Review by Mochan

Reviewed: 05/29/01 | Updated: 05/29/01

A Pointless Life it is

GENERAL: Maxis is best known for starting the entire sim-craze with the original Sim City. However addictive the game is, however, all these sim games seem to suffer from one very debilitating drawback: lack of purpose. You can build the most beautiful city in the world, but without any real purpose or driving goal, you don't feel any real sense of fulfillment.

With that said, I can honestly say that, among all the Maxis games I have played, The Sims is probably the best. But that's not really saying much. Like all its predecessors, The Sims has the fatal flaw of having no point to the gameplay whatsoever. More on that later. Make no mistake, there's a novel concept here, a strange mix of RPG-growth and Sim-building elements which is quite addictive. Unfortunately, Maxis, as usual, falls flat on its face executing it. The game becomes boring quite fast. It's still enjoyable to play every once in a while, but playing it for too long can be tiresome, unless you are a true sim addict.

The Sims is the first ever ''people simulator.'' The Sims is all about this ''ideal'' neighborhood where land is cheap and life is good. People can get away with a good lifestyle just by being a lab guinea pig or worse, loafing around. This cozy suburban residence is the stage for you to populate with simulated people, and you are free to improve or destroy their lives as you see fit.

My recommendations for this game are as follows:

Maxis fans or those who love all kinds of strategy simulation games, you will probably love this game. If you like nurturing people in RPG fashion, this may appeal to you. People who love designing houses will also love this game; this game puts 3D home-design software to shame. And finally, if you like playing god over the lives of people, this may be up your sick little alley. ^_^

People who dislike Maxis-style games for lack of purpose, stay away. If you hate hectic micro-management in your strategy games, this is not for you. And if cozy, warm, family-oriented suburban settings complete with goody goody music turn you off, then go play Duke Nukem or Fallout 2. <hehe>

THE GOOD: Build your house, grow your sim, so addictive, you have the power of god! Great graphics, great sound, great music, great sim-speak. ^_^ Great customization options, too -- download more graphics, put in your favorite MP3 for music, almost endless possibilities.

THE BAD: No variety -- all jobs are practically the same. Game is quite hectic, bordering on micromanagement, especially when making and keeping friends.

THE BORING: Utterly repetitive gameplay after a while. You have been warned.

So, why the overall rating? I actually wanted to give this game just a three, but there's a certain addictive quality to it that makes you want to come back for more. The only problem is that once you're back, you suddenly realize there's so much more this game could have offered, and because of this feeling of incompleteness, I could only give it a four, and I really just rounded that up from three and a half.

GAMEPLAY: One admirable thing about The Sims is that there is a novel concept in gameplay. It combines traditional Sim City-style building on a more microscopic level: people. Because you are working with individuals here, it has a more hands-on feel than games like Sim City or Sim Tower, where people are reduced to little sprites walking around the streets and hallways.

MOVING IN

The first step in playing The Sims it to move a family in. You begin in the neighborhood screen, and are given ten available lots of different size and price. You create a family, composed of up to eight sims, each of whom has different personality traits, sex, age, and appearance. A sim's personality traits govern his zodiac sign, which determines how compatible a sim is with another sim. Friendship is vital in the sims, and making friends is easier or harder depending on these traits.

Once you have a family, it's time to build the home. The household starts off with 20,000 simoleans, enough to buy a modest house and lot, plus some amenities like beds, TVs, refrigerators, and so forth. Building a house is potentially the most enjoyable part of the game for most people. The graphics are crisply done, and with enough money you can build the house of your dreams. One can spend hours upon hours just designing the house, matching rugs to complement the wallpaper, so on and so forth. The only real limitation to house building is that the tilesets are quite limited. Fortunately, you can download unofficial user-created tilesets from the internet, and there is an expansion pack, Living Large, already out to give you more textures.

