The Sims. No introduction needed, I'm sure. The Sims: Unleashed is the fifth in a series of what I call hairline expansion packs. They don't add enough to really justify the £15 asking price, but they supplement the game's basic functions enough that obsessive players will happily cough up.
If you bought the original game for 30 quid and subsequently all five expansion packs, you'd be over £100 out of pocket by now. Is the state of The Sims more than two years post-release worth that kind of investment?
As an expansion, The Sims: Unleashed does add a fair amount of new content and new activities to take part in. A new area called the Old Town district has been added, with farming and pet stores, giving you several opportunities to change your Sims' lifestyle, or just to hang out in a new environment.
Starting with the focus on the expansion, pets, we headed off to the Old Town district to visit the pet store. Here our Sims bought a cute, lovable little pup, rejecting various cats, birds and reptiles, and trawled the racks of collars, toys and other accessories until they settled on a nice ribbon.
Once home, we set about integrating the pet into our family. To begin with, you'll need to encourage a pet to behave by treating him (or indeed her) whenever he does something as instructed, performs a trick or his comfort level drops off. Fortunately, pets can survive quite happily without much guidance, although you're more likely to develop a positive relationship if you spend time with it.
Indeed, lavish your pet with attention and before long he'll be delighted to see you, and spend a lot of his time trying to impress you with tricks and other feats. You can even enter Fluffy in a pet contest, as long as you can find somewhere to stack the trophies.
Unfortunately, the addition of pets to the household is not as significant as it should be. While you can enjoy spending time tending to their needs just as you have all the other family members, feeding, nurturing and walking a dog is another routine to remember, and training him up can take time away from more important aspects like the Sim-in-question's job or even his basic comfort level. Ignoring them won't cause you too much difficulty, but if you're going to do that then why did you buy the expansion in the first place?
Once again, it's a new feature which never really goes anywhere. Pets offer you a reasonable amount of gameplay, from the task of buying one through to dog competitions and other distractions, but you'd be hard-pressed to convince me that they make the game any more entertaining.
The other major change, which hasn't garnered so much attention through TV ads and other sources of mindless Sims hysteria, is the addition of the Old Town Farmers Market. The expansion includes new landscaping tiles, so that Virtual Titchmarshes (or, given the game's audience, Virtual Dimmocks) can craft their own gardens around patios, bushes, trees, picket fences and of course lots of grass, and by visiting the Farmers Market in the Old Town district, you can stock up on seeds.
Seeds quickly grow as long as you tend to them with weeding and watering, and of course a garden is a good place for a dog to stretch its legs and chase off pesky crop-spoiling rabbits. After a while, whatever you've grown is ready to be harvested and stored in the pantry or even sold on at the Farmers Market for a bit of supplementary income.
The task of farming is unique amongst jobs in The Sims in that you actually sit there and do it manually. Previously a 'job' was only marked by a particular Sim's absence for a few hours, and nothing more. With farming, you sit there and perform the task yourself - and this is perhaps an indication of what The Sims Online will offer. As your Sim toils over the garden he gets hot and uncomfortable, and you'll watch his energy level sap away until he takes a break.
It's a bit disappointing that farming is a pastime here and not a real career. It might have been fun to buy some property and some fields and build a farm, with animals, crops to mind and French beef bans to conquer. You might scoff, but after nearly three years it genuinely might be a laugh to manage something other than a group of degenerate comfort junkies.
At the moment, farming, like the addition of pets, is a bit on the shallow side of the pool.
The Old Town district itself is probably the most significant addition to the game in terms of fun. If you can't be bothered minding pets or the garden, you can at least relax in the comfort of a street café, visit a bunch of new shops or even move house and set yourself up in the surrounding area. Naturally, the shops introduce items to further your collection of pointless trinkets, but on the whole the Old Town district is a nice distraction for a few Sim hours. Rather like the expansion pack as a whole.
Whatever I say, The Sims: Unleashed will sell like hot cakes, and that's because it's built up a core audience of people who don't play most of the other stuff I toil over on these pages. And that's okay! To those people, this expansion pack is a worthy addition to their ever-growing collection.
Farming, pets and a new area represent a good few hours of play to get the most out of them, and they simply enhance the Sims' world. You don't have to pay any attention to them immediately - you can just leave them there and, as with real life, remind yourself to head over and check them out sometime.
Sadly, Unleashed doesn't address any of the actual problems that exist in The Sims' world. You can still sit and watch them get caught up in narrow corridors and doorways, and you still have to perform 90 percent of a Sim's life for him. It might be nice to develop a degree of automation after all this time.
Fans of The Sims should and will buy Unleashed. It's one of the better expansions so far. Sadly though, those of you who played the original game until boredom set in will find nothing here to tempt you back. Bow-wow.
The Sims screenshots (PS2)