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The Sims (PlayStation 2) artwork

The Sims (PlayStation 2) review

"When I reviewed Animal Crossing some eight months ago (that long?), I gave it a 10 based on how well it did what it set out to do - that is, simulate life - and on first impressions, and the game succeeded spectacularly in that regard. However, I failed to take into account the fact that if social lives could be tangibly measured, you would need one as a grain of sand to truly derive any redeemable value from it, and in essence I made myself look like a total fool. However, I am now older and wi..."

When I reviewed Animal Crossing some eight months ago (that long?), I gave it a 10 based on how well it did what it set out to do - that is, simulate life - and on first impressions, and the game succeeded spectacularly in that regard. However, I failed to take into account the fact that if social lives could be tangibly measured, you would need one as a grain of sand to truly derive any redeemable value from it, and in essence I made myself look like a total fool. However, I am now older and wiser, and I possess a more elucidated and educated view of the world of life simulators.

That first impression dog won't hunt this time.

However, we are looking at a Sim game, which is no ordinary game. With the word ''Sim'' boldly printed on every box, you know that it is the brainchild of Will Wright, the mastermind and chairman behind every Sim game ever made from the first SimCity up to the present day. Sim games have always held a certain appeal because they put the average Joe Gamer behind the wheel of a bombastic project with all sorts of fun intricate details to delve into. Whether it's as mayor of a city, proprietor of a golf course, or the contractor presiding over an enormous tower's construction, the Sim saga has always been a big-picture affair. This game, while setting record highs in terms of the tiny minutiae that has become these games' trademark, chooses instead to focus on the life of one person in one house in a typical suburb of a typical Sim city. This is precisely its failing - where is the motivation to play a game with no detectable action at all? Maybe I'm missing the point, but several people struggle just to drag their shoulders through one day in the real world. Why would a person spend his or her life playing a game based on, well, life itself? The whole point cancels itself out, which means that by the same token I can't explain why this phenomenon has met with the success that it has.

The initial menu of The Sims (EA, 2003) ironically entices you to ''Get A Life,'' or in real world terms, create or load your own SimCitizen and begin the trials and tribulations of life in the virtual projects. Here is where you dig in and play God, creating a person from your own image, or the one the game provides that looks the most like you. After choosing from the feeble selection of pre-rendered people to liken yourself unto, you start up and choose which road of morality you plan to turn down. It's up to you to decide whether a life of crime is in your future, if you're going to hold the most rockin' parties this side of the Western Hemisphere, or if you'll be the goody-two-shoes who spends all his time working and sleeping and not socializing. Whoever you are, your time is basically spent doing a big ol' whopping load of nothing aside from getting a job. Once you get into the groove of your double life though, you'll find many a thing wrong with even the basic facets of the game. As much as the game attempts to emulate real life to an extent, it's too much of a nuisance to deal with once you find that one big leak in the piping would have been better than the many small ones present.

Most off-base is the time formula, which is set to one second equaling a minute without factoring in sped-up time (such as during sleep). Without deeper analysis, this is fine, but pay close attention to how long it takes to do certain things. At the rate the game goes, it takes twelve to fifteen minutes for a person to get out of bed, thirty or so for that same person to take a shower, and God knows how long you'll be indisposed if you sit down at the table to eat or head to the bathroom to drop a log. Hours of the day are devoted to the most insignificant and routine of details, and when you're not working or throwing a block party, you're probably sitting on the crapper or in the Jacuzzi whittling away more precious sec--er, minutes of your time. It's a vicious cycle that is comprised only of you making money and then spending it on novelty crap that not even the smuttiest or most outlandish of establishments specialize in, and it's a big fat waste of my time, yours, and everyone in the world's.

While not as bad, the game's other scheduled events contain major flaws also. Anyone who can wake up and be at their job on time can make money out the wazoo, which is never a problem seeing as how money is essentially no object to the judicious buyer. Skills are moot, as you can make the same amount of money whether you're a superior in the military or you stay at home in your basement carving lawn gnomes for a living. Somewhere in the middle, you begin to feel an obvious imbalance between what is currently going on and what should be going on. As a gamer, you have to face the facts. The Sims is not very good as a life simulator, regardless of how many tens of millions of people are signing up to get online and pay (oh ho ho, yes, you heard me right!) live in a fake neighborhood with other Sim fans. I know and can write down fourteen thousand productive things a person could be doing with his or her time, and playing this game is not one of them. It's extremely difficult to enjoy a game that defeats its own purpose. Think of The Sims as the equivalent of playing Doom in a post-apocalyptic world where the mommy and daddy carry AK-47's to work and the kids pack chainguns in their cubby holes at school because of the daily threat of intergalactic mutant takeover. Would they play a game that was just a crude representation of what they went through every single day? I rest my case.

Graphically, The Sims is not too bad except for the fact that the people are strangely devoid of facial movement (think Goldeneye) and must again resort to the speech bubbles containing cryptic symbols introduced in its PC debut. Rooms are laid out very nicely, and the wide choices of furniture look like something any respectable person with an eye for matching colors would put in their house. The people don't go so well with their chairs and tables, though. Their blockiness is an eyesore at times, and their movements are so unrealistic and forced that at times I feel as though I would get a stronger vibe of fluidity in a disco bar where everyone was doing the robot. Again, the whole redundancy bit factors in: I look at the insides of people's houses every day, so why do I want to do it here? You can attempt to liven up your drab quarters by jazzing them up with crazy decorations like modern art and vibrating heart beds (as seen in America's sleaziest one-night-stand motels!). The game never attains the feel of normality it is hoping to achieve, however. This becomes especially apparent in the dumbing down of the digital scrambling when it comes time to get nekkid for whatever reason. Did a rogue blender slice up everything between my thighs and sternum and they don't want me to see the gory aftereffects? The inanimate objects are just fine, but the people need a lot of work if they plan to make me a convert.

There is no need to expound on any other elements of the game. The control is your basic point-and-click interface and works well enough in conjunction with the PS2 controller; the sound consists of the same old muted mumbling and gibberish which sounds almost like Diedriech Bader on heavy painkillers along with the standard sounds of a busy household - water running, TV blaring, bed vibrating, etc. There is one thing The Sims manages to effectively reproduce, though, and that is the fact that life can easily become a rut out of which there is no easy escape. A life of luxury beyond anyone's wildest dreams is not the point of this game, but the potential for something bigger is not exactly something it offers either. Your mission is to live the most boring life possible and to manipulate psychological factors that in real life have little bearing on anything to make the neighbors like you.

What sucks most is that after putting your nose to the virtual grindstone and manipulating the likes and dislikes of everyone around you for your own personal, there is no ultimate goal, nothing worth striving for. There's no distinguishing feature that gives any individual player bragging rights over another. Games are meant to be escapist fantasy, but it's hard to escape to their dream world when they have resorted to taking reality as their model. After all, is it worth it to obsess about the future of two people who are, in fact, the same person every waking minute? This survey says ''no.'' Real life is far less predictable anyway.

snowdragon's avatar
Community review by snowdragon (December 09, 2003)

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