Once you have a house and a family, you're ready to get into the real game proper -- watching your sims live and work. As you gain more money later on, you can add modify or even completely redesign your house. It's very easy to do since, in this ideal neighborhood, you can demolish your house and actually get money for it, the same amount you paid for minus time depreciation. It's a very friendly economic system which, although unrealistic, gives you more cash in the end, and more potential for building more and more beautiful houses.

HAPPINESS IS EVERYTHING

When actually playing the game in real sim-time, the many nuances of the game pop up. It all boils down to one thing: keeping your sims happy. Each sim has a set of meters which measure that sim's current levels of happiness. There are levels for fun, hunger, comfort, energy, bladder, and so on. In short, all of man's basic needs, as Maslowe might have said. As time progresses, these meters will be depleted, making the sim unhappy. You can replenish these meters by giving the sims the proper amenties -- a refrigerator and a microwave will keep hunger up, a bed will give energy and comfort, a TV will give fun. This is the other meat of the game aside from house building, and the game does a good job of simulating all the things a real person might go through in life. It all balances out quite nicely; a person who eats a meal will get a corresponding bladder reduction (to reflect how someone in real life who eats or drinks will inevitably have to go to the bathroom later). Upon relieving oneself at the toilet, a corresponding hygiene reduction occurs (to reflect dirtying your hands while doing your thing), and so on and so forth.

You step in by clicking on your sims as they live in the house, guiding them to do specific tasks, optimizing their happiness. Alternately, you can just let the sim AI run independently, although this will probably result in a sim keeping happiness levels only midway. A sim can only really keep its meters near full with your help. I'm sort of reminded of St. Augustine's philosophy, on what is ''Truly Good for You'' -- people will often do fun things that are not truly good for them, and neglect that which is truly good. Whatever. These Sims require a god to direct them to do all the right things they might normally not do, ''for their own good.'' Heheh.

FRIENDS ARE THERE

One significant aspect of sim happiness is the social bar. Sims need to keep up their social life. Some sims whose personality traits are less disposed to friends will have their social bar decline slower than friendlier sims, but all sims regardless must maintain some kind of sociability. Man is a socio-political being, as Aristotle would say.

Since you can have ten households altogether, sims must interact with other sims from other households, either when they pass by while taking a stroll around the neighborhood, or by actively inviting to their houses via the phone. Once a sim meets another sim, they may interact on their own via sim AI if their personalities are friendly, or you will once again have to intercede as god and force them to make friends ''for their own good,'' hehe. Again, depending on the sim's personality traits, they can have different options for interacting with other sims. Friendly sims like Libras and Aries have especially easy times making friends. Less friendly sims may end up getting into quarrels more often. Depending on a sim's relationship with other sims, you can see some very interesting behaviour among these sims. I'll leave these to you to find out.

Friends are important not only to keep the social bar up, but also for career paths, which is the next thing we will talk about.

CAREER PATHS

Anyway, all these amenities cost money, and your sims should have a job to earn money. There are several career paths in the game, like ''Politics'' or ''Military'' or ''Life of Crime.'' Advancing in these careers means bigger salary, which means better life. Three things govern promotions: skill requirements, job performance, and (eek) a certain number of family friends.

At the start of the game, your sims will have no skills whatsoever, and can only get the lowest rung jobs like ''team mascot'' for the sports track, or ''guinea pig'' for the science track. However, you can get promoted by meeting certain skill requirements. For instance, to be promoted in the politics track you will have to increase your charisma skill. By training yourself using certain household items, you can increase your skills and get better jobs. Charisma, for instance, can be increased by having the sim practice speeches in front of a mirror.

Aside from skills, you must also have good job performance. As long as your sim is happy (as explained earlier), you will have good job performance. The final requirement for a promotion is a certain number of family friends. Think of them as ''connections.'' To get the best jobs, you need to have lots of connections. For instance, to advance to the highest level of the politics track you might need 15 friends all in all.

