Woe is me, the Sims fan. Everyone is on my case about it. "It's pointless!" "It's so repetitive!" Well, it lacks an ending so I suppose it is pointless, and since most of the work is trying to keep all your little Sims in the green across the board, it is repetitive, but my bank manager will tell you that it's a lot healthier buying electronic approximations of pointless material possessions than it is actually wasting your paycheque on lava lamps and jukeboxes. So The Sims wins. Ooh, jukeboxes...
The truth is that for me, personally, The Sims works as a passive game to shove on as Des and co. stretch the pre-match gossip out to 45 minutes, or something to click while your speakers pulsate with whatever you're listening to. I dunno, I suppose you can just play it without thinking too hard about it. It's good to chill out with - occupying yourself with the actions of people whose whim has no thorny repercussions. And besides, how is Sim City any different? [You were doing so well... -Ed]
So I'm on my own for this one. No grander 'we', I'm the Sims fan and it's my take on The Sims Online. Nobody else on the staff has played it. And... EA doesn't even want you to play it at the moment. The game has slipped off release radars and into the land of TBC, largely because of its failure to grasp control of the US market so far. Revisions will be made, and this may not even be the game you play in the end, so we're treating this as a 'first impressions'.
At the first hurdle, it still looks like The Sims. You can create up to three main characters, but they have to operate separately in their own little ether-worldly arenas. Each is given an initial outlay of 10,000 [cringe] Simoleans, which is pretty insignificant when it comes to repopulating your apartment. The idea is to hook up with a couple of roommates or so, by hopping onto a thriving household, and pool your resources. Currency is earned by performing various menial tasks, using tool objects to level up your skills, and performing thoughtful tasks (like playing chess in the mirror). The better you get, the more money it's worth.
Sadly, this means you end up repeating yourself because there's no incentive to diversify if all it means is less funds in the short term. So that's more repetition that normal. And indeed, your room-mates are drawn to your plight because if they join in a task with you, it earns even more cash. I spent a lot of time in the Sim world standing in a group working at the same task, or standing alongside rows of others just talking into mirrors. Shudder. If people perform their tasks on my land, I get a cut of that too though, so more people come in - it certainly forces people together for the common good, and an offshoot of that is necessary interaction. And it's at times like these that you turn to the chat interface.
The chat interface is like MSN Cartoon Chat from the mid-nineties taken to its logical conclusion - a living breathing background to your mindless Compuserve-level banter with complete strangers. It's not IRC, as some will say, because IRC in itself can be used in a number of ways. This is a single function terminal to the greater online world of total weirdos.
Unfortunately, there isn't a great deal to keep your attention in the game world compared to this. The developer makes vain attempts to bridge the gap with in-world interactions you can share with your pals, (including the famed romantic gestures), but these take too long to do and simply can't beat the charming smiley.
And as you chat away endlessly, the game becomes more of a nuisance than the central preoccupation. You queue up important tasks in the act of 'greening', as does everybody else, leading to a snake of Sims racing from bed to breakfast to the toilet to the shower to the couch to the bookshelf and so on.
It's certainly a good-looking backend to your chat application. I'll give it that. The locations are as diverse as The Sims' have become, the graphics and interface have become a standard, and you can do pretty much everything you could do in the grounded single-player versions… Except the game has lost all of its former allure. You can't rip up your apartment and rebuild it like you can offline, and when you have enough cash for a place of your own, it's still more economical to play it safe. Why build and throw money at a bachelor pad if you can't operate a door handle when you get inside?
And therein lies the fundamental flaw that currently stops me from recommending The Sims Online. In its current state, there's no way to give your little Sim the financial and social freedom the whole fantasy is based on. And the alternative offered here has thrown in a pleasant chat client, and crossed the fine line between The Sims' version of menial life and the real one at the price of entertainment. GG THX TBH.
The Sims review (PS2)