The Sims 3: Pets is a the long-awaited expansion that finally adds pets back into our Sims' lives, for the first time since they originally appeared as an expansion for The Sims 2 way back in 2006. Yep, that's right, your pet humans can have little pets of their own - in the form of dogs, cats, and - if you have a PC anyway - horses.
We recently got a chance to sit down and play the game on both PC and PlayStation 3, with series producer Graham Nardone....
The first thing I did, of course, was to create a new pet. What better way to test the in-depth creation tool than by trying to replicate my own fluffy bundle of awesome - Ted. She (yeah, she - it's a long story) is a pretty regular looking cat (I'm no expert), one of the kind that looks like she's white with a tabby "saddle" and other tabby markings, like on her head.
I never quite got her looking like her real-world counterpart but I got damn close - had we the time, I'm sure I'd have gotten her even closer. What I was able to do while we tinkered, however, was see just how remarkably deep the creation tool is. You can create all manner of blotches, shapes, and other visual features which you can then drag, turn, twist, and stretch into an almost limitless combination of fur patterns.
Then there's the traits; just like human Sims, you can assign up to three starting traits to your pets, which define their basic starting behaviour. Unlike regular Sims, they can go on to learn an almost limitless number of extra traits - based on how you (and your Sims) interact with them. Reward them for making a racket, for example, and you can expect your pet to develop the highly vocal trait.
For comedy value - and to test the limits of the system, of course - I paired my virtual Ted up with a rather skittish, artistic Sim... who I made allergic to cats. To say they didn't hit it off was an understatement, all of which was clearly displayed via the game's intuitive interface. That, and Ted wouldn't do anything my Sim "Z" told her to do, nor would she sit on her lap or display any real affection. The virtual version of Ted was, in fact, alarming similar to the real cat...
You can interact with your pet in a number of ways, including some that seem surprisingly... satisfying, for want of a better word, in ways that your mother probably wouldn't approve of. You can, for example, instruct your little furball to relieve itself in comedic manner (we'll leave that one up to your imagination - which is probably pretty close to the real deal), and even take your pet horse for show-jumping lessons - on a course you build yourself, of course.
Graham also demonstrated a number of other interactions - this time with a dog. You can, for example, play fetch with your mutt - or send it out hunting for prey, or even for a swim in a pool. You need to look after your pets too, of course, as Scooby Doo (Graham's dog) randomly caught fleas - something Graham suggested would be a good idea to get sorted, as other Sims will shun you (and your pet) if it's got something communicable.
It's not just about the big three, either, with Graham revealing that the game will also allow you to keep birds as pets, including some sort of parrakeet or parrot - again, animals aren't my area of expertise. What I can tell you though is that the birds can learn some words of Simlish (the Sims language), will develop their own personality, and might even play pranks on your Sims - like parroting the sound of a phone, for example, sending your Sims into a frenzy.
You can even unlock a special Unicorn "pet", although it's a little different to the other pets. For a start, it doesn't live with your Sims. A creature of magic and mischief, it has no need for an owner - besides, who's going to want a pet that - literally - has rainbows coming out of its butt? You can have a lot of fun with a Unicorn, it seems - Graham's was rather keen on ensuring Justice and the American Way (?!), so it set about causing chaos at the local bandit camp by setting it on fire (!?) and then teleporting away (?!?!!). Still, what do you expect from a horny horse that's half painted in glittery stars and the other half in black and orange flames?
All of this action can take place in the new, Appaloosa Plains location or - if you prefer - your existing Sims locations will begin to have pets roaming around it. You can breed your pets together to make new pets (not inter-species, though), each of which will take on aspects of its parents. It's deep, basically, which is what we've come to expect from the series.
We had fun during our time with the game, on both the platforms (PC and PS3) that we got to try it on. If you're a pet person, or have always wanted one and not been able to realize your ambitions in reality, there's just something indefinable a pet can add to your life. If you're a Sims person, this will be the easiest decision you've ever made when the game releases on PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 on the 21st of October.