Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sims 3

I have an admission to make. I have never played the Sims before. Therefore this review is probably unique, as I am coming to this game anew. It is a very difficult game for me to review as it is difficult for me to know where it is the game letting me down, and where it is me not enjoying the basic premise of the game.

One of the most significant improvements to the game is the introduction of an explorable city. Technically, this is very impressive. You can zoom right in and watch what your Sims are watching on their TV and zoom right out to see the entire neighbourhood without even a whiff of loading screen.

The graphics do help you in to the Sims world. The audio sounds good and when you zoom in all the way, you can really get inside your Sim's world. There is nice audio variation, and the whole world looks and sounds very believable. Your Sims, for the large part, act believably, moving around and communicating convincingly .

The game also introduces the “moodlets” system. A moodlet is a symbol which shows a single emotion affecting your Sim. It tells you the impact it is having, what is causing it and when it will go/get worse. For example you might have a tired moodlet, which says that the sim is very tired, making him 30 less happy, and in two hours time, he will become extremly tired. These are very good at showing instantly what is affecting your Sims and what you need to do at making them happier.

Both of these features help to minimize the barrier between our world and the world of the Sims. This is very important as the game's main pleasure come from the reality TV style game play of watching the lives of these characters. If you were constantly reminded of the virtual nature, it would be hard to relate to the characters.

However, the technical improvement come at a cost. The game takes a long time to load at the start. On my reasonably powerful computer (4GB RAM, 2.4Ghz x2 processor, 256Mb graphics card) it runs fairly well on low-medium settings. However, fairly well is the important part, it hardly feels lightning fast. Furthermore, I had to turn down the settings, as it was running at an inconsistent frame rate. For what is meant to be a casual game, I find this surprising.

My only criticism as a first time Simer would be working out what I should do for my first game. There are a number of choices at the start. I chose to make a family of four, which turned out to be rather ambitious for my first game. I also, foolishly, randomly created all but one of my characters and ended up with a mother who hated children and the outdoors. I also felt there should have been more guidance when choosing where to put your house. I ended up living in a very expensive part of town meaning, leaving me no money for improvements.

One of my favourite parts of the game is creating stuff. Building houses is fun as it is easy to do. However, I found that often there wasn't enough money to do it. Also, as what you made had to be practically useful, you couldn't have as much fun as you could in Spore. For content creation, I much preferred Spore's creators, which were so much easier to make interesting things. I also prefer the way you made styles to go on Spore creations, as I felt it gave you more freedom.

Another element that I though was superior in Spore was the online connectivity. One of my favourite parts about Spore was the fact that other people's creations were integrated so well in to your universe. In Sims, to get other people's stuff, you actually have to leave the game. There is no “Visit a friend” where you take your Sim's to someone else's game, which would have worked well. For me, this is a major disappointment. There is a load of potential for community building in this game. For example, you can create movies, so why not have it so that you can go to the cinema and watch other peoples creations?

My other major problem with the game may just be because it is a Sims game. For me, the actions are quite repetitive. I don't enjoy deliberately messing things up - I never made disasters in Sim City, so for me the game is just about doing things right. But then, when I am playing at my best, things run smoothly, and that is it. I do get attached to my characters, but not a lot. They annoy me as much as make me smile. They get unnecessarily angry when people get in their way, which stop me relating to their lives. It is nice when you build up a family and get a sense of continuity, but the day to day challenges frustrate me, rather than entertain me.

I also think the disasters that upset their lives lack variety. The shower breaks, the sink breaks, the oven breaks. You never get neighbours who start fighting in the street, or major crime or anything. Maybe it is because I am not the target market. But for me, the game gets repetitive if I play it how I want to play it. While I do get pleasure from seeing their lives run well, it is not enough to combat the repetitiveness of the rest of the game.

For me, that is probably the biggest problem. The gameplay is repetitive and lacks any substantial rewards to keep me going. At the end of the day, I haven't saved the world, or won a battle. I have just got another day older. This game does a lot well. There is plenty of variety within the jobs, the world looks great, the Sims interact with each other really well. The depth is really impressive. You have so much control other things like organising parties and days out. However, I did not feel like I can ever spend enough time or money on the parts I enjoy; building my house, organising parties, having nicely running families and instead find myself putting up with the repetitive area's of the gameplay. However, I am prepared to except that the Sims is not aimed at me, and therefore my thoughts on the gameplay are unfair.

However, I don't think my thoughts on the lack of multi player integration are. I am surprised by the barriers put in the way of content sharing and the lack of online play. The technical issues also surprise me, given the target market, casual gamers, will not have a super computer or want to spend the time messing around with graphic settings to get the right balance of frame rate and appearance.

In conclusion, I don't think Sims is for me. However, even if it was, I don't believe that it has as many features as similar games such as Spore, which I do enjoy.

This review is based on a review copy supplied by the publisher.

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