Well, here we are â€“ another Sims is upon us.
Now Iâ€™ve been a fan of the Sims series since day dot, and the reasons why I started playing then are the same reasons why Iâ€™ve continued to play all these years: The Sims franchise is beloved to many because it offers its own unique flavour of weird dollhouse-style play, the right degree of customisation, with large dollops of awkward social situations, and earnest desires. To top it all off, playing the Sims gives you a strange sense of God-like satisfaction as you guide your digital charges through their lives, helping or hindering along the way.
The Sims 3 is no different. The things that you love - that make the Sims special - are all here, but there are some very interesting new features to be experienced as well. From first impressions, the jump from Sims 2 to Sims 3 doesnâ€™t seem as large as from Sims 1 to Sims 2, however the multitude of additions start to creep up on you, until you realise what a huge game the Sims has become.
As far as general gameplayâ€™s concerned, the biggest change is that while you play with one person or family, the other Sims in town continue to live, work, fight, play, marry and die â€“ even if you donâ€™t see it happening. People on your Simâ€™s friends list will gradually age, and then eventually drop off as they move through their own lives parallel to your Simâ€™s own. Itâ€™s quite a radical concept, albeit one a lot of gamers have wanted for some time now, and while it is certainly very compelling, it does come with its own set of restrictions.
As a result of this added complexity to the game world, you are only able to have one active household at a time. If you want to create another Sim and play them exclusively without giving up your existing one then you need to create another game instance and save it separate to the first one. If, on the other hand, you want both of your created Sims to interact with each other in the town together, youâ€™ll need to decide which is to be your â€˜active Simâ€™. Of course itâ€™s very easy to switch from one active Sim to another (through the â€˜edit townâ€™ menu option), however once you relinquish control of one household you may find when you return that the inhabitants have made many important decisions without you.
In any case, the living, breathing world of Sunset Valley, the town that comes pre-packaged with the game, is a fascinating one. There are loads of characters youâ€™ll recognise from the earlier games, such as the Goths, the Landgraabs, and even the Crumplebottoms, and you can interact with them â€“ or not â€“ as you please.
Wandering around is as easy as zooming in to ground level, and indicating where youâ€™d like your Sim to jog, cycle or drive, or zooming out to a map view of the town and selecting a building where youâ€™d like your Sim to go. Some buildings you can go inside (like the library, gym, etc.) while others your Sim will disappear inside for a while (the spa, stadium, workplaces), as they conduct their business there.
In the Create-a-Sim area, you can give Sims a much wider range of body types, and their faces are rounder and rosier. At first you may think the range of hair styles and clothing seems a bit limited (compared to the vast wardrobes some of my Sims 2 families had accumulated), but it is all customisable â€“ such as the material and colour of the clothes, or whether the roots or tips of a mohawk matches the rest of your Simâ€™s hair. You can even change their shoes and accessories separately to the rest of the outfit.
Added to this opportunity to create a truly individual looking Sim, is the vast range of different personality traits for you to select. You can choose from traits that will help your Sim succeed in life, such as being a good kisser, or a schmoozer â€“ or instead choose traits to make them more antisocial (and therefore highly amusing). In turn, those personality traits will colour and influence the way your Sim sees, and interacts with, the world around him or her. My evil genius child (who currently only has two traits â€“ he will get the chance to pick more as he grows older) is forever rubbing his hands together with glee when he thinks of diabolical plans. He also enjoys taking a bath with evil soap, but thatâ€™s another matter altogether. Personality traits not only influence how your Sim will interact with others, but can also directly contribute towards how well they do at work, or in learning specific skills.
Sims can purchase other traits - anything from a steel bladder to a teleportation pad - with points they earn through fulfilling small wishes such as going to the bookstore, or playing their guitar in the park. While your Sim will cycle through many different wishes over the course of an hour or day, you can choose whether you will help your Sim to achieve that goal. In addition to the smaller wishes, a Sim will have one over-arching lifetime wish, often based upon their personality traits. These could be anything from wishing to become an astronaut or rock star, or becoming an illustrious author or just being surrounded by family. Achieving these lifetime wishes grants a huge number of happiness points, which makes it easier to afford that teleportation pad.
