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The Sims (PC) artwork

The Sims (PC) review

"Maxis has had a formula in place for developing video and computer games for the past decade. It has proven to be phenomenally successful. Their method is as follows: 1) Pick some aspect of life. 2) Craft a game around this aspect. 3) Slap the term ďSimĒ somewhere in the title. This formula has obviously worked, judging from all the Sim games on the market: SimCity, SimEarth, SimIsland, even SimFarm. "

Maxis has had a formula in place for developing video and computer games for the past decade. It has proven to be phenomenally successful. Their method is as follows: 1) Pick some aspect of life. 2) Craft a game around this aspect. 3) Slap the term ďSimĒ somewhere in the title. This formula has obviously worked, judging from all the Sim games on the market: SimCity, SimEarth, SimIsland, even SimFarm.

However, despite covering different aspects of life, it was clear that the Sim franchise was getting tired. This can be directly attributed to the gameplay Ė one Sim game felt like every other one. Symptoms of this gameplay malaise included the lack of emotional involvement and micromanagement to the extreme. What fun is it to run a farm if all you do is buy and sell animals as if they were commodities? Whatís the point of building residential zones in a city if you canít ever interact with their residents?

Enter The Sims, Maxisís attempt to shift gears from city-wide (SimCity) and world-wide (SimEarth) micromanagement to personal micromanagement. The focus is on the inner workings of individual people and families while nurturing a successful neighborhood to fruition. Your seemingly simple task is to increase the wealth, possessions, and happiness of your sims, although not necessarily in that order.

In The Sims, you control all the day-to-day aspects of your sims (a.k.a. simulated people). A simple point and click interface with accompanying menus is used to navigate your sim through the two dimensional overhead grid system. You can either start from scratch, creating all new sims and building a house from the ground up, or choose one of the template families that are available. If you decide to build from scratch, you must include all the fixtures needed for a sim to survive: a bathtub, a stove, a fridge, doors, windows, light sources, and above all, a toilet. You must also define your simís personality, as well as their appearance.

After crafting your sim (or sims, as itís entirely possible to have several living under one roof) you must satisfy its various needs. These needs are represented by a green and red bar. The green portion is good, the red portion is bad. Letís take hygiene, for example. If you take a shower, the green bar will increase, while the red will decrease. If you fail to provide for a need, your sim will refuse to follow your commands, fall asleep, or wet themselves, depending on which need is neglected.

Once your needs are fulfilled, you can work on the skills of your sim. The skill meter shows how your sim has progressed in developing traits such as logic, charisma, and mechanical ability. Developing skills enables you to start a career, prepare dinner, and fix the dishwasher, among other things. As you progress in your skills and career, you can upgrade and buy new appliances and furnishings.

Hey, if you can save the world from a twelve foot sword wielding psychopath in Final Fantasy 7 and gore crazy space monstrosities in Half-Life, getting some nitwits to live together in the same house canít be all that hard, can it?

NOT SO FAST!!! Er... I mean, it isnít hard at all. Sorry, I had you all set for a contradiction, but really, The Sims is not a tough game. It is clearly targeted at the casual gamer; i.e. the people who buy titles such as Myst, Rollercoaster Tycoon, and Barbie Magic Hair Styler. The routine of The Sims will appeal greatly to these casual gamers, but the tedium will alienate and imprison hardcore gamers who will figure out the gameplay mechanics within an hour.

What do I mean by this? Well, The Sims is almost entirely routine ďbusy workĒ (to bring back a fifth grade term from the dead) with little deviation. You wake up, fulfill your needs by eating and using the toilet, go to work, develop skills, fulfill some more needs, then go to bed, then repeat the same cycle until you get bored of playing. Itís very tedious, and sadly, accurately reflects real life. Casual gamers will be pleased as they rocket up the professional ladder, acquiring spouses and toasters, and constantly finding trivial ways to rearrange their furniture.

Hardcore gamers, on the other hand, will be frustrated with how entrenched the gameplay is. Once you pick a career, you can not change to another. Advancement in your career requires that you mindlessly babble with other neighbors, regardless of what your career actually entails. There is little to break the routine of ďneedsĒ tasks, outside of random phone calls and surprise burglaries. The Sims mimics life partially, reproducing the trivialities perfectly, but unable to grasp the deep emotional attachment that gives life meaning.

The graphics and sound of The Sims are suitable; that is the best term available, really. Due to the mass market appeal, The Sims is stripped of the intense character design and musical accompaniment that other computer games feature. Replacing these are simple polygon characters walking around, somewhat jerky, with no background music and cartoonish sound effects exaggerating their actions. The visual makeup of the respective sim and their habitat is dependant on the architect. Esoteric value has been scrapped to ensure low system requirements, and thus a greater potential market.

No review of The Sims would be complete without a mention of the expansion possibilities. There are currently about seven million expansion packs available, online and in retail stores, licensed and unlicensed. Most packs add-on new things to buy, clothes to wear, and places to go. The most notorious patch allows you to play with nude sims, which is great fun if youíre twelve, Iím sure. If you love The Sims, then rest assured, youíll find plenty of new outlets to stretch your love.

The problem with The Sims is that its subject matter (life) is far too complex to be accurately conveyed in a computer game to satisfy all gamers. The concept has outgrown the technology. The flawed concept is fun to play around with though, until the user hits the inevitable wall of boredom. Still, while your simís life lasts, it will cause you to forget about your own for a while. This separation from reality is what all games strive to achieve, even one which attempts to simulate reality itself.

sgreenwell's avatar
Community review by sgreenwell (June 24, 2003)

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