper hands on with the next blockbusting episode in this ridiculously large selling series [and it'll be muggins here who 'gets' to do it, I'll wager -Tom]. By then, the current relatively high minimum spec of 32MB graphics card and PIII 700 shouldn't be considered too high, especially when you acknowledge just how many expansion packs this will undoubtedly spawn.
More more more
Until then, there's another expansion pack to wade through (Makin' Magic) and, of course the more structured console sequel, Bustin' Out. As soon as we get a sniff of playable code, we'll let you know everything there is to know about The Sims 2 and its mutant offspring.