Review by aargh! ahoy, mateys!

Reviewed: 08/19/04

Warning: May cause addiction... no, WILL cause addiction!

Its 5:00 in the morning... all is still...

Wait, is that a car... honking its horn!? HOLY @#$! HE'S LATE!

“Get up, GET UP!” I scream at my hapless heavy sleeper as I frantically click on him and manually order him to awaken from his dreamy state. Finally, he stirs! But the carpool’s honks are becoming increasingly louder... and are coming a bit more frequently... looks like he’ll be missing his morning shower and breakfast. Ah, but one must not think about that now, not when there’s an impatient carpool waiting! I rapidly click on the carpool and order the man to “go to work.” I sit back and relax... but wait, why isn’t he moving? After a glance at the scene in the bedroom, I deduce that my virtual pawn became a bit too acquainted with his covers; he is putting up quite an argument about getting out of bed. Of course, I pay no attention to his nonsense, and strongly urge him to go to work, ever-aware at the steadily increasing impatience of the car-pool. After one last annoyed sigh, my controlled player suddenly changes clothes on the fly and does the hundred-yard-dash to the carpool, making it just in time. Talk about last-minute motivation.

This is just one of the countless “exciting” scenarios that The Sims will throw at you every day that passes by. But the one true thing that makes this game special-- and the one thing that made this game sell so ludicrously well-- is the fact that they are not preset situations, in any shape or form. In fact, almost nothing that will happen to you can be predicted in this game. The Sims, unlike other games, has only a beginning and middle... no end. If you didn’t get it by now: The Sims is basically day-to-day life... stored in a conveniently small disc.

You are god in this game, and you will create and take control of any number of little virtual people, build them houses, manage relationships, have them climb the corporate ladder, and basically build up lives... Or run them into the dust. But the game includes an “autonomy” system, called “free will,” supposedly so you don’t have to manage every little part of your peoples’ lives, including going to the bathroom. However, this system, while intelligent, and while it keeps them from wetting themselves, leaves a lot to be desired. Let’s say you’re throwing a party. A visitor is begging for attention, but you want to watch TV (because you need more Fun). What do you do? Of course, if you were managing the situation, you could sit down at the television set, and then invite the visitor to join in, but it seems that when left to their own devices, your people would either watch TV by themselves... or go eat some food.

Everyone can get attracted to The Sims, no doubt about it. The question here is how long you will become attracted. While I must admit some people will be turned off by the sheer amount of time required to get high-paying jobs and therefore get anything resembling a model life, many people will also use this required amount of time as their motivation fuel-- “I can’t quit now, I only need to earn $500 more before I get that new big-screen TV!” It’s all about your amount of dedication. And people with true dedication will be greatly rewarded.

These being a sort of outdated game (by today’s standards), the overall graphics of it are kind of lacking. The little virtual people (christened “Sims” by the game... go figure) are actually kind of blocky and have a very low polygon-count. They actually look kind of poor for people who are supposed to the main focus of the game. However, the beautiful lighting effects are able to balance this out, as well as the looks of some of the objects in the game. And Sims move very realistically; I would not be able to imagine that someone could pull off quite a few real-looking animations for talking. But slaving over every little detail in the graphics and animation paid off, big-time. It’s always a good sign when you’re able to be diverted from simple graphics by background stuff like animation and lighting.

But let’s talk realistically here. A game about real life sounds great, yeah... but wouldn’t it get... well... boring after a while? And the answer to that little question is yes... yes it would. Without the super-addictive Gameplay system that The Sims uses, that is. The system which has done the previously impossible: Turns real life into A BLAST.

When you start up, you are given a beautiful birds-eye view of a neighborhood... the one that you’ll be starting your Sims’ life in. The lush green grass and the running brook... it’s an inspiring sight. But you will most likely be thinking but one thing at this point:

“What happened to all of the houses?”

Yes, this neighborhood is nearly empty. But there’s a good reason for this, of course. The houses you make double as SAVE FILES. In a small burst of genius, the game has actually created a very efficient method for saving games. The Neighborhood screen actually doubles as the load file screen! Now that’s innovative.

Now comes the important part. Create a Sim (or family), give them a name, and even set their personality! And personality matters- Neat Sims clean up, Active Sims run around a lot. Perfect...

Except for one main complaint. It’s very easy to create same-looking Sims over time, because the create options you can change on the Sims themselves are the head-type, gender, age, skin-tone, and clothing type. I would think there should be more create options...

Anyway, you now take your Sim and your dreams to any of the empty lots in the neighborhood and start the fun part of the game: building a house. The building options are virtually limitless. You can build anything from one-room shacks to huge castles... all with working toilets. The only thing stopping you here is your money.

Ooh, we’ve hit a problem now, haven’t we? Sooner than later, real life begins to sink in. To keep up with your bills, and the price of food, you’re going to need some cash, and fast! A quick look at the morning newspaper should solve that, shouldn’t it? Be prepared for entering one of the most grueling (and rewarding) stages of your Sims’ life: The working stage. Get up every morning at a gosh-forsaken time, and come back 8 hours later after doing goodness knows what at your career. There are many careers, however, ranging from a police officer to a criminal. And all of them require your Sims to brush up on their skills... if you’re a professional athlete, you’ll need to spend time at the work-out machine.

Yet there is something I noticed that kind of didn’t make sense. Your job doesn’t affect your personal life whatsoever, other than the amount of money you get. For example... shouldn’t a police officer be able to apprehend (or at least stop) a robber if they are foolish enough to tread onto their lawn? But no, once your Sim comes home, that’s it for that; he’s a regular Sim again. A mistake by the game that sacrifices some of the total realism.

But if The Sims was but a mere working game, people would get tired of it incredibly fast. What is it that keeps The Sims fresh? What is it that keeps it selling?

The Sim Social Life.

You may not think highly of it at the beginning, (just click on someone and select an interaction) but Socializing is the best part of The Sims, hands down. Nothing can beat it when your Sims slap their rivals to take them down a peg or are brave enough to flirt with that beauty they’ve had their eye on. Manage your social life well and you’ll end up being friends with everyone. Don’t and you’ll become public enemy number one. And this “simplistic” system can get pretty advanced... Because of relationships. Relationships are measured from -100 to 100, and you can do things that you couldn’t do before with a Sim if your Relationship gets high (or low) enough. Including dance, hug, kiss, and propose...

What I liked about relationships is that they carried over to different save files, meaning the neighborhood houses are all connected, in a way. Say Joe Smith talks to Betty Newbie for an afternoon (while in Betty’s house file). Betty’s relationship with Joe would improve... and when you switch over to Joe’s house file, the relationship change carries over. Sweet! The social life system is the best thing that could happen to this game.

All in all, through the heartbreaks, demotions, and bills, and through the spills, chills, and deaths (yes, Sims can die), The Sims still shines out as one of the best strategy/real life simulation games of all time. You may get bored with this game after a (long) while. You may tire of the endless schedule that you’ll be following day to day. You may decide to give up after that third divorce. But that’s not to say that you won’t have a total blast before you do.

Pros

Real life!
Unpredictable
Way too many objects
Relationships
Get on with your “evil god” self!

Cons

Sims act questionable while under “free will”
That robber stole my $999 computer!

Overall: 9/10

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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