While it sounds like there is a great deal of micro-managing involved, the good news is that your Sims are much more independent, and more likely to take care of their daily needs without you. Children, if not distracted, will even do their homework without having to be asked (ok, perhaps that part is less realistic. But itâ€™s also very handy).
This brings us to moodlets. A Sim who starts to feel hungry, instead of responding to his hunger meter bar, as he might have done in the Sims 2, will instead get a â€˜warning moodletâ€™ appear in his stats panel. It might indicate that unless he eats in the next three hours, he will become seriously hungry, which will then affect his mood. Moodlets are positive and negative mood influencers, and everything, from having a bladder misfortune in public, to riding in a new car, will have an effect on your Simâ€™s mood. It is similar to the need bars, in fact the need bars are still there, but there is a subtle difference too. If your Sim has enough positive moodlets in play (perhaps they went to the bookstore, have minty breath, and recently got married), they can often outweigh any negatives, such as lack of sleep before going to work. Some moodlets are hilarious â€“ my scientist Sim had a â€˜soft handsâ€™ moodlet for days after I sent him for a manicure, and another couldnâ€™t get enough of the new car smell when he went to work â€“ while others are quite touching, such as the ongoing pregnancy moodlet if a family-oriented Sim is expecting.
Socialisation is different too. Rather than working to a friendship bar, where -100 is enemies, 0 is strangers and 100 best friends or family, the key in the Sims 3 is to find out all of the different personality traits of the person youâ€™re talking to. You can find out if they are single or married, what their jobs are, and how rich they are too. Every new thing you find out about them gives you something new to talk about, and makes you closer friends as a result. The aim is not to repeat the same interaction over and over again, but to try different approaches over time to learn more about other Sims. In fact, there is now a real-time conversation status that displays, to let you know if the other person your Sim is talking to thinks they are fascinating, or a total bore.
Working too, is less about doing the same thing over and over again. No longer do you wave goodbye to your Sim as they head off to work, then tune out until they come back again. In the Sims 3 you can actually dictate how your Sim will work during the day, whether they choose to goof off, suck up to the boss, or hang out with colleagues. You can even bring them home early if they really didnâ€™t get enough sleep the night before. Another aspect of working I really enjoy is the advancement criteria, which arenâ€™t just based on skill and friend level. Sometimes your Sim will need to do different tasks to advance, such as rifling through neighboursâ€™ garbage and writing up a report, as my law-enforcement Sim recently had to do. Pay rises and promotions are handled separately as well, which makes for a much less predictable experience.
Of course your Sim will still need to work on those skills if they want to get ahead. Luckily there are even more ways they can do this. There are still the objects they can interact with, such as a treadmill or the stove if they want to advance athleticism or cooking, but now Sims can also take lessons at various places around town. They can also buy books to help them advance skills. Not only that, but Sims can buy new sheet music, recipes, novels and fishing guides, which also help with the collecting aspect of the game. And just as in the Sims 2, as your Sim advances in a certain skill they are able to perform different activities, such as putting their guitar in their inventory and busking in the park, or perhaps serenading their loved ones.
If you feel like you need something else to do, your Sim will also be presented from time to time with random opportunities throughout the game. If your Sim agrees to take on the opportunity, they will have to perform some task, such as run around town for an hour, or bake a delicious meal for someone. When the task is completed your Sim will be rewarded with money, or a boost to a relationship or skill. Completing opportunity tasks can be key in helping your Sim really get ahead in their careers or skill paths.
Hopefully all of the above serves to illustrate just how much the Sims 3 has to offer. While it is easy to look back at the Sims 2 and all of the features that were packed into the game and all of its expansion packs, and miss that breadth, the Sims 3 really has opened up the world for its denizens and given them something more unique, subtle, and surprising. Just today I was playing, thinking I had seen it all, when one of my Sims was presented with an opportunity to take the remains of a loved one to the science lab nearby. I shrugged and accepted the opportunity, then couldnâ€™t believe my eyes when I saw that the ghost of the dead relative had joined my family. They were getting up in the morning, cooking, looking in the want ads and chatting with the neighbours. Yet another new door has opened in the game â€“ and I canâ€™t wait to keep playing.