Review: The Sims 3 (PC)

dvd-coverThe Sims 3
Developer: EA Redwood Shores
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Genre: Simulator/Virtual Life
Release Date: 06/02/09

This is EA’s latest entry into The Sims game legacy. It’s supposed to have new innovations, a complete world with no loading between locations, and much better graphics and the ability to customize everything in game. Yet it feels like they just gutted The Sims 2, reorganized a bunch of things, only gave out a handful of objects and clothing styles with the actual game and called it good. Let’s take a look.

Story/Modes
Sure you can tell a story with The Sims games, but that’s never been what the game is about. This thing has modes out the whazoo. Let’s start with The Sims 3 Create A Sim, or CAS as it’s become affectionately referred to. Unlike The Sims 2 and it’s Body Shop, CAS is built into the game. You can’t create your pixel people outside of loading up the game anymore, but that isn’t quite as big a problem as The Sims 3 loads very fast compared to The Sims 2. CAS has a ton of options, but most of those options aren’t new. They were in The Sims 2’s Body Shop, but they did give you the option to color clothing and change out shoes as well. Truly custom skin tones are out now, and you have to pick from their selection of 6 tones that you can customize to a point. Instead of the normal standby of skinny, fat and fit, you’re now given two sliders to customize your sims overall look. One is for fitness that goes from skinny to muscular, and the other that controls body thickness, so you can go from eating disorder to rather large sim and somewhere in between is healthy. The one that sill get everyone’s goat however is you won’t be able to select specific ares so you’ll have some pretty generic sims. All overweight females will have huge hips and chests, and all skinny female sims will look like sticks with little to no definition. Kind of inexcusable given that I’ve got PSP titles that let me customize body parts with sliders and they’re still rated T for Teen.

casBuild Mode hasn’t changed much. Sure they’ve spiffied up the interface and borrowed a few of the building tools from The Sims 2’s expansion packs, but the building mode itself has not changed. It still has all the same problems with building homes that The Sims 2 had, only you don’t have the benefit of several expansions to correct some of those problems, making your dream house not as much a reality as you thought. You can customize your town, but only to an extent. Don’t expect to be able to drop in your own lots anywhere there is a road. That option is gone. Let me say that again. One of the biggest options to make your town your own and add more lots is GONE. You’re stuck with whatever lots they give you. Sure you can bulldoze down that exquisite mansion to put up your own, but why go through the effort? Oh, and unless you go and register online and grab a free neighborhood, you only start with one. You can’t make those anymore either.

Buy Mode is also mostly unchanged. You do have a snazzy new interface to look through your options with, what few you have with the game at the start. Once you place those objects you can go in and chnage the color or texture of the object. While this is a great feature, a little more selection would have been nice.

Live mode is where the action goes on. This is the part I liked. This is where you really control your sim and can get into what’s going on and have a blast. Some things have been dropped and just changed over, but I’ll get more into that later. One of the great things that I like about this is that you can go anywhere without having to load. Want to go bug the neighbors? Just walk over to their house. Want to go meet the people that own that huge mansion outside of town, either hail a taxi or hop in your car and head out there. There are a number of “rabbit holes” in town, places where you can’t directly interact with your sim, like their job, the movies or the bookstore, but you still have some options to buy or tell them to do a good job at work, things like that. This is a bit better than having nothing to do while they’re in there, but is a far cry from total sim control.

Story/Modes Rating: Great

screenshot-16Graphics
The Sims 3 looks fantastic, once you get used to the aesthetic of the sims themselves. Most of them are round, and I don’t mean they’re all fat. While there are an abundant number of fat sims in town, I’m talking about their faces. They are almost all round and in CAS it can be hard to get an angled look. Let’s face it; that can kill half your fun if you can’t get your sim to look like your favorite star or comic character because the options aren’t there. I do like the look though. It reminds me a lot of the recent look of Disney and Pixar’s 3D films and it works for me. There are some great reflections, and the texturing is well done, especially the recoloring ability. The Sims 3 has this look that’ll work for a while.

While it does look pretty, The Sims 3 does have some issues. Like when you go to hop in your car to go to the store or get picked up by your car pool for work, other cars will drive THROUGH your car to follow whatever path they’re on instead of waiting. It’s uniquely disturbing to watch cars mating while you’re driving along, or to have your Prius get accosted by a family van on your way to a bookstore. It’s a bit jarring and could have used some work. The usual home building glitches are there as well. Roofing doesn’t always line up, you can’t put things where they should be able to go without redoing half the room, etc. It is a pretty game but there were a few things that could have been ironed out.

Graphics Rating: Very Good

screenshot-15Sound
Sound has never been The Sims strong suit. Simmish isn’t even really a language, I don’t care what they say. You can even hear your sim repeating the same phrases over and over again if you’re listening. I was. There is a whole new round of music here by Steve Jablonsky, the guy who wrote the score for the Transformers film and game of ’07. EA basically had him revamp the old Sims themes. There’s almost nothing new to them. Same old themes. You don’t get a large variety of other music to listen to either. I think the classical “station” had more to it than the pop station or any of the other stations for that matter. When your sim is watching TV, it’s the same old tired loops of sound and video over and over again. Watching and listening to them work out in front of the TV can and will drive you mad. However, I thought a nice touch was the guitar your sims can play. If you’re not very skilled with it, you sound terrible at the start., but as you go, it sounds better and better.

