Jess gives the full low-down on the expansion packs for The Sims 2.
Now that The Sims 2 expansion packs have all been released, the difficulty for players new to the game is deciding on which packs are worth buying. While the stuff packs pretty much speak for themselves, the relative value of each of the expansions isn't as easy to ascertain from reading the back of the box.
It's a little overwhelming - which is why NZGamer has put together this guide to give a bit of a brief overview for each of the expansion packs. While each title is great in its own way, you should by no means feel that you must buy every single one to get the most out of the game. We've rated each game, in order of preference, with a 1 representing the 'must have' title, and 7 the other end of the scale, tactfully called 'optional'.
That said, it's worth pointing out that many features introduced in early packs are used and refined in later ones, and of course collecting one of each monster will only be possible if you own the lot.
University was the first expansion pack released for the Sims 2, and in many ways it was a real surprise for most Sims fans. For starters, it introduces a completely new life stage - something Maxis had never done before - the Young Adult. Wedged in between teenagers and adults, young adult Sims are only accessible if players send their teenagers to university.
The universities themselves are three completely new neighbourhoods, with their own customisable residential and commercial areas. A teenage sim can apply to go to either La Fiesta Tech, Sim State University, or the Academie Le Tour, or a player can design their very own university.
Going to university, for a player as well as a teenage sim, meant that they could both take a break from the usual Sim routine. They could focus on their studies - and enjoy the perks that came from doing well - or spend all day and night partying and, thanks to the new influence system, convince another student to write their term papers for them.
In addition to new opportunities to bolster skills or just make a lot of new friends, University introduces the 'lifetime want' concept to the game - one overarching desire that, once achieved, put a Sim into a permanent platinum mood for the rest of their life. Depending on their personality, this lifetime want can be anything from having 10 grandchildren, to 20 lovers, or achieving the pinnacle of their career path.
And of course, many of the perks of University have nothing to do with academics: Sims can play pranks on each other, hang out together and chat, play hacky sack, join secret societies, or buy their first mobile phones.
To go with the new neighbourhoods, University also brings with it a large number of new NPCs, including mascots and cheerleaders, other students, professors, baristas and cafeteria workers. It has a raft of new objects, including instruments, party items and heaps of new young adult clothes.
Last but not least, University allows graduates to apply for four new careers: natural research, showbiz, artist and paranormal. Paranormal, in particular, is interesting, in that the career reward item allows players to attempt to resurrect dead Sims. A successful resurrection results in that Sim rejoining the living, whereas an unsuccessful attempt results in a zombified version of that Sim. Yes, the first Sim monster is a shambling green shade that loves to talk to anyone who will listen about their favourite topic: brains.
Expansion Pack Rating: 3rd (Loads of new items, gameplay and features. A great all-rounder.)
Nightlife is the second expansion pack on the scene, and for many people it was a familiar - and wanted - pack, being in many ways the Sims 2 port of the popular Sims 1 Hot Date expansion. It introduces a new downtown neighbourhood that is a veritable playground for popularity or romance sims, and introduces two new aspirations: pleasure, and grilled cheese.
The pleasure aspiration is pretty self-explanatory: pleasure Sims love going out, dancing, having fun and throwing party after party. The grilled cheese sim, well, it's not exactly explainable, but perhaps it's just best to call it 'one of those sims things'. Grilled cheese Sims gain aspiration points from making grilled cheese sandwiches, talking to other people about grilled cheese sandwiches, eating grilled cheese sandwiches, influencing others to make grilled cheese sandwiches, and so forth. Let's just leave it at that, shall we? Needless to say, Sims gain the Grilled Cheese personality only as a result of the malfunction of a Nightlife-introduced aspiration changing machine, which can be purchased with aspiration points, like the love tub.
Along with the general dating theme, Nightlife introduces the concept of 'chemistry', which helps to determine which Sims are attracted to each other. Sims can choose turn-ons and turn-offs, which include a wide range of features, from hair colour, to the presence or absence of body odour, underwear, muscles, perfume, etc. Consequently, a Sim can 'scope' a room, and see which of the others they are attracted to.
Nightlife makes further concession to Sims fans by giving them what they have asked for since the early days of the Sims 1: drivable cars. For many people this feature alone was reason enough to purchase the pack. Cars allow Sims a little more independence: they can drive to work if they miss their carpool, pick up dates, drive to lots when they feel like it, and even woo-hoo in the car.
The 'pack monster' included in Nightlife is the vampire, the ultimate night owl. Vampires don't start out as immediately playable, but if Sims become good enough friends with the mysterious Count or Countess, often seen on the downtown lots, they could be paid a midnight visit by their new friend, and forever more have to sleep in the new bed item, the coffin.
Playing as a vampire is fine as long as a Sim doesn't need to leave the lot too frequently during the day - a vampire Sim with a day job, for example, runs the risk of being fried by daylight, as their needs would rapidly decrease if exposed. The positive side, however, is that vampire Sims' needs do not decrease at all during the night - which means they can party all night long without tiring.
