Version tested: PC
Must... resist... dating anecdotes.
Real world: I first dated a girl at 11. While my parents were fine with it, she lived in fear of telling hers that she was hanging around with a BOY in town. So, during the date around Stafford town centre, we had to dodge her mum by crouching and manoeuvring between the ranks of clothes in Marks and Spencer's. The date's most memorable moment came when I started a tradition which continues to this very day, when I spilt an enormous glass of coke over her white jeans in Wimpey's. Perhaps unsurprisingly, hot tongue action was noticeable by its absence.
Sims world: My two young flatmates, after trying to play the ("Kiss" - Ed)-friends posture, were dating around. It wasn't going well. Lucy was making out with a neighbour, at the end of her "Stay at home" date around the flat (A meal, a movie and a making out on the sofa). Luke gets back from a hard day at the firing range to find her in the arms of another man, and now it's no more ("Kiss" - Ed) and no more friends. Later, he's having a dinner date with a neighbour, with Lucy safely sleeping upstairs. They're kissing in a let's-be-naked-soon kinda way, when Lucy marches downstairs and - in a terrible piece of accurate human hypocrisy - throws a wobbly at her groping flatmate. She storms off, and refuses to leave the bedroom. So I buy Luke a double bed, leave it in the yard and allow him to have a little cheery intercourse. If only either of them could have been bothered to take their car downtown for their infidelity... well, they'd still be having intercourse with another person.
One day Maxis is going to introduce a particularly virulent VD into the world of the Sims. And then, I'll be in trouble.
Obvious things first - that is, this is obvious. Of all the things which people like about the Sims, the interplay between Man and Woman (Or woman and woman or man and man, equal-opportunity kissing fans) is one which is both popular and could have done with some elaboration on in the original game. To this end, Sims: Nightlife is mostly a success which fails for technical reasons. Which much like a beautifully planned and executed seduction which runs into impotence problems at the last second, is a crushing shame.
Many of its good things are illustrated by my little anecdote. Not spilling coke over Zoe, alas - that's still in the realms of next generation dreams with the forthcoming Embarrasso-life chips - but the little tale of Lucy and Luke.
Firstly, the date mechanism itself. Rather than the previous University expansion, which made its entire format into a subgame - that is, you went away to university and then spent your time trying to pass - this integrates into the world. That is, your life is bumbling along, until you decide to ask someone out on a date. At which point, the clock starts ticking and it's up to you to keep your partner interested. While in normal Sims play your character has desires which can be satisfied, the date mode opens up your partner's too. So, seeing what they'll like to do allows you to play towards them. Do well enough, you raise the metre about a threshold, you get extra time and the date can continue as you try and push towards the next meeting. Like most things in the Sims, it's contextual. If you take the date in a restaurant, people are going to want to eat. If you insist on just kissing them, expect to see their desires to turn towards ("more kissing" - Ed). As well as successfully boosting Sims mood, there are other tangential rewards. People who particularly enjoyed dates can turn up with gifts to say thank-you. Those who had a terrible time can turn to stalker-esque random cruelty. The jerks.
With the fully developed downtown area, with a variety of lots offering various possible dates to go on, the sub-game makes a decent enough stab of making Nightlife into a little game of its own. It feels a little artificially inserted, but that's a trend which becomes increasingly pronounced in the Sims as add-on packs construct expansions on top of the original structure.
(And, for the record, I'd like to see a dedicated game based around Nightlife with the purity and elegance of the Sims Design. In case any budding hormonal Will Wright is out there.)
The other, more interesting, aspects of the add-on pack also play to this centred. They mainly involve an expanded psychology for the Sims. Of the biggest impact, at least to the core of the game, is the concept of Attraction. Before, only personality helped decide how much you liked someone. Now, as you create each Sim, you get to pick turn-ons and turn-offs for each of them. Want to like fat brunettes? Done. Every character in the game is so variably attractive to each character, with obvious effects on romantic interactions (i.e. The "I really, really, really, really like you" factor). In my example, which didn't really help the situation, Lucy and Luke had mutually entirely complimentary attractions. Imagine the sexual tension in that house. Ying!
Similarly, the concept of fury showed in the example too. In extreme cases of displeasure, Sims don't get mildly mad anymore. They go into a length period - signified by red over the character portrait - where any social interaction between them is perilous. Anyone who's ever been in a failing relationship when asking whether someone wants a cup of tea leads to a four hour screaming row will sympathise. It certainly makes - say - cheating have more extreme consequences for the Sims.
The add-on pack has a selection of other, considerably lesser, additions. To go alongside the other Sim life-ambitions, there's a new motivation called "Pleasure", where a Sim is interested in the most fun, now. Whatever makes them smile at this second is what makes them happiest, so they run from shiny thing to shiny thing without a care in the world. There's the welcome addition of Cars, to allow your Sims to get around easier. And, as expected for an add-on pack, there's a load of new items to fill your glorified dolls houses with.
It's a solid add-on pack, with its joys only really curtailed by the problems of the Sims 2 itself. While you can date at home, it's most fun when you actually make it a social event and head out to a bar, restaurant or art gallery. Problem is, with the lengthy time it takes to move between any location in the Sims 2 - especially if you're only going to be there for the few minutes a date takes up - is particularly taxing. This delay leads to an unwillingness in the player to actually go and experience the main things in the add-on pack provides. The more patient Sims player may be able to put up with us, but most of us will want a gaming partner who moves a little quicker.
6 / 10