The Sims series of games has always had a bit of a rough deal on consoles - perhaps due to the inherent difficulty of porting a game that’s all about small details and meticulous crafting to a platform that’s more suited to fast movements and co-operative play.
In any case, no console port of the Sims is going to be identical to the PC game - previous reviews here on NZGamer.com have shown us that - but this latest release comes closest to capturing everything that’s good about the series. And while the core qualities of the original have been retained, there are also a few new platform-friendly additions that bring solid, replayable gameplay to gamers who might never have played the Sims before.
The basic premise of the game is the same as it always has been: players guide a virtual character, or Sim, through life in a large sandbox town environment. You get to watch your Sim as they encounter the highs and lows in life, and lend a hand to everything from what they eat for dinner, to whether they pursue a career as an astronaut or a book store clerk. The game is hugely customisable: characters, objects, and houses are all able to be designed to quite a high level of detail. And the ability to give Sims a set of personality traits that influence their needs and wants ensures that playing through subsequent generations of Sims takes a very long time before it begins to feel repetitive.
The game is so complex in terms of what you can do and make, and the statistics for an individual Sim (details on bodily needs, friends, career, inventory, opportunities) are so varied, that a discussion of the User Interface is fairly crucial; often bad UI can be the cause of a port that just doesn’t successfully make the transition between PC and console.
In this case, for the most part the UI works well. The square button (on the PS3) brings up your status panel, while R2 displays your Sim’s wishes, and the Select button displays the different game modes, where you can spend challenge or karma points (more on these later). Rotation and zooming both work well, and the cursor - in this case a sort of green laser-beam from the sky - actually feels more user-friendly than a standard mouse pointer. Moving the laser beam over different objects cause them to acquire a slight green outline, which makes it extremely easy to make sure you’ve got the right object highlighted before you try to interact with it.
As far as downsides go, the Sim panel itself is similar-looking to the original, but a little less refined, and it’s not always obvious where you need to go to find specific menu options. As well as this, I had a bit of a grumble about the interaction UI, which pauses the game while you fumble with the circular menu options, which I found clunky to use (in the original game, the world continues to move around you as you queue up commands for your Sim). But ultimately, once you get used to these foibles, the UI doesn’t actually hinder your gameplay - it’s just different, that’s all.
The town map UI, while similar to the original, with points of interest displayed that you can select and have your Sim travel to, doesn’t have the same seamless zoom-in-and-out action. The town in the console version of the game is cartoony, to the point of feeling out of character with the rest of the game. Of course, if the choice is between a cut-down feel of the map view that works well, or possible performance issues on a good looking map, I know which I’d prefer. It’s not great, but it’s also not the end of the world.
In terms of gameplay, the basics from the core game are all here. It’s worth pointing out that there’s nothing from the Sims 3 expansions included, which means you can expect downloadable content in the near future.
There are however, a couple of new features, developed specifically with console players in mind: karma powers and challenge points. There are 300 challenges, and over two dozen achievements to aim for, which award your Sim challenge points once the goal has been achieved. A short challenge might be to visit a particular spot on the map, while a more difficult one might be to reach the top of your career path. Once achieved, challenges grant valuable challenge points, which players can use to buy a range of different objects - as well as karma powers.
Sims start off with a few low-level karma powers unlocked, and a handful of karma points to spend on them. Karma powers have a cost to use them, and these karma points are earned as you complete wishes for your Sim. They are awarded each night at midnight, at the Hour of Reckoning, but only if your Sim has been using his or her karma wisely!
There isn’t a huge range of powers available, but there are some goodies: “instant beauty” will make you a hit with others, while “epic fail” or “fire storm” aren’t likely to win you any new friends. You can also bring back the dead, or remove bad moodlets from the entire household. In any case, karma powers are an easily-accessible way to wreak a bit of havoc in your game.
Console Sims 3 also has excellent online support, with Twitter and Facebook integration, as well as the Sims online community area, where you can share creations, rate other creators, find new downloadable content (free and purchasable) and manage all of your custom content.
While the Console Sims 3 paints its picture with broader brushstrokes than its PC counterpart, it still captures all that’s great about this series. The customisation, irreverent humour, bizarre character creation options, and online exchange features are all here, with good design and time-suckingly great gameplay. If I had a choice between versions, I’d still choose the PC one, but console gamers looking to get their feet wet with the Sims 3 won’t regret a minute of their time spent with this title.