Almost as scary as the vampires is the gypsy matchmaker, who, if a Sim pays her enough, will find the 'Sim of their dreams', usually a good match, personality-wise, but with the looks of a warthog. (In my experience, anyway) In addition to the matchmaker, NPCs introduced include waiters, bartenders, chefs, as well as a wide range of dateable 'townies'.
Expansion Pack Rating: 7th (Some very cool, but specialised new features. Not so much to offer for family or knowledge sims, or children.)
Open for Business
Open for Business (or OFB) is another quite specialised expansion pack, which lets Sims tap into their inner entrepreneur, by either starting a home-based business or purchasing a commercial business to run. OFB is almost a mini-game that slots into the main game, albeit one with a huge degree of detail and customisation available.
In order to start up a business, a Sim needs to only pick up the phone, and purchase a business, or start a home one. Existing businesses have the advantage of being set up expressly for that purpose, while home-based businesses allow Sims to cheaply develop their skills without a huge financial outlay at the start.
In order to set up existing Sims with equal opportunity, the Bluewater Village is introduced in OFB, with plenty of purchasable businesses (as well as some good shopping venues). The disadvantage with Bluewater Village is that the loading times can be off-putting, especially for a Sim that wants to go to work each day. (I eventually wound up packaging up Bluewater Village businesses that I liked, and re-importing them to my home neighbourhood. It saved on travel time and felt a lot more efficient.)
Running a successful business is dependent on a range of factors, including the quality of your product (whether that be an item for sale, an attractive place to visit for which you can charge tickets, or your ability to cut hair or do makeovers), pleasantness of your business's surroundings, and your business skills. OFB introduces the 'talent badge' system, through which you improve your checkout skills, sales pitches, or item creation skills.
If customers are happy with their service, Sims gain business points, which eventually they are able to spend on various business perks. These include decreased cost price for sale items, better sales skills, or relationship boosts, all of which will help your business prosper.
The pack monster for OFB is the robot, which is only accessible through the robot crafting station, for those with the gold talent badge in robotics. Robots can be built and sold, meaning ultimately every house in the neighbourhood can purchase one. Robots can be activated as either sex, and behave once activated as any member of the family, albeit with different needs. (Robots can become vampires or zombies, get jobs, take care of the kids, have affairs, and the rest. They just can't have kids.)
New NPCs include barbers and reporters. There are also reporters which tend to show up as 'mystery shoppers' and either write up a good or bad review of your business, which can then affect your future popularity with new shoppers.
Expansion Pack Rating: 6th (Like Nightlife, OFB is very specialised, and can be quite complicated to play in conjunction with the rest of the game. Robots, however, are great!)
The fourth expansion pack is another one that fans had been hoping for: Pets. This expansion really only adds one new feature to the game, but it does it brilliantly. Pets can be created in the neighbourhood menu, the same as human Sims, or they can be purchased from neighbourhood shops. The difference is that in the create-a-sim menu, users can customise every single thing about their new pet, from body size to facial features, and detailed colouring and markings.
The main difference between The Sims 2 Pets from the same title in The Sims 1 is that Sims pets have a great deal of personality and complexity this time around. Pets can be clever or stupid, friendly or aggressive, and lazy or energetic. Sims need to take time to develop a close relationship with their pets, as well as discipline them or praise them, in order to help them develop good (or bad) habits.
Cats and Dogs are the 'main' pets accessible in the game, in that they are the ones your Sim can really interact with. If your Sim would prefer a more low-maintenance pet, however, there are other options, including parrots, womrats (a sort of rat, guinea pig, rabbit combo) and fish.
In addition to encouraging or discouraging behaviours, Sims can also train their pets to learn different tricks. Rather than being pointless forms of entertainment, once a pet learns a variety of tricks, they can enter in competitions, and advance in different pet 'jobs', in the security, showbiz and 'services' fields. Some pets can become so successful in their jobs that they become the main money earners in their households.
The pack monster for Pets is, as you might expect, the werewolf (or rather, the WereSim). Werewolves come to your Sim's door at night, and like the vampires, will convert your sim if they become good friends. A WereSim only changes shape at night, during which time their energy increases, though they get hungry a lot faster. As a werewolf, a Sim can teach pets faster, can fight burglars, howl at the moon, and are able to savage other sims to turn them into werewolves.
NPCs included in Pets include animal control officers, obedience trainers, wolves, and skunks.
Expansion Pack Rating: 5th (If you love the idea of having pets, of course this is a must-have. Aside from the pet features, however, the game doesn't introduce a great deal of extra gameplay.)
Seasons marks a returned focus to the 'everyday Sim' experience, and introduces many new features that make it fun for Sims to stay home again. In particular, the inclusion of weather systems and seasons further develops the game's ambience - and also provides a lot of fun new interactions between Sims and their environment.
The new weather systems don't just add some pretty effects; different seasons add different bonuses for Sims, such as a romance bonus in spring, or family bonus in winter. There are sunburns to be had in summer, and piles of leaves to play in, in autumn. Hand in hand with the changed seasons is the need to keep warm when it's cold outside, which is all taken care of with the inclusion of outerwear clothing (which Sims remove when they come indoors).
