Well, here we have it: the last full expansion pack for the Sims 2. Those last four years sure went by quickly, donâ€™t you think? If youâ€™ve lost count, this is EP number seven, and while I doubt Maxis is inherently superstitious by nature, you can certainly say they saved the best for last. Like the Sims 1 Makinâ€™ Magic, FreeTime fits right in with the other elements of the game, but at the same time it introduces some huge, brilliant changes.
Like many of the later expansions, FreeTime includes a new neighbourhood, called Desiderata Valley. Iâ€™ve deleted most of the earlier neighbourhoods (though I still have an extreme fondness for Strangetown, and the passive-aggressive Nervous Subject), and have stuck with only Riverblossom Heights (from Seasons), and this new one. It includes all the new lots, characters, and stuff youâ€™ll need to jump right in and start making the most of what FreeTime has to offer.
The most obvious new feature in FreeTime is the ten new hobbies that your Sim can pursue: tinkering, cuisine, gaming, film and literature, nature, science, fitness, arts and crafts, music and dance, and sports. Each has new related objects, and the more obsessed with each hobby your Sim becomes, the more perks youâ€™ll inherit. A cuisine Sim, for example, will learn how to make all sorts of different party platters (perfect if youâ€™re a party sim), while a gaming Sim will eventually learn how to play games online against his or her friends. Science Sims will be able to summon aliens at will, once they reach a certain stage in their hobby, and arts and crafts Sims can create pottery, or even new clothes.
The levels you reach in a hobby develop as you spend time performing activities that support the hobby, some of which you may naturally do every day, such as playing chess or dancing; others you will need to actively seek out, such as using the pottery wheel or ant farm. Like the perks, as a Sim learns more about a hobby, further activities will be unlocked. These include the ability to talk to others about your hobby, blog about your hobby, and surf the web for information on your favourite hobbies.
Each hobby has its own related secret lot that will be unlocked and made available to your Sim once theyâ€™ve reached a certain level of enthusiasm. When you visit, your Sim will find a wealth of objects to help them further develop their hobby, as well as a group of like-minded people who wonâ€™t recoil in horror when your Sim tries to explain how, after work, they really enjoy tinkering with the shower. Youâ€™ll also find instructors who can tutor your Sim on the finer points of their obsession.
All Sims have a natural ability at just one type of hobby, but that doesnâ€™t mean you can only pursue that interest. Like real life, your Simâ€™s interest in different hobbies is likely to ebb and flow, and itâ€™s likely youâ€™ll find that your Sim will reach a moderate level of interest in two or more different hobbies.
Reaching the â€˜maxed outâ€™ status for a hobby is quite difficult; you really have to put in a lot of time to get there. If youâ€™re determined, however, once a Simâ€™s knowledge of a hobby is complete, whenever they engage in a hobby-related activity youâ€™ll see them â€˜zone outâ€™, i.e. a white glow surrounds them, accompanied by an interesting buzzing noise. Motives decay more slowly, and theyâ€™re able to spend more time on their hobby without being distracted when they are zoned out.
In addition to the main feature of the expansion, there are heaps of little other additions that Maxis has made that really flesh out this pack. The most important is the inclusion of another status bar! (OK, so things are looking really cluttered now; I keep trying to imagine what my impression of the game would be if I just came to it now. It would be bewildering.)
This new bar, similar to your aspiration point bar, is called the lifetime aspiration meter. It keeps track of how well youâ€™re doing, you know, in life. If you keep your regular aspiration meter high, youâ€™ll earn points in the lifetime aspiration meter, which you can then spend, Open For Business-like, on different personality benefits for each sim. You can choose anything from a secondary aspiration, to slowing down the degradation of your motives, to super fertility (more likely to have twins), or the ability to plead for your job if you get the sack. Thereâ€™s even a special set of benefits for grilled cheese sims!
There are also five new careers: Entertainer, Dancer, Architect, Intelligence and Oceanographer. Each comes with its own set of clothes, silly job titles and job-related objects. (The Intelligence perk is a hand-held dish that you can use to spy on your neighbours. Itâ€™s great!)
â€¢ There are scores of new objects, including new desk and wall phones, baby stuff, more exercise clothes (including ballet gear), and paint-spattered furniture, for that authentic artist-starving-in-his-garret vibe.
â€¢ Sims can now study parenting, which means they no longer have to be psychic to know what a screaming baby wants.
â€¢ If your Sim makes reasonable progress at a few different hobbies, they might be presented with a magic lamp, with a genie inside who grants wishes.
â€¢ FreeTime also makes it easier for you to move between lots; you can move from a Bon Voyage holiday location to a downtown night spot without having to return to the base neighbourhood first.
â€¢ Awesomely, FreeTime includes the ability to age up to three NPCs when your Sim does â€“ meaning your child Sim can finally grow up alongside his townie neighbours.
â€¢ Thereâ€™s also a computer in the game that gives you a brief sneak-preview of The Sims 3!
Some folks might be inclined to give this title a miss; after all, weâ€™ve been buying Sims 2 expansion packs for a good long while now. While some of the other expansion pack titles, to me, could be considered optional, FreeTime is so rich with content and gameplay features that I rate it right up there with Seasons as one of my must-have expansion pack titles.