The Sims 3 Reader Review
Ned Kelly is a star, a sporting hero. He has made it to the top of his field, a modern day Hercules of fitness and power. Thing is, all is not well for Ned; heís still living with his sister Jean in a run-down house; supporting the wannabe rock star with his vast income- He earns, she spends. And Ned, despite having a fantastically toned physique, cannot get a girlfriend because he just doesnít have a pretty face or a flirty demeanour. Getting towards the end of his career, will Ned ever find love?
This is one of the many myriad stories I ended up telling with my time on The Sims 3, the latest in the vastly popular series originally created by Will Wright and Maxis, now taken on by EA Redwood Studios who had previously made the fairly popular Godfather games.
So what is there in this latest instalment that necessitates a sequel to the ba-zillion selling Sims 2? The focus appears to have turned to the vast community that kept sales for The Sims 2 going- creativity and personalisation is the key this time round, with every object and piece of clothing customisable, from simple colour changes to the type of stitching pattern on the hem of a jacket. The sims themselves also have more personalised behaviours, thanks to a new traits system that allows each sim to have 5 words that describe them and affect how they act and react in the world. The best part about this is that you can create absolute wrecks of sims if you like, such as a neat loner, who is a never-nude (in a knowing reference to Arrested Development) and is an over-emotional loser. And in fact I did, creating Hans Gruber, a pathetic loser that stayed indoors alone for most of his life, only occasionally venturing out to pick up food. However, the traits didnít seem to matter as much as Iíd hoped, the loner trait for example actually giving the sim an advantage in that their social meter rarely dropped. And although itís fun to watch a scaredy-cat tremble in fear at having to walk home from the gym in the dark, it didnít change the game as drastically as I would have hoped.
Other new changes within the game seem to have had either a null or negative impact on the game design over previous iterations of the series. For instance, buying food has become a faff as now instead of just restocking the fridge, you have to buy the correct ingredients for each meal.
Another new feature is the Ďliving worldí, in that instead of each household being separate in time and space, it is now part of a living, breathing town. Whilst this is a great concept, and indeed something that surely many sims fans have long wanted, its execution is far from perfect. Firstly, for a town that is meant to be dynamic, there seems to be a lot of unemployed sims wandering around aimlessly. Despite the fact that we now get the chance to follow our sims to work, we still canít actually go into work with them, instead selecting the type of activity they do at work from a pop-down menu. Considering the Sims 2 had an expansion pack that let us go to work with our sims, this is a glaring omission (although more on those later).
Finally, and most infuriatingly, it is incredibly awkward and unintuitive to have more than one household per town, so much so that I thought the feature didnít exist until I read about it in the manual. In previous games, one the most entertaining aspects to play with was the community you built and how everybodyís lives blended together (normally by a lothario who had slept with all the lonely housewives in my case), so its contrived implementation into The Sims 3 is profoundly irritating. Also, as everything now happens over a singular timeline (all sims age at the same rate instead of two teenagers falling in love before one grows up and grows old whilst the other stays forever young, Neverland style), it means that the AI controls your inactive sims. In what must be the first time Iíve ever wished that AI could be more intrusive, your other sims appear to bumble along in their lives whilst not under your control, leaving them to grow old whilst living very dull lives. It would have been nice to be able to come back to a family after a leaving them for a few weeks to find out they had become either wildly successful or were now penniless bums scavenging bins for scraps. Itís understandable why EA havenít done this as Iím sure many people like to guide every inch of their sims lives, but I would have liked a bit more chaos and unpredictability injected into my Sims existence.
Thankfully, creating houses is just as much fun as it has ever been, with the added attraction of colour schemes. Despite being quite a small thing, it makes a lot of difference being able to change the colour of objects- whereas in the past if the sofa was red, it had to be red and stand out in your blue room but now itís much easier and more fun to make themed rooms. When Jean Kelly got accidentally knocked up by Tommy Walsh next door, I immediately decorated the babyís room with dark purples and blacks, thereby creating the worlds first Goth-baby chic. And for fishing enthusiast John McClane who loves to bring the fish he caught back with him and keep goldfish, I adopted an underwater theme complete with blue lighting and blue tables to complement his aquatic lifestyle.
Being able to afford these fantastic houses (without cheating) has also become a lot more accessable as, apart from getting a job, sims can now make money in many more ways, from writing best-selling novels to growing vegetables and selling them to the local grocers- Indeed, Mr Walsh converted his front lawn into an allotment, living off the profits he made from selling his fruits. Although gardening isnít the most exciting lifestyle choice in The Sims 3, it is pleasant to have such alternatives to getting a job.
The core gameplay is also still excellent, as my lack of mention up until now might suggest. It plays out very much like its predecessors in this department, albeit with one major change- moodlets. Instead of constantly pounding the mood bars of previous games, the moodlets represent a blend of the existing mood bars and The Sims 2ís aspirations, wants and fears system. The idea behind this change was to stop players from needing to worry about fulfilling and topping up the bars. To an extent, this new system works as I definitely spent less time worrying if my sims needed to constantly pee. However, the system is also very easy to manipulate and abuse- most of the moodlets can be linked into the aforementioned mood bars of old (for instance, a good nights sleep will put the sim in a good mood) and if you can afford to splash a few simoleons (still the games currency) then a trip to the Day Spa will mean your sim will be in an unshakeably good mood all week.
Despite the niggles, The Sims 3 is still a lot of fun- itís still very entertaining to watch your sims interact with each other or to set up hilarious set pieces like some kind of evil Eastenders producer. Even though the original idea of the sims is now over 10 years old, its voyeuristic sense of doll house manipulation is still intoxicating. But something feels wrong that I canít put my finger on. Technically and gameplay wise, this is the best iteration of The Sims yet, so why have I not enjoyed myself as much as I have with previous versions?
Could it be the way the game seems to intentionally be holding back aspects of gameplay, such as not being able to go into work with your sims or go to a fancy nightclub or to take your young sims off to university? No, I always expected this to be the case with The Sims, and with the addition of the new SimStore it has practically built expansion packs into the game already.
No, what I think it has happened is that the Sims has lost its charm to me somewhere along the way. Whilst Iíd like to blame this on the developers, as with Maxis games there has always been a sort of ludicrous and slightly nerdy sense of humour that permeates every one of their products (I even enjoyed Spore, even though the gameplay didnít appeal to me at all), and with the development duties being handed to EA it could be that the charm has been lost. But perhaps the fault lies with me- when I first played The Sims in 2000 I was a wide eyed 12 year old that also liked Lego and throwing my action men out of my window. But now in the distant future world of 2011, I stand as a 23 year old who got rid of his action men years ago and only occasionally has pangs to build a castle made out of tiny plastic blocks. Iím sorry Ned and Jean, Iím sorry Hans Gruber and John McClane and Iím really sorry Tommy Walsh, but I think Iíve grown too old for you.