Review by clarkisdark

Reviewed: 02/05/05 | Updated: 02/07/05

The simple things in life

The notorious Sim franchise has seen many surnames: City, Tower, Farm, Ant, Earth, Island, Golf, and a bunch of others I never bothered to play. These games are always so simple-- and so addictive. Perhaps they fill the need for human beings to play God without resorting to screwing up actual civilizations. Nothing strikes at this notion more than Will Wright's latest installment, The Sims. A recreation of mundane human life at its core, The Sims forces the dreadful question upon its players: Which life do you choose, your real life, or your Sim life?

The Sims isn't demonstration in visual quality, but the graphics are very crisp. The characters tend to look a little stiff and blank-faced, but it's very clear that every object is what it represents. The Sims is a graphic-intensive game, however, and may occasionally crash on newer computers. There are four different camera angles and three levels of nearness to use. You can even tamper with the walls of the buildings to either stay in place, disappear when touched with the mouse, or remain hidden indefinitely. These options are very welcome.

I played this game more than I lived my own life, and none of the sound effects got on my nerves. Well done! The Sims creates a believable atmosphere not bogged down by silly and annoying noises. The Sims don't talk in any particular language, either, but have their own tongue that sounds like backwards Spanish. Some very mellow jazz tunes make their way into the Build and Shop Modes, but nowhere else.

This is life as we know it: people living in a house, going to work, eating dinner, using the bathroom, and sleeping! So exciting! Okay, so managing the dreary and all-too-familiar lives of virtual people sounds boring, but playing the game is surprisingly fun and addicting. You start by creating a family: picking gender, color, clothes, and age. There's not much of an age difference in this game, however. You are either an adult or a kid. Kids aren't very fun to deal with. They don't earn any money. They can't use certain items. They rarely put things in the garbage can. If you don't make sure they go to school every day, they get taken away from you. What's the point of having them?! Oh jeez, I think I now know what it's like to be a parent.

Once the family is in place, you move them into a pre-built house or make something from the ground up (with limited funds). The Sims features a simple and effective Build Mode along with an expansive Shop Mode where you can purchase everything from new couches to exercise equipment. But none of this is for you. It's for the Sims, the little people you either let run amok or commandeer in the right direction. Sims are not machines, though. Certain needs must be met: hygiene, bladder, social, hunger, fun, comfort, sleep, and room (surroundings appeal). If your Sim can't get to a bathroom soon enough, he/she will wet his/her pants and will have to take a bath, cutting into precious "creative hour." It might be tempting to slack off on some of these needs, but doing so creates an angry Sim that doesn't get a raise at work. Along with the essentials, Sims also need to work on skills like creativity, charisma, and cooking if they want to rise up the ranks in whatever career you stuck them in. Is this boring and mundane and repetitive? Yeah, but you won't care, because you'll be too caught up in making sure Sim Jr. reads his books every night.

The beauty of The Sims is that you don't really have to do anything. Your Sims are free to do their own thing, make their own decisions. Of course, eating three snacks and leaving the bags on the floor isn't very responsible. If you want anything to get done, you'll have to take over. The interface to do so is actually quite simple. Every object or character you click on brings up a list of performable actions. If you tell a Sim to do several things at once, these get placed in a waiting line at the top of the screen and can be cancelled just as easily. Sims often have trouble navigating to certain spots, however. With the game time flying by faster than it needs to, Sims sometimes consume an unhealthy amount of the day figuring out how to walk around an obstacle in their way.

Bah! Friends! Who needs 'em? The social needs of your Sims are the most aggravating to meet. With all the time spent going to work, eating, sleeping, and taking the trash out, there's no time to flirt with the wife/husband or invite some friends over. And if you wait too long to invite the neighbors over, the friendship between you two begins to diminish. Trying to keep the social meter up is really frustrating. "But isn't real life the same way?" All right, you got me there. But I don't like it when a game reminds me that I should be doing something besides playing a game.

Lasting Appeal:
As is traditional with any Sim game, there is no ultimate end. There are certainly goals to strive for -- top tier at work, the biggest house on the block, more friends than you can play Twister with -- but The Sims never ends. You could play forever. I highly advise not doing so, however, since your real life will probably be in jeopardy 20 hours into the game. Whoa, 20 hours? Am I serious?! Heh, 20 hours shows a bit of self-restraint. I've been using the word "addictive" repeatedly for a reason. There's a greater chance of your spouse moving out than of you putting this game away any time soon. But for as engrossing as The Sims is, nothing can hide the fact that the gameplay is despicably repetitive. As soon as you find your comfort zone, every Sim day becomes the same drill: Wake up, bathe, eat, go to work, rest, practice the piano, sleep, wake up, bathe, eat-- Don't you see? You can buy a bigger TV, re-landscape the backyard, and add an upstairs, but those evil patterns will still manifest themselves. You just don't notice in the beginning, because you're too focused on whatever goal you had in mind.

Real life is boring. That's why we play video games. Why would I want to waste my time playing something I already do every day? Why did I waste so much time playing this? Heck, if a computer game can keep me glued to the screen for three weeks straight, it must have done something right. The Sims may be micromanagement heavy, but it's ridiculously addictive. Controlling the lives of these little people is a truly special and engrossing task, even though the actual game is far from perfect. My biggest complaint is the subtle repetitiveness. Hey, my life is like that, too! But wait-- which one is really mine? Arrgghh! I want my life back! Curse you, Will Wright!

+ Genuine life simulator
+ Fun landscaping, decorating
+ Satisfyingly addictive
-- Aggravating social needs
-- Sim confusion
-- Repetition can't hide forever

Score: 8/10

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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