The Sims 3 Review

The Sims 3, probably the most anticipated game of 2009, considering The Sims series is the best-selling PC game series, ever (the game that used to hold that distinction was Myst). So no matter what I say, it's a good bet that the game is going to do well but will existing fans of the series like the changes that were made?

Sound (3/5)
Sound effects are pretty much similar to the previous Sims game, in fact some of the sound effects have even been re-used. One nice little gimmick is that when you're creating new Sims you're now able to pick from three different types of voices for each sex, and not only that but you're also able to alter the pitch. It's pretty neat because it allows you to customise your Sims a little bit more than previous incarnations. You're now also able to alter the volume control on radios and TV sets in the game which is a welcome addition! One of the problems I found in the Sims 2 is that the TV would always be way too loud, and altering the game volume control wasn't a solution since it would make other sound effects too soft.

Music (4/5)
A lot of effort has been taken with the music and famous movie composer, Steve Jablonsky was recruited to do the new theme song and most of the music (besides the radio station music). The new theme song is a subtle tribute to the former themes, as the style of music from the Sims 1 and Sims 2 themes have been incorporated into the new Sims 3 theme. The main theme for the Sims 3 can also be heard in various forms in the Build and Create-A-Sim music which I think is a nice touch.

In terms of the radio music I actually think the Sims 2 was slightly better in that regard but then again my musical taste doesn't quite keep up with the times when it comes to what is popular :P.

The Sims 3 Create-A-Sim Mode

Graphics (3/5)
At first glance it would seem that graphics haven't improved much in the Sims 3. If you're zoomed out, everything might appear not as sharp in visuals as the previous Sims title, but give it a few seconds and things will start to look better. The engine that they appear to have used in The Sims 3 reminds me of the one they use in Guild Wars. Basically things from a distance won't be rendered very well at all and you'll just see a sort of pixellated, low texture placemarker until you zoom up close where extra textures and detail will be added. Sometimes buildings won't be rendered at all for a few seconds, even on a reasonably powerful system like mine (e.g. you arrive at work only to find your Sim entering an empty plot of land, which then turns into a warehouse a few seconds later). However you can understand why they have taken this approach since everything is now running in real-time (i.e. your home isn't a separate instance cut off from the rest of the town).

One good thing about this approach though is that the game is able to run even on modest systems and I played on a system that was minimum spec without any crashes (although things really chugged obviously). However I did have some problems on an SLI system, but hopefully that was only an isolated incident.

Plot (3/5)
Plot works the same way as previous Sims games. The long-time fans of the Sims will notice there are certain family names that make a return in this one and there are still little background stories for some of the households, but this is nothing new and it's not really too much of an effort on plot, but hey that's not the point of the Sims! The fun lies in making your own story as you play with Sims that you've created (IMHO).

The Sims 3 Build and Buy Modes

If you haven't played a Sims game before or haven't at least heard of them, you must've been living under a rock for the past few years, possibly in Siberia (apologies to any Siberian readers out there)! For the benefit of those that don't know what it's about here's a quick run-down: The Sims games are basically life-simulation games - have you ever played the board game "The Game of Life"? Well it's a bit like that, except in a computer game format. You are able to customise a "Sim" (a person) and choose what clothes they wear, what their facial features look like, what their body shape is like and even their aspirations in life. After you've done that, you're able to play with the Sim in a town with virtual inhabitants. You can make them choose to focus on their career, or having a family, on one of their favourite past-times or a bit of everything. You're also able to design houses in the Sims 3 and make movies of your Sims too. There's a lot to do and this is one of the major strengths with the Sims franchise, you get value for money. One of the problems though with previous games is that since the game is a sandbox game, traditional hardcore gamers that like a challenge are usually let down, since there isn't much of a challenge in the game, besides advancing in your career and having a happy family, and these aren't hard to do if you use common sense.

So now we come to the latest iteration of the Sims. Most of the game plays in pretty much the same way as before but what has changed? Well firstly, the major one that you've probably heard about is that the rest of the town goes about its business in real-time. That means, unlike previous Sims games where time stands still for the rest of the town when you're playing in a certain household, in the Sims 3 time never stands still (unless you pause the game of course). This changes gameplay quite dramatically since it means you basically have much less control over the rest of your Sims. In the original Sims it was possible to play and direct the destinies of several of your Sims, while in this latest iteration it is almost impossible and you pretty much have to focus on one household. Other Sims that you create and populate the town with may kill themselves in a household fire, go off and have a homosexual affair (I'm serious this happened to one of my Sims in the game!) or just get bored with life in town and leave. It can be quite frustrating sometimes if you had other plans for the Sims so the control freaks will definitely not like this latest iteration. You can turn off free will for the Sims but that sounds like a recipe for disaster if things are still running in real time and you can't guide the Sims not in your current household.

Another major new feature is the dropping of the traditional attributes system (where you had points for certain things like Cleanliness, Playfulness, etc.) and the adoption of a traits system. Basically you can now actually see the difference it makes by adding certain traits to your characters and you'll get new actions to perform. For example, a character with the "Frugal" trait will be able to cut discount coupons out of the newspaper whereas other characters cannot, "Neurotic" characters can choose the action "Freak Out" that makes them less stressed (but may stress others around them) and "Inappropriate characters have conversation options such as "Insult Joe's Mother". It's great since it adds a certain role-playing element to the game, which brings me to my next point.

What I think is a cunning ploy by Maxis to get hardcore or traditional gamers into the Sims is by adding some thinly-disguised roleplaying elements into the gameplay. The Sims 2 occasionally had pop-ups appearing whilst a Sim was at work. These pop-ups would detail a scenario where the player can choose to act in a particular way. Depending on their attributes and a bit of luck, one of the options would generally be beneficial whilst the other detrimental. This idea has been expanded into the Sims 3 in the form of "Opportunities", however now they're more like mini-quests or side quests that you see often in your typical RPGs than a casual game like the Sims. So now you may have "Opportunities" that range from baking cookies for a school fair, repairing a friend's TV, becoming friends with someone along with the career-focused ones such as reading a book on "Caffeine Culture" or doing some overtime. Mini-quests aren't the only idea Maxis has taken aboard from RPGs, but also the idea of an inventory. Now each of your Sims has their own inventory where they can carry rocks, food, books, balls, etc. These means that certain items you buy are now portable and can be transferred to the park for example (e.g. a football, a boombox, a picnic hamper, etc.). I actual think it's a welcome addition and will have the hardcore or traditional gamers keep their interest just a little bit longer with The Sims 3.

Replayability (4/5)
As expected from a Sims game, the game is very replayable, since it's a sandbox game. You could always go back and try out new Sims with new traits, construct new houses, design new furniture, design new clothes, make new movies, etc., etc. There are many creative tools there for those that want to use them. However, to those that want challenging gameplay, there's not much to go back to - but this is a Sims game after all.

The Sims 3 Live Mode

Thankfully after the furor sparked by the DRM controversy with previous EA games (e.g. Mass Effect, Spore, etc.) EA has decided to go back to basics and while it still uses SecuROM it's only a disc check as opposed to a complex and dodgy activations scheme. The game's interface is very similar to the one used in The Sims 2 and is functional. The game's bugs seem few and far between, except for the usual pathing issues that can sometimes halt the game (just as well you can reload the game then!)

Overall - 70%
The Sims 3 is a brave attempt at trying to make the series head in a new direction and appeal more to actual gamers but by doing so might end up not satisfying either camp.