A friend of mine picked up The Sims at about the same time as I did. Having played it for a good few weeks now, he agrees with me that the game is very addictive. I'm told that he has already achieved a vibrant 2.4 children-esque soap opera lifestyle.
But anyway, I was passing his flat a few nights ago and dropped by, as you do. After the usual exchange of pleasantries, we found ourselves huddled around his PC and looking at various things that he had got hold of. After about 10 minutes he was called away to a phone call, leaving me to ponder over his hard-drive .. and his copy of The Sims.
So I loaded it up and inspected his town. To my great amusement I discovered that he had set it out just as he lived, with me on one side of town and he on the other. However, I was alarmed to discover that in his version of reality, while I slaved my guts out from nine to five every day, he was having my girlfriend on the side!
Sim Wife, Sim Strife
Although life may not imitate art, it's clear that Will Wright's latest blockbuster is doing its best to imitate life.
In a way that's what The Sims is - a life simulator. You take control of a family of your choosing (or indeed of your creation) and nurture or destroy them as you see fit. Anything is possible, from the aforementioned adultery to marriage and child birth.
The real joy of The Sims though is that your family takes orders from you, but also do as they choose. So if little Betty Mofo wants to watch TV more than she wants to take out the trash, then she will have none of your lip, laddie.
To control The Sims you choose from the Live, Buy or Build menus. When in "Live" mode, the world is in a state of change and the people exist in real-time. Your orders to them are stacked in the top-left-hand corner of the screen and your little Sims complete them as quickly as they can.
The Sims have various comforts, which need to be kept in check. For instance, if a Sim's bladder rating is in the red, he or she needs to head to the bathroom! The various comforts can be controlled in this manner, and as with so much of the game, if you're not sure what is meant by something all that's needed is a quick click on the option to find out.
The Live mode is the one you will spend the most time in, but the other two modes are also important. If you find your Sims complaining about lack of Room (another comfort) then a quick jump into Build mode may be in order. From here you can alter the appearance of your Sims' home, attempt a bit of Feng-Shui, or create an entirely new room or floor, funds permitting.
To earn the required money you will need to get a job. Each job pays in Sim-bucks (well, that's what I call them anyway), and to get a job you will need to employ the services of a newspaper.
So is The Sims fun to play? Yes, in a word. I've spent the last two weeks confirming that suspicion.
Maxis' insistence that their games are "software toys" rather than games seems to carry a bit more weight in this instance, although the inclusion of things like natural disasters exhibits Will Wright's darker side. Hell, I read somewhere that the only thing left out due to feature-creep was paedophilia! But I'd like to see the censors cry about this one - you don't have to play the bad guy, it's your prerogative, so what's there to complain about? Another one-up for Maxis, then.
Actually, The Sims does have its downsides in terms of gameplay. There is only so much fun you can have directing the life of a family without a preset mission infrastructure. Sure, throw-away missions like "get this family to a daily income of $500 by June" may seem pointless, but at the moment the game lacks challenge - you can't lose, the game isn't about that.
The best parallel I can draw is that of an online RPG without experience points. You never really get anywhere, but there are a lot of cool things to do until you get bored. And hey, how can you not want a game that can generate a webpage about your own Sims' exploits for you and put it on the net?
The Cartoon Edge
Sumptuous would be an understatement when it comes to the visual side of things. You can play the game at either 800x600 or 1024x768 resolution, and there is an indistinct cartoon edge to everything which takes away some of the shock-factor. Alongside which there's the constant morality - should your Sims receive a call of nature, fuzzy pixels are introduced to protect their embarrassment.
The isometric viewpoint can be rotated 360° a la Sim City, and in order to avoid your view of the action being compromised you can select to have the walls fade out of view wherever your mouse wanders, to have no walls appear whatsoever, or if you like to be in the dark you can just leave the walls up to obscure your view.
Each Sim is well animated with a whole host of different actions that they can complete. Facial expressions are noticeable at times, and are replicated on the Personality toolbar. The objects the Sims find in their virtual universe aren't necessarily intricate but look the part, and you are never left pondering what your eyes have fallen upon.
If the graphics are sumptuous then the sounds deserve equal merit. The Sims themselves don't speak in English, so you get an amusing gobbledegook whenever they open their mouths. Each appliance, machine and electronic device makes an appropriate sound as well, and getting one of the Sims to change the radio station on the hi-fi provides the musical accompaniment. From country to rock, everything's in.
The television doesn't just whiz or whir either - if you get the Sims to watch horror movies, the appropriate screaming and slashing follows the on-screen action. You can't watch the stuff along with them sadly, but hey, maybe Maxis needed to leave some stuff for The Sims 2!
The Sims really does grow on you, and with you. The way you play it depends on how you are that day, and what you feel like. If you are angry it will show, and if you are happy that will come through as well - it's compelling single player life that is genuinely as much fun to watch as to play.
It's not devoid of problems though - the lack of any real objectives becomes somewhat tedious after a while, but it is still hard not to recommend The Sims to everyone. It's original, compelling, and best of all enjoyable.