Castaway Stories Literally Covers New Ground
One of the most popular computer games of all times, The Sims, sure has withstood the test of time. One may be tempted to say that the franchise has come a long way, but take a moment to reconsider that most of the improvements have not been directed at the core of the gameplay. We’ve witnessed the development of a more streamlined interface, new and improved 3D graphics, larger environments, and the addition of more diverse elements.
Some may say the gameplay has gotten deeper, but that’s a direct result of adding more elements to accommodate the increase in computer processing power. The basic premise of micromanaging a virtual person in a virtual world remains a constant despite the changing variables that constitute different games in the series.
As you may or may not know, some of these Sims games can be huge hogs on your system’s resources, especially if you want to view the graphics at full resolution. That may be fine for some of the techno geeks that keep up with every micro-trend and seem to have unlimited funds to purchase the latest PC upgrades. But what about the rest of us schleps that have to spend money on things like rent, food, car payments, underarm deodorant, and autographed Conway Twitty posters? Also, what about the people that want to play these games on a laptop that is seriously under-powered? Well until recently, we were relegated to graphics that looked like third-generation VHS copies. Not to mention the slow processing. By the time a hot chick came out of the shower, she would be middle aged.
The Sims: Castaway Stories addresses most of these issues, but in the process creates a few more. It’s a good-looking game that can be played on systems such as laptops that barely meet the bare requirements. Just don’t try it on a Pentium One-powered Thinkpad. Not only does the game look good (just don’t select the highest resolution), but it sounds great and runs fairly smooth, although I ran into a few mechanical bugs that caused me to have to restart the game a few times. There are some framerate issues, and the load times can really get on your nerves, but overall this is a solid offering. As an added bonus, it does not require any previous version of a Sims game to run. This is a completely stand-alone game. But as I alluded to, these features come at a price. I’ll discuss that in detail after an overview of the gameplay.
Castaway Stories has you play as a shipwrecked character that find him or herself stranded on a seemingly deserted island. You start with nothing but the basic will to survive. After performing a series of missions in which you acquire food and tools for survival, you discover the island is not so deserted. Interacting with the other people on the island, you begin to build an economic system from the ground up. You will harvest resources, which you will sell, trade, and barter for other necessities. Food can be hunted and/or gathered. Eventually, you can produce commodities from your resources, which will increase their worth. Currency is in the form of resources instead of Simoleons. The missions in the story mode will take you all over the island, allowing you to explore it. You’ll find all kinds of interesting things in the different locations, which will definitely pique your interest, but once you’ve seen everything the island has to offer, the gameplay starts to get old, like a dead fish lying in the sun.
Now, let’s get right down to the hard, cold facts. The downside to this game is that it’s not as deep as you may have come to expect from a Sims game. It’s relatively short, and there isn’t a lot of variety. The story mode will take you a couple of days to complete, although it’s possible to complete it in a day if you are a dedicated Sims gamer. The Free style mode may seem endless, but since you are on a deserted island, you will eventually realize there is a finite limit to who, what, where, when, and why. How’s that for simulated realism? You’re stranded on a deserted island, and after a while there isn’t a hell of a lot to do. The story does not resolve itself in the story mode. Instead, it propels you into the Free style mode, making sure you are properly prepared and equipped for the challenges that lie ahead. It’s too bad the entire game is single-player. This game screams for a massive online multiplayer mode. That would extend the replay value into next year. Alas, although the game is short, it’s sweet. It’s definitely a good addition to the series, just so long as it’s understood the gameplay isn’t going to last you a virtual lifetime.
Premise-wise, Castaway Stories covers some new ground, literally. This island instantly is your home, so it’s not imperative that you acquire a home. Loaded with resources and interactive characters, the island is definitely fun to explore. Having to scratch out an existence from what you hunt and gather may seem like the same old familiar Sims formula, but consider that the economics system has been reduced to its basic component and you can see the potential as you expand upon it. As usual, you will be able to enter into a variety of relationships with the other characters on the island.
The island isn’t very big, but the load times will have you thinking otherwise. There are all kinds of food items from fish to fruit, as well as various weapons and tools such as an axe and a fishing rod. You’ll acquire more useful items exponentially as you acquire more resources, mostly as a result of bartering. You have to be careful not to push your character too hard, as he or she expends energy rapidly, requiring you to rest, eat or take a shower. This causes some annoying delays. Occasionally your character will not obey an order if he or she is too tired or is displaying a low reading on the mood meter. While this may keep you from rushing through the game, when combined with the long load times, the overall pace of the gameplay seems choppy and sloppy.
There’s nothing sloppy about the graphics, and nothing choppy about the water, which looks really smooth. We all know how difficult it is to make water look realistic, and while it still won’t fool anyone, it’s a great cartoonish representation. Considering that this game is built on the aging Sims engine, the colors, graphic details, and animation are great, even at medium resolution setting. The jungles are dense with trees, shrubs, and other exotic flora, not to mention rich with audio ambience. There are many convincing ambient sound effects in this game. The music is upbeat and catchy, and it’s not entirely repetitive. Voiceovers consist of the gibberish Sim-speak. Nothing new there. The interface couldn’t be easier to use. The first few hours of the story mode is basically a tutorial introducing you to the control system. The tutorial is so subtle, and the interface so intuitive, you’ll be playing like a Sims vet in no time, even if you have no previous Sims experience.
Castaway Story is perfectly priced at just under thirty bucks. It’s definitely worth every penny, but since it’s so relatively short, I can’t say that it’s worth a penny more.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.5 Graphics
Great looking even at lower resolutions. Not a system hog. 4.8 Control
Interface couldn’t be easier to use. Some commands are not obeyed. 4.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Great island tunes as well as ambient sound effects. 4.0 Play Value
It’s a lot of fun to explore the island but the gameplay gets redundant in the Free mode. 4.6 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.