These customisation options come blissfully obligation-free. The Sims happily accommodates every level of player from can't-be-bothered dabbler through to OCD obsessive with blueprints for every room and item of furniture in their Sim dream home. If you just want to stick a few randomised Sims into a house and start prodding them about without so much as changing the wallpaper, no problem.
It's not a control nightmare either. It gets around the lack of mouse-cursor precision by not demanding it. Click your cursor near close-together objects and it simply asks which one you'd like to interact with. Comprehensive Sim stats including their current needs, ambitions, relationships, personalities, the lot are displayed in easy-to-read form in the bottom right of the screen, and in a detailed set of menus with the touch of a button. Switching between life mode, the town map, build and buy with the Back button is almost instant.
Challenges add a comforting sense of short-term reward for intimidated console gamers, as if the daily cycle of life, parties, work and wish-fulfilment wasn't absorbing enough. Practically everything that Sims achieve in life, from working out to snogging friends to fulfilling their desire for a big new TV, is rewarded with points that can be spent on new items or Karma Powers (supernatural occurrences like meteor showers and earthquakes that you can inflict upon your Sims).
It's worth remembering that this isn't just the first painless console port of a Sims game, it's a painless console port of the very best Sims game. Sims are complicated, loveable little clusters of needs, moodlets, personality traits and aspirations; the game is now a finely-tuned balance of control and observation rather than the mechanical sequence of seeing to their needs that it once was.
Things like free will and ageing are now fully adjustable. You can set the game up to order them around like little automatons, or gently usher circumstances into their favour whilst they go about their lives independently, picking their own friends and partners and hobbies. You can keep them suspended in eternal party-filled youth or watch them have kids and get old, feeling a twinge of sadness when they eventually die until they return to haunt their remaining relatives.
The Sims lets you explore all of its depth and detail and scope exactly how you choose, never telling you what to do. It's a loveable, funny game whether you're guiding your Sims towards happy lives, tormenting maladjusted lunatics of your own creation with with an endless run of disasters, or just leaving them to do their own thing: watching them flirt and throw tantrums and play guitar in their underwear whilst everyone's out of the house.
You can't review a Sims game so much by its features as by the stories that you end up telling about it. On consoles, at heart, it's the same rewarding, anecdote-rich and very personal experience as it ever was. If you've got the option, then the PC version is still the one to go for, but in every significant way, this is just as good.
This review covers the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of The Sims 3, out now. The Wii version, out on November 12th, differs significantly. We reviewed the PC version last year.