REDUNDANCY

Now, with all this, The Sims gameplay seems to be quite exciting, no? Well, it all looks good in paper, but in practice it is somewhat... lacking. The biggest problem is in redundancy. Day in and day out, chances are you will find yourself falling into a routine. Wake up, cook breakfast, eat, go to the bathroom, go to work, watch TV, sleep, wake up, cook breakfast.... you get the point. It all gets really, really monotonous. But hey, what did you expect? Isn't real life like this, and what this game is really simulating is ''real life.'' And real life is really hectic; part of the rush in the game is your mad scramble to keep all your sims as happy as possible. This can be quite addictive, but is also quite redundant.

Offsetting this redundancy could have been done by adding more variety to the game. Unfortunately, this game is very limited in almost all aspects. The sim model is very basic, and lacks a lot of depth and complexity. This is highly apparent in the career tracks. The career tracks may sound many and varied -- science track, sports track, business track, crime track, and so on. But the only real difference between careers are the office hours and skill requirements, and a minor difference in salary. Other than that, it's all the same! I was expecting the ''Life of Crime'' career track to be a little different: well, among all of them it's the most different because most of your ''office hours'' are spent at night. But other than that, it is totally the same and totally unbelievable. Come on, you're a cat burglar and you have ''regular office hours?'' And a regular salary? That's preposterous! Burglars should have office hours depending on what time someone is out of the house, and will only earn as much as was available at the time.

It would have been better if tracks had something more than just superficial skill and time differences. The crime track, for instance, could have had less office hours, but more erratic pay -- sometimes you'd hit it big, sometimes nothing at all. And then there should always be the threat of being caught, but apparently the police in this neighborhood are dumb as rocks because you never get caught. Anyway, little designs nuances like this might have served to up the replayability of the game immensely. However, as usual, Maxis believes more in graphics than actual gameplay, and all you get is the same thing over and over again. Once you play this game for a while, it is easy to get sick of doing the same thing over and over again.

HOW DARE YOU USE YOUR FRIENDS!

The worst part comes in the later stages of the game, when you are trying to get the highest career levels. In order to get the best jobs, you need a LOT of friends. The problem here is that friendships are like flowers: you need to maintain and nurture them, or they will die. In game terms, that means your friend's frienship meters, like the other happiness meters, will depete with time. You will find your hectic schedule even more hectic as you continually strive to call up friends and entertain them, madly trying to keep their friendship levels up so that you can have enough family friends to get that promotion. Talk about ''user-friendly.'' And 15 friends is a lot, to entertain; all I can say is good luck entertaining them all. As time passes, you will undoubtedly find your game reduced to a scramble to make and keep your friends. It can get quite sickening, but even more sickening is that friendship in this game is merely a tool to get a better job. How unscrupulous.

WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?

The biggest problem, though, is the same problem all Maxis games suffer: What's the point? After getting the best job, after pumping your sims into ubermen, there's just no point in going on. There is no ''driving plot'' or other end in sight. Classic strategy games like Civilization eventually allow you to end the game through conquest or space travel. This was only possibly because the game had some conflict: rival civilizations. No such equivalent exists in The Sims, or any Maxis game for that matter. The only conflict you have in this game, other than squabbling housewives and pissing in your pants, is the overriding concern for money. Not really something to give you a sense of purpose and, in the end, accomplishment. Because there is no end to this game. It's no surprise that a lot of people who play this game end up building a big pool and drowning all their sims in it. It's sort of like how people in the real world commit suicide because they don't know the meaning of their lives.

BOTTOMLINE

All in all, The Sims is a good game, with a good gameplay and a great, novel concept. The house building is sublime, and the fact that you can become personally attached to your sims is a welcome ingredient, something RPG gamers have known for years. There is nothing quite like nurturing a character and building him or her up as you go along. If only the game had more variety and less hassle to run, it would have been a perfect game. As it stands, major problems -- a lack of variety and micromanagement -- keep this from being a really good game. And most of all, without a purpose or direction to put it all in context, the game easily becomes quite meaningless.

