Review by Eric43

Reviewed: 01/06/08 | Updated: 01/08/08

Maxis has finally been able to recreate real life--sudden bursts of excitement, but mostly boring.

With the exception of the “Tycoon” franchise, leave it to Maxis to come up with simulation games for basically everything--cities, farms, ants, skyscrapers and even helicopters. Try people. The Sims is a game that deposits the player into a neighborhood with lots for homes inhabited by fictional people called "Sims." You can create your own families and move them into houses. The Sims will go about their daily lives and tend to needs such as eating, sleeping, and going to the bathroom. They can get jobs and socialize with other Sims in the neighborhood. They can get rich and expand the size of their house and buy new furniture. It’s a clever idea and I do applaud Maxis for its ingenuity, but besides this list, don't expect anything out of the ordinary.

Initially, you'll find yourself in a neighborhood with the option to take control of an existing family or create your own. You can create families of up to eight Sims, consisting of adults and children. Visually, you can pick from a modest selection of facial and body skins, but there is no option to adjust more minor details such as body weight, pants, shirt, and facial hair, as you are just restricted to several prefabs. A more interesting point would be each Sim’s personality. You can distribute points in five categories—Neat, Outgoing, Active, Playful, and Nice. The stats play a minor role later on, especially how they react to other Sims or to certain objects, etc. You needn't worry about your Sims' aging as they will stay the same way for the whole game period.

Once you’ve moved a family into a lot, you’re given a small sum of money to buy goods and set up shop. Here’s where the build tools come in, and are easily one of game’s strongest points. With some easy-to-use tools, you can drag and drop walls, doors, carpet and tile floors, wall coverings, windows, bushes, trees, and flower beds to your heart’s desire. You can also go into a buy menu and look through an exhaustive catalog of all household objects such as sofa, beds, toilets, showers, tables, chairs, kitchen appliances, TVs, and computers. The menus are fairly clean and there's little difficulty in designing the house you prefer. New families will only have enough money for the bare essentials, so there is an incentive to improve yourself and buy better, more expensive goods.

The needs are another stellar concept that applies to every Sim. At every given moment, each Sim is measured in terms of Energy, Hunger, Comfort, Fun, Hygiene, Social, Bladder, and Room (appeal). They stand for the obvious—if a Sim has low Energy, order him to go to sleep. If he has low Fun, watch television, play chess, or read a book. If he has low Bladder, go to the bathroom (or else he’ll have an unfortunate accident and embarrass himself). Typically, the sum of your Sims' needs will make them more hospitable to your orders as well as other Sims. The needs will lead to a unending cycle of clicking on the said Sims and queuing up a list of tasks to do. If you don't do this (and you should thanks to the game's liberal pause function), then your Sims will function autonomously, but at hardly the efficiency you can provide. Yes, there’s some sort of euphoric feeling of watching your Sim cook dinner for the family or go to the bathroom, but this alone makes up 90% of the game’s interaction. It gets boring a bit quickly and there’s not a whole lot of “random” events to shake things up. The way Maxis designed the game makes the whole experience exhaustive to me. Not to mention that once you can afford the most expensive furniture, keeping your moods up is way too easy.

While doing the chores is repetitive, neither is socializing with your fellow Sims. For a game about people, socializing is typically unpleasant and is as simple as clicking on the fellow Sim and ordering your Sim to talk/joke/tickle him. For each positive interaction, you’re awarded relationship points with the Sim, and once you’ve reached a certain point, you’re officially friends with that Sim. You can work your way up to a love relationship and even get married with neighboring Sims. Besides family members, you can interact with friends by calling them on the phone and inviting them to your house. Besides the minutiae of ordering your Sim to use the bathroom and go to sleep, queuing up a bunch of talk commands isn’t very exciting either. Guests are even worse since they will autonomously walk around the house while tending to their needs and you have to "enforce" your chat upon them somehow.

The career ladder is pretty basic idea that rewards improvement with higher salaries. There’s ten “career ladders” in areas such as Entertainment, Business, Law Enforcement, Science, and Athletics. After getting a job, you'll start at the bottom of a ladder with a minimum wage job, but working on up, you'll get a new job that pays more and offers different job hours. To go to work, you merely go to a carpool that arrives every day. There's no real difference in the jobs besides the skill points you need to earn to gain a promotion. These skill points are in six areas: Cooking, Mechanical, Charisma, Body, Logic, and Creativity. You gain these points by reading books, working out, talking to a mirror, etc. Unfortunately, the skill points could've better used in your daily life as the only stats that really matter are Cooking and Mechanical. Also, as another prerequisite for promotions, you’ll need to maintain family friends--about an average of 10-15 friends for the top-level jobs. When you consider that friendships deteriorate over time, you’ll need to micromanage them by calling up a new friend almost every other day and fit them into your daily schedule and that's highly annoying.

And that’s just it. This game, while rabidly fun at first, really looses its oomph after the first few families. You start off with chump change but own a luxurious house and have the best furniture, lots of friends, and a good job. That doesn’t change the tedium of queuing up tons of tasks over and over again. Also, a few miscellaneous occurrences, such as burglaries, fires, or even death, never occur unless you are careless. Speaking of which, a decent amount of “fun” can be found from torturing the poor Sims and trapping them in rooms with blaring stereos, forced to starve while urinating on themselves and collapsing to the floor out of exhaustion every ten minutes. The sad reason why this is so popular among gamers is because the rest of the game is so boring.

The graphics are decent for a PC game, though they don’t age well with its generic, pitched, 45-degree view and washed-up colors. The Sims are rendered in 3-D, though they tend to walk around and undergo basic animations in a stoic fashion. Furniture and other objects are actually sprites rendered to fit into the 3-D environment. This combination usually result in a rather stale looking game that doesn’t really blow you away, bar some elegant houses that would make HGTV jealous. The framerate is decent on most computers with the exception of very large houses with tons of Sims. At the time of the game’s release, The Sims didn’t look that bad, but with every expansion pack the game degraded into the wash it appears as now.

The sound is one of the game’s more memorable points as Sims speak in “Simlish” and speak in such gibberish that’s fun to listen to almost every time. More interesting is from the stereos and TV’s, you can hear a couple of commercial jingles and disco, rock, and rap music entirely in this Simlish language. A nice touch. The game’s menu music consists of a bunch of soundscapes that are genuinely pleasant to listen to as well.

The Sims should be likened to a doll house. Yes, it’s cool to see your caricatures go to work and play games and interact with other fantasy people, but there isn’t a whole lot to do, much like a doll house. A good amount of value is lost to this monotony and lack of "randomness." The only thing really saving this game would be its numerous expansion packs and user-created mods, such as new skins or furniture, downloaded off the internet. Not to mention that without the $30 expansion packs, you're pretty much forced to spend real money on these things to milk more replay value out of the game. Stick with SimCity instead.

Presentation: 8/10 – The idea of running your Sims’ lives is a novel one. A clean, hip interface makes this game more appealing to the eye.
Gameplay: 6/10 – Your Sims have needs to fill and stuff to do, but hardly any of it isn’t as basic as queuing up orders for your Sims to follow.
Graphics: 7/10 – The Sims’ animations are a bit stale and all the sprite furniture doesn’t help any.
Sound: 8/10 – The game’s visceral obsession with the Simlish language gives the game a little style. The menu music is pleasant to hear.
Replay Value: 5/10 – Maintaining multiple families and working up through the career ladder is only good for days, maybe weeks, but boredom does hit too quickly.

Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Product Release: The Sims (US, 01/31/00)

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