Another Sims, Another Success
Five years, eight expansion packs, and eight “stuff” packs after The Sims 2, and fans finally have the third stand-alone installment to the series. Considering all the development and content released for The Sims 2, it seems strange that The Sims 3 could be anything more than a retelling of the same story. However, with the addition of some new features and improvements on older ones, The Sims 3 may just be the best game in the series.
Despite its upgraded graphics and features, The Sims 3 very much remains true to fans of the series. Veterans will have absolutely no problem diving in and getting to it. The user interface has remained mostly unchanged, which is a good thing considering how well it manages to take the complexities of the game and making them manageable.
The game is also easy to learn for the newcomers. A brief tutorial helps introduce the user interface and features to the player, and it does an efficient job of it too. Once completed, “lessons” are available to the player in case they ever need a refresher. But, to The Sims 3’s credit, these helpful tutorials don’t even seem necessary considering how sleek and intuitive the game’s controls are.
Once again, the developers chose not to deviate from the familiar when it came to how players control the action in the game. Managing your sims is mostly down to using the mouse and following through dialogue bubbles and text trees. Keyboard shortcuts provide a quicker alternative to those who care to memorize them. The sims are governed by six needs in this third edition, as opposed to eight in earlier versions. The removal of “Environment” and “Comfort,” coupled with a minor tweaks to how the needs fluctuate, results in players being able to enjoy the many intricacies and events in the game much more than in previous titles.
The visuals and music are a step up from previous Sims games, and it shows in the system requirements. Not only are the music tracks varied and interesting, but the player can choose which tracks get played and when. If you’d prefer to hear the indie tracks while in general “living mode,” then make it so; if you’d rather hear rock tracks while your sim is at work, you can. The Sims 3 doesn’t boast the greatest visuals out there, but its host of new features and gameplay options certainly pick up the slack – what little there is.
Of all the new features and improvement that can be found in The Sims 3, perhaps the most talked and enthused about is the persistent towns in which your sims will live. Over are the days in which loading screens interrupted your sims’ trips to work or movies. Now, players have the option of zooming out and in to any place in town, allowing them to see what is taking place. You’ll be able to see other sims jogging on the sidewalks, sitting on benches in the park, or hanging out at the beach. Traveling is no longer a matter of leaving one area and suddenly appearing in another. Your sim can drive, call a cab, or even jog to the location if you choose. One minor drawback to the persistent town is how taxing it can be on the player’s computer. Rendering an entire town at once is no small feat, but avoiding it altogether because of that would have been a mistake.
There were also improvements made to the “create-a-sim” tools. Players can now customize their sims’ initial physical characteristics, clothing styles, and personality traits to a level of detail greater than before. Varied hairstyles, clothing options for different occasions, and customizable patterns and color options are just a few examples of the ways in which players can create unique-looking sims. Once finished with the appearance aspect, however, The Sims 3 has added personality traits, which allow players to determine how their sim behaves and reacts with other sims. Picking certain traits unlock different options for communicating with other sims and can even impact what types of careers the sim will excel at. And, for every positive trait there is a negative trait, so it is entirely possible to create some truly diabolical or demented sims.
The rewards system in The Sims 3 is also a nice change. When creating sims, players will have to select a long-term goal, which the sim will strive to meet. Moreover, during the game players will be able to choose up to four short-term goals for their sim to complete. Some goals are as simple as taking out the trash or reading a book, while others may be a little more complex, such as discovering another sim’s personality traits. When completed, each short-term goal adds life-time happiness points to the sim’s happiness meter. Once enough happiness points are accumulated, the player can spend them on lifetime rewards that can benefit the sim. For example, accumulating 10,000 points allows the player to unlock the “Steel Bladder” reward, which means their sim won’t have to go to the bathroom as often. There is no penalty incurred for not completing a short-term goal, and even if a goal has been set, it can be dropped and replaced by another one at any time, allowing players to change their minds and still dictate what happens.
Despite all of the added features and persistent world, The Sims 3 oddly leaves out some content that should have really been included. Add-ons like season weather, which was included in one of The Sims 2’s expansion packs, aren’t present here. So, while The Sims 3 does provide a lot of content, there are some details that were accounted for in previous installments that aren’t represented.
Another missing component is an intimate view of your career. When players send their sim off to work, they can watch as far as the door to the building, at which point the sim enters and the player is given an aerial view of the building until the sim’s shift ends. Behavior options are available while the sim is at work, which affects the productivity and chances of promotion. For example, as a police officer, the player can set their sim to “Chat with Partner,” which improves their relationship with their partner, but doesn’t increase their chances of promotion as quickly as say setting their behavior to “Work hard.” This system does give the player some control over their sims’ career on a day-to-day basis, but seems strange in comparison to the amount of depth found in other areas.
Another interesting and mildly irritating limitation is how a sim can only have one career at a time, despite whether work shifts overlap or not. If one shift ends at 2 p.m. and the other begins at 3 p.m., why should you not be able to work two careers at once if you want? Sure, working two jobs in real life isn’t fun at all, and maybe this was the thinking behind limiting a sim to one career, but if you want to make your sim a work-a-holic with two jobs and no social life, then the option should be there.
While The Sims 3 continues the tradition of a solely offline and single-player experience, the continuation of social networking features remains as strong as ever. The Sims 3 launcher allows players to do a variety of things such as upload their own content, including individual sims, objects, houses, public buildings, and entire towns. Players have the option of creating their own player page, which includes a blog and an area to display all their created content for sharing.
In addition to being able to share content with other players via the website, exclusive content can be downloaded from the developers in exchange for SimPoints, which are purchased with real money. While this particular system isn’t very popular, it doesn’t hurt the game much because players have the option of just downloading shared content instead. Moreover, while some content requires SimPoints, players will be happy to know that actual game updates remain free.
These online features greatly increase the longevity of The Sims 3. Considering how detailed the creation tools are, players should have a nearly endless source of downloadable content to choose from. Perhaps the only negative thing about the online feature is the fact that it can’t all be done in a browser built into the game, forcing players to muddle around in their browser and install content prior to launching the game. So, while it may not be as integrated as it could be, it definitely isn’t any less easy to use.
The Sims 3 was a huge undertaking and it shows. The core gameplay remains largely unchanged, with minor tweaks and improvements that unquestionably add to the fun. Enhanced visuals and an expectedly good soundtrack excel at creating truly immersive moments, especially when moving around the largely persistent world. Even though there are areas that lack the level of detail and depth of the game as a whole, they still provide options to the player that keep the game from running into issues, which makes them identifiable as areas for improvement rather than a complete overhaul.
If you’re a fan of the series, then The Sims 3 will deliver all that you’ve come to expect and throw in a ton of new ideas, even if the amount of extra toppings doesn’t seem as vast. Newcomers to the series take note: if you’ve ever thought about playing The Sims, but were overwhelmed by the many expansion and “stuff” packs on the shelves, fear not; The Sims 3 is your window of opportunity.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.0 Graphics
Improved graphics bring a new level of realism to The Sims, but also bring issues for players with less powerful computers. 4.0 Control
A familiar user interface and control scheme boil the many tiers and complexities of the game into a simple and easy-to-understand system that could still be slightly daunting to newcomers to the series. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Great music helps to enhance the experience, while recycled sound effects ensure the game maintains an intimate level of familiarity. 4.5 Play Value
Unchanged core gameplay mechanics are improved with a host of new features and simplified ideas, and they are brought together in a single persistent environment that is just what the series needed. 4.5 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.