If house-building and the joy of watching your sims go about their business is enough for you, the game won't disappoint and you will be playing addictedly for hours and hours. But if you, like me, expect something more, this game might disappoint. Because of these problems, I only gave this game a 3 for gameplay -- good concept and idea, but not enough to keep you there for long. You'll probably keep it around to play every now and then, though, as a refresher from whatever other mainstream game you're playing.

GRAPHICS: Graphics are probably the strongest point of this game. Maxis has always had a fine tradition for graphics, and this game is no exception. The intricacy and technical expertise of Maxis' graphic design really shows in the sleek house textures, the exquisitely detailed household appliances, the works of art that spruce up the house. Combining all these elements with the craft of an architect and the eye of a skilled interior designer (that's you ^_^), the houses you will build can easily become works of art.

The high budget that went into the graphics really shows; this game doesn't look like some cheap game were they stinted on the graphics (like, say, Deus Ex or Shadow Watch). Every thing looks good, top-notch quality. You can really tell how much the developers put into the graphics by just admiring the sheer quality of the graphcis: clear cut lines, minimal pixelation, rich textures. Just look at the blue sims loading screen when you start up the game. Notice the clear lines, the rich color, the excellent taste. A level of graphical sophistication most games don't even touch. The graphics just reek of quality.

Another point to take into consideration is the Full-Motion Video intro. It basically consists of the in-game graphics, spruced up with some special effects. While it isn't Diablo II, the movie clip looks really good, of roughly the same quality as Rogue Spear's movie clips.

Also of note are the 3D models for each sim. These are some of the better 3D models I've seen! They look better than that of most games -- like Thief or System Shock. They probably don't look like much to many people because they're so small, but scale them to the size of your normal first person shooter and you'll find that a lot of the models are of excellent quality.

The best thing about the Sim's graphics is that it's so easy to customize. If you don't have the technical savvy to do it (like myself, hehe), you can easily download a ton of user-made textures from all over the net. These give you more walls, more floors, more house hold items, more skins for your sims, the works! This is one of the lasting appeals of this game. I've even seen some Lara Croft skins, some X-Men skins, and more! With the whole wild internet as your playground, you'll have a ton of graphics to download, ensuring you won't get sick of the graphics fast.

All this quality, and the incredible customization options, deserves a five, no questions asked.

SOUND: The sound of this game is excellent. I can't stress that enough. Everything fits perfectly. The music is cheerful, homey music that fits the atmosphere of the game perfectly. The sound effects are more than adequate for what they do, from the ''chaching'' of a cash register when you make payments, to the swooshing motion as the sims change clothes, to the TV programs that you hear from the old tube.

The best part is the actual ''speech'' of the sims. I don't understand why just about everyone seems to hate the so-called ''sim-talk.'' I thought it was perfect, one of the best ideas I have ever seen for voice-acting in a game! Finally, we have broken free from the evil ''Dune II Real Time Strategy Click Me I'll Squeak Gibberish'' voice-acting syndrome that's been plauging just about every genre. When sims don't speak real lines, you can just assume what they're saying, your imagination is free to make up whatever dialogue they say, based on the little topic bubles that pop up when they speak. What this means is that you'll never get sick of hearing the same lines being spoken over and over again (yes, Yoshimo, I'm talking to you, ''All the world is blind to my passing.'') Definitely a good thing.

The only real drawback to the ''voice-acting'' of the sims is that there isn't enough to go around. I think even two or three extra sets of voices would have worked wonders; there is only one set of voices for adult male and another for adult female. Still, it's not an earth-shattering problem, and as I said earlier it's all about giving you the freedom to assume what your sims are saying. The great quality of the sound cannot be denied.

Another really slick feature in the game is the ability to customize the music to your taste. Like the graphics, the sound is equally customizable. Don't like that homey music that comes with the game? Stick in your favorite MP3 into the appropriate folder and you're on your way to making the game sound just the way you like! This is a great feature which I wish all games had. Kudos to the guys at Maxis for thinking of this very basic, but excellent, idea that everyone else has, for some stupid reason, overlooked.

So innovative, so good, and so customizable, the sound merits a five, no doubt.

Rating:   3.0 - Fair

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