Review by Rottenwood

Reviewed: 02/11/00 | Updated: 02/11/00

Like Real Life, Only More Addictive

Maxis, that quirky little computer game company who dares to take chances, is at it once again. 'The Sims' definitely had some high expectations, but they were mixed with an equal dose of skepticism. The 'Sim' name has had some highs and lows in its computer gaming career; 'Sim City' is undoubtedly a classic, but soon enough, we had 'Sim Earth' and 'Sim Farm' and 'Sim Sim City' and 'Sim Armpit' and who knows what else. Would 'The Sims' be the revolutionary title to rekindle the Sim fires, or would it just be another entry into the Sim Hall of Shame?
Thankfully, 'The Sims' is one heck of a computer game. I wouldn't rank it along side 'Sim City' in the annals of gaming history just yet, but still, it's definitely an engrossing and entertaining 'life simulator.' Even as it occasionally frustrates you, you find yourself playing into the wee hours.
Like most good games, 'The Sims' is simple to learn and difficult to master. You create some 'Sims' (simulated people), build them a house (or use a pre-built one, if you prefer), stick the Sims inside, and just let them live. You help them relax, eat, bathe, find jobs, meet people, fall in love.... the whole deal. Using a wonderfully simple menu and commands system, you can basically run the lives of people you've created.
But while God got to rest on the seventh day, you'll be working overtime, 'cause this game is FAST. Time ticks by without a care, and while you can pause to catch a breather, nothing can stop the rapid flow of the clock in playing mode. The time in 'The Sims' is not dependent on your actions; it goes by at the same rate regardless of what your Sims are up to. And since the clock is set to tick so quickly, it can take your Sims up to ten or fifteen minutes to walk from the living room to the front door. Factor in a daily shower or bath, a job, meals, and a toilet break or two, and sometimes it seems like you spend the whole day doing routine chores. As in real life, a frequent critique of this game seems to be: ''there's never enough time in the day to do what I want.''
Of course, it's not what YOU want that matters. It's what your Sims want, and they can be demanding folks. They want spacious rooms, good lighting, food, a soft bed, entertainment, relaxation, clean living areas, proper facilities, companionship, love, and intellectual stimulation... and that's just for starters. And all of this stuff costs money, so finance management is a crucial aspect of the game. Better send your Sims to work, or you won't be able to buy anything to keep them pacified.
At this point, you might be asking: ''well, what the heck is so fun about this game? It sounds just like the stuff I do at home.'' What's fun about 'The Sims?' Fun is when you finally save up enough money to get that new comfy couch for your living room. Fun is seeing one of your Sims kiss that girl from down the street he's had his eye on for a while. Fun is getting a promotion and celebrating it with a backyard barbeque for the whole neighborhood. Just as in 'real life,' 'The Sims' is full of those little moments that mean so much.
Part of the appeal of this game is creating scenarios that you always wanted to try in reality but never could. Want to have all of your best friends and you living in the same house? Design your Sims to be just like your pals, and design a nice house for you all to share. You'll be cheering in your chair when your best friend Nick finally gets that big promotion he's been working so hard for. Anything is possible, including an all-lesbian household (for the adolescent pervert in all of us).
The graphics in 'The Sims' are eye-pleasing, if not spectacular. There are plenty of fine touches and humorous little details that add a lot of fun to the visual package. (For you concerned parents out there, any nudity in the game is pixelated out.)
While we're on the subject (or a related subject, at least), one of my little peeves with 'The Sims' is the absence of actual sex. This is not because I think it would be arousing to see two simulated computer entities going at it, mind you. I just feel that the lack of 'relations' in the game makes the whole enterprise feel a little too Disney-esque. Babies appear magically if you eventually decide to have one between two Sims; the whole thing seems like a second grade film strip called 'How Mommy and Daddy Had You.' The game didn't need to have hardcore nudity with mirrors on the ceiling; having two consenting Sims go under the covers and come out a few minutes later with contented grins would have been fine. (And it would be much cheaper way to keep your Sims happy that way, rather than buying that expensive projection TV.) If you're going to make simulated life, it can't be rated G.
The sound quality in 'The Sims' is top notch. Sims speak in gibberish (highly entertaining), but their body language and tone (along with the thought balloons above their head) make it easy to understand them. And the music that plays while you build your house or shop is just plain beautiful. It's either light jazz or modern classical or easy listening or something like that, but whatever it is, it's very sweet and soothing. Then again, I'm a sucker for soft piano tunes.
The game play itself is wildly open-ended and hard to lump into one category. But no matter what you have your Sims do, it won't take a whole lot of complicated commands to do it. The interface is so amazingly well-designed that I began to wish that my own life was as neatly organized. And the house-building aspect of the game is surprisingly enjoyable. (Or maybe not-so-surprisingly; these ARE the people that made city planning a total gas.)
I have some gripes, though. (Naturally.) Besides the aforementioned peeves, there are other minor frustrations that creep up in Sim Land. Some of my Sims routinely block doorways and tight passageways for seemingly no reason, forcing the other Sims to walk the long way around to get to where they need to go. (Said walks often involve going out the back door, across the lawn, and through the front door.) When it takes fifteen minutes to traverse the master bedroom, every moment counts, so it will make you pull your hair out as a blocked character is forced to take another trek across the lawn to get to the shower.
Also, neatness is a wild variable in the game. Even Sims whom you design as relatively clean will leave trash and plates on the floor and walk away. Because of this, you end up spending a lot of time clicking on Sims to clean up messes, when you could be having those Sims do something more productive. (Really, who leaves plates on the floor?)
But in a game of this scope, everyone will be annoyed at something. So the fact that the game came out this well is its own minor miracle. (And there are additions being planned for the future.) Best of all, if your friends create households on your computer (or you create more than one), you all live in the same neighborhood, so people from each house can visit one another, become friends, or even get married.
With a little polish, 'The Sims' will become one of the more memorable games of the modern era. Kudos to Maxim for releasing a unique and colorful game.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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