Weather aside, the Seasons expansion pack introduces some other great features: fishing and gardening. Most deep ponds and lakes in a neighbourhood suddenly became fishable; Sims visiting any neighbourhood lot will see groups of Sims gathered around a fishing hole, chatting and bringing up fish, and the occasional boot, which can then be mounted and hung on the wall, or used to make an extra-special meal.
Gardening, likewise, allows Sims to grow a wide range of vegetables and fruit, which can also be used to make special meals. Gardening introduces a wide range of new items, such as sprinklers and glasshouses, which are not only functional, but decorative as well. Sims with a green thumb can try to gain entrance to the exclusive Gardening Club, or if they get too carried away with the bug spray, turn into a PlantSim - a creature half plant, half Sim, that can reproduce asexually, and has needs which are limited to sunlight, water and love.
The new neighbourhood is called Riverblossom Hills, and has a wide range of interesting families (including a PlantSim family), and picturesque properties, with ponds and glasshouses galore.
NPCs include garden club members, and a cute penguin who has a thing for snowmen.
In addition to all of the above, Seasons introduces six new career paths: adventuring, education, gaming, journalism, law, and music.
Expansion Pack Rating: 1st (Seasons rates as the best expansion pack for its seamless integration of great new gameplay, fun, original new monsters, good-looking neighbourhood, and features that you'll keep enjoying for a long time.)
Bon Voyage, like University, really lets your Sims get away from it all for a while. The real stand-out aspect of the game, however, is how well it actually captures the feeling of cultural and environmental difference.
You almost feel as if you're on holiday yourself, as you accompany your Sim around the different neighbourhoods of Twikki Island (beachy), Three Lakes (forest), and Takemizu Village (far east). As they visit the different locations, Sims can take tours, meet locals, try new foods, buy souvenirs, and more.
Bon Voyage also introduces beaches, where Sims can sunbathe, dig for treasure, and build sandcastles. They can even swim in the ocean!
There are all sorts of NPCs to meet, learn things from, and make friends with, including: fire dancers, bellboys, hotel maids, tour guides and ninjas. In addition there are several special characters on secret lots, who impart knowledge, give items and more.
The monster for Bon Voyage is none other than Bigfoot, who lives on a secret lot. Your Sim will have to find the secret map before they can meet him however. Once they make friends, Bigfoot can be invited to move in, the same as any other friend. Bigfoot is the star of the monster world, with maxed out skills and skill badges. He really can do anything, and he seems to love looking after kids as well. As with some of the other monsters however, he's not able to have kids himself.
The fun times don't stop once a Sim returns from holiday; if a Sim has had a great time, they'll find that upon returning home they may be eligible for several bonuses, meant to reproduce the refreshing and inspiring effect a holiday has on their psyche. Sims can view their holiday photos and remember good times, or even teach some of their friends back home the local customs they learned. If things go really well, then a Sim can even buy a house in one of the three vacation neighbourhoods.
Expansion Pack Rating: 4th (Great new features, well thought out holiday locations, but a buggy early release meant many players had to suffer with spawning tour guide operators and other fun, while they waited for a patch from Maxis. If you get this pack, make sure you install the patch - which you can get from the Sims 2 website - before you play, and you should be fine.)
We only recently reviewed FreeTime, and it rated highly. This seventh and last expansion pack introduces hobbies and new skills to the game, just in case players were in any way still looking for something to do with the Sims 2.
Sims can take up hobbies in sports, fitness, arts and crafts, music and dance, literature and movies, tinkering, science, and nature, meet like-minded friends, and play with all sorts of new hobby-related objects, from cars to restore, to a pottery wheel.
Once Sims reach a certain level of interest in their hobby, they receive an invitation to its club (located on an otherwise secret lot), where they can receive lessons and get access to all the game objects that will help to further increase their interest in that hobby.
The monster in FreeTime is a genie, though disappointingly, from all accounts it is not possible to get the genie to join your household. Instead, the genie lives inside a lamp, given to you if you develop a high level of enthusiasm for one or more hobbies. Once the genie has granted your three wishes however, he disappears forever.
Still, genie letdown aside, there are a lot of other features introduced with FreeTime. The customisation trend continues, with the arts and crafts skills sewing and pottery, as well as the ability for tinkerers to restore a beat up old car. Sewing and Pottery have their own skill badges (though they require Open For Business to implement). There are five new career paths: oceanography, intelligence, entertainment, dance and architecture, each with their own related career reward items. There's also a new neighbourhood, called Desiderata Valley, which lets you make the most of all the new hobby items.
Expansion Pack Rating: 2nd (Good overall range of gameplay features; the hobby system is a huge new change that touches nearly every other aspect of the game.)
Read as a list of features, no-one would believe that one game could do so much, and have so much depth and personality. Whether or not you believe the reliance on expansion packs is a good games development practice, in this case it can be justified when you look at just how much Maxis has brought to the Sims 2 in the past seven expansions. Whichever expansion packs you choose, you can be assured that you'll certainly get good value from the title, as all have great features, humour and style.