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The Sims (PC) artwork

The Sims (PC) review

"Underneath the slick interface, beneath the elevator music and the gibberish we’re to take as conversation, The Sims is just a waste of time. It may amuse you for hours, days or even weeks. For those hours and for the sadistic relationship you can share with your unfortunate sim, the package is arguably worth a purchase. But in the end, you’ll grow to despise it."

At first, The Sims may strike you as the most fantastic PC title you’ve ever played. The goal is simple: take a human being known as a ‘sim’ and make all of his or her decisions. Build a home, choose a job and friends, even decide when to urinate or shower and when to feast on pizza. A few hours in, though, something dawns on you: the game is too frustrating to be much fun. Like life, it often stinks.

The experience starts out sweet and quickly sours. You begin by creating your sim. Pick hair color, height, sex… all the stuff that makes people who they are externally. You can even distribute stat points to affect tendencies and preferences. Maybe you don’t care if your sim is a total slob, and you’d like him or her to have biceps like Arnold Schwarzenegger. It can be arranged. This will have a minor impact on how the game plays later.

Once you have selected or created your sim(s), it’s time to decide what sort of living arrangement is in order. You are provided with a pathetic wad of cash, which is used to choose an available plot of land. Any remaining funds are then directed toward the construction of your humble abode.

The building portion of the game is its biggest draw, hands down. You get to select from a delightful supply of materials that include the type of floor or carpet you want, wallpaper, paint and appliances. The breadth of selectable items here, though later greatly expanded upon by optional expansion packs (sold at $30 a pop, of course) is quite sufficient. Because you’re working within the constraints of space and funding, most desired purchases aren’t feasible. You’ll end up with a stripped-down little shack, complete with a toilet, bed, stove and tub. These are the essentials.

Such a dwelling is hardly satisfying, and it presents some dangerous possibilities. You’ll want to expand on those embarrassing beginnings as soon as possible, and you’ll want to make it the most happening place in town. As such, it’s time for the game to properly begin. Unfortunately, that’s where the trouble kicks in.

As I already mentioned, you begin the game by choosing which attributes your sim will have. No matter what you did, you’ll have a poor excuse for a human at best, a disaster at worst. The likely result of your customization will be a lazy dufus with no cooking skills or hygiene. As you play The Sims, the rest of your time will be spent honing this slug into a model citizen. Or, if you’ve played a few times or are just frustrated in general, you’ll choose instead to make his life a living hell. It can be done.

Let’s suppose for a minute that you take the ‘difficult’ (and theoretically rewarding) route and decide to be nice to your unfortunate little victim. For the sake of convenience, let’s suppose you have chosen to go with a single adult male. To buy your hateful little sim a nicer bed or a television set, you must first find him a job. You definitely don’t have a lot of time to do this, so you must browse the ‘help wanted’ ads daily. The sim, of course, finds this quite dull. If you don’t act promptly, he may even rebel and decide that employment just isn’t for him. Want a good game? If so, this is the first point of contention.

Suppose you somehow manage to get a fantastic job. Your next order of business is actually getting the sim to punch in on time. He carpools (no matter what the job and hours), so you have to tell him to go to bed far in advance so that he’ll get up in time to go to work. Most of an in-game ‘day’ is thus spent sleeping, working, or scrambling madly to make sure that your sim gets to bed when he should. You also have to make sure he eats. And finally, exercise and entertainment are paramount.

Now, think about this for a minute. What’s one of the things most of us battle with here in the real world? Time management. One of the worst things about life is that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. Well, that’s the concept that The Sims puts at its fore. You’re constantly running into Father Time’s figurative turds. Sure, you can ignore the fact that your sim has to sleep and work most of the time, but your game won’t last long like that. He’ll lose his job and then his will to do much of anything and in the end… things get ugly fast.

And let’s not forget what I alluded to before: your sim is a moron. My wife was recently playing through the game for the millionth time, and a few minutes of play really highlighted the game’s numerous flaws. She had chosen a single female character. The poor lady was at home and hungry, so my wife told her to cook supper and follow it up with a relaxing bath. With the commands in queue (sims execute them approximately whenever they feel like it, and may resist some orders flat out if they’re irritated with you), my wife leaned back in her chair to enjoy the results of her careful orchestration.

The on-screen sim then started cooking on the stove, a cheaper model that was all she could afford. Within seconds, flames burst upward toward the ceiling as the fire detector began shrieking wildly. The sim danced about in front of the stove for a second, then calmly walked into the bathroom and stripped down to her skivvies. From there, she hopped in the tub.

Meanwhile, the fire was raging in the kitchen as the smoke detector continued its wailing. A fireman rushed into the house and came to a stop in front of the stove (thankfully, my wife had the foresight to buy her sim that detector; otherwise, a call to the fire department must be manually entered). There, he sprayed foam over the blaze and doused it. On his way out, he passed through the bathroom. Neither fireman nor sim-in-tub seemed to recognize the fact that this situation was highly unordinary. On Desperate Housewives, you can be sure it would have led to kinky sex.

Disgusted with her sim’s stupidity, my wife ordered her to try her hand at cooking another meal. After all, a sim has to eat! So the sim went back into the kitchen to start preparations. Voila! Another campfire sprouted from the range. Again, the fireman arrived to save the day. Undeterred, my wife ordered yet another homemade feast. And again, there was a fire.

Those who have played The Sims and are just slogging through this review for their own amusement (?) will at this point be quick to point out that I’m stupid, and that my wife is too, and that all we have to do is tell the sim to read some books on cooking and buy a better stove. Yes, I’m aware of this. I’ve played the game for more hours than I care to admit, and my wife has in fact produced some very successful sims of her own. None of this is relevant to the point I’m making, though, which is that the game takes even the most menial of tasks and makes them a nightmare.

To have a decent chef and stove, you have to hold down that job I mentioned. You have to spend your time ordering your sim to sleep and take a bath, and you have to somehow squeeze study time in between that and the television (you also have to purchase the bookshelves that will house your educational literature). An hour into the game, you still might have an incompetent cook, which means you’ve probably been battling with stove fires for at least a few minutes. This is only one of the most striking examples of the game’s questionable design. There are smaller flaws along the way. Your sims drop their food on the floor, then moan when flies fill the air with their incessant buzzing. If they don’t have a security system, your sims are regularly burglarized. If they don’t have an alarm clock, they miss the carpool. If they don’t have exercise equipment and televisions and a social life, they become depressed. And so it goes, until The Sims is suddenly just a slightly more depressing version of real life and you wonder why you’re even bothering to play the thing.

Many players walk away at this point, but not before raising a few sims with hatred instead of love. For brief moments, it can be fun to put the toilet out in the front yard so your sim must put his primal urges on public display. It can be fun to watch him die in a stove fire gone particularly awry, or to put him at the center of a room with no doors or windows and watch him make puddles on the floor and worse. Most people who have played The Sims have done this and worse.

Why do we do these things to our sims, you ask? Because we’re bored. Underneath the slick interface, beneath the elevator music and the gibberish we’re to take as conversation, The Sims is just a waste of time. It may amuse you for hours, days or even weeks. For those hours and for the sadistic relationship you can share with your unfortunate sim, the package is arguably worth a purchase. But in the end, you’ll grow to despise it. Somewhere out there, I’m sure someone has dropped the disc in a pool and thrown away the railing.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (April 28, 2005)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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