Sound Rating: Enjoyable

Control and Gameplay
The controls are largely unchanged. You point with your mouse and give your sims instructions. You can use any number of combinations to turn the camera around. While your sims are in the “rabbit holes,” you don’t have much to do except tell them how to behave. At work, you can have them socialize or do their boss’s paperwork or just go about their daily job. The controls for the building modes are pretty much the same as well. If you’ve played a sims game before there won’t be anything too out of sorts for you here. They did give you some new options though. Your sims in the household can go places without each other. On top of work, one could go to the beach and another to the park. The traditional way of double-clicking their icon to center on the sim is there, but you can also right click to have the camera follow that sim. Or if you’re just mildly curious what they’re up to or where they are, you can click their picture and you’ll get an icon pointing somewhere off screen you can click on as well.

Gameplay hasn’t really changed all that much either. They dropped two of your sims needs entirely. Comfort and environment have been shunted into a moodlet,which I’ll explain in a minute. So it’s a bit easier to keep your sims happy. Skills have changed as well. Instead of seven of them, you have ten. Charisma, Cooking, and Logic are still there, but others like Cleaning were dropped or split off into others. Creativity has become Writing, Guitar and Painting for example. Skills still help your performance at work. Upping your skills now will take up much more of your time if you’re trying to max any of them out.

screenshot-20One of the big changes is the dropping of the horoscope system entirely to determine your sims behavior. Now instead of that we have Traits. Young Adult and Adult sims get to pick from five traits, and these can change depending on how you played your sim in their last life cycle as they move up. Aspirations have been changed to wishes. You get a few to choose from and can lock in four of them that you’ve “promised” to your sim, which you get lifetime points for which you can buy certain lifetime benefits with. You are always accumulating points when your sim is happy, but get huge boosts from completing these wishes. Without the aspiration meter to contend with all you have is a mood meter which can be affected by moodlets. You do have one lifetime aspiration, made up when you’re done selecting traits and favorites you can get booku lifetime points for.

Moodlets are small interactions or feelings that affect your mood. If you’re stressed out from working too hard you’ll have a big minus. Having fun can fix that. Getting a good night’s sleep, sitting in a comfy chair, being in a nice house, or just being squeaky clean can help your sims mood.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Great

Replayability
Being a Sims game, replayability is through the roof on this one. With the options you have to customize out your sim with the different traits, the numerous career options, who you partner with in the neighborhood, and so on, you could play this game a hundred times and not have it go the same way each time, even if you’re playing the same sim in the same career choice. All of The Sims games have been based around this. I only wish you could make your own towns and lot layouts. That would have made the replayability in this perfect.

Replayability Rating: Classic

Balance
It’s hard to judge balance in a game like this. One of the things the game has done has slapped a difficulty rating on the families you’re playing. But really it’s more common sense. If you’re only having to keep track of one sim as opposed to a family of five, obviously pleasing just the one sim will be a cakewalk as opposed to keeping a whole family in the happy house. I’d say in that respect they got the difficulty ratings dead on.

screenshot-4One thing I am miffed about though is selection. Sure you can customize out your clothes and furniture as far as coloring goes, but just because you put a nice leather cover over a piece of crap looking couch doesn’t mean you have a great selection. In fact, I have to look at this game and it’s object, clothing and hair choices as well as the fact they took out the ability to make your own town and put it into some hard facts. The Sims 2 on first install without any of the expansion packs actually has more to offer you than this game does. You can do more in The Sims 2 than in this one, and have two whole extra starting neighborhoods. Sure you can hop online and download another free neighborhood for this one, but that still leaves you one shy. If you want all the clothing options the have online as well as the furniture choices at The Sims store you’ll be dropping another roughly 50-100 dollars or more. Yeah, and of course this was all ready to go with the launch of The Sims 3. The free 1,000 points you get with the game doesn’t really cut it.

Right now you can get more for your $50 buy buying The Sims 2 and several expansion packs. The Sims 3 is just lacking in the content for the price. Gameplay-wise I prefer The Sims 3, they just really needed to not hop on the pay content band wagon the same day the game came out.

Balance Rating: Mediocre

Originality
With two other games in the series, a plethora of expansions for those two games, and the fact that The Sims 3 basically borrows several things from the expansions of The Sims 2, saying The Sims 3 is original would be like saying the ’97 Star Wars Special Editions were original because of the two or three added scenes and snazzy new effects. Sure we get a new way to play, but it’s all cannibalized from the other iterations of the game series. It’s nothing new, it’s just being presented differently and being touted as new. Hardly the same thing.

Originality Rating: Bad

Addictiveness
I will have to give this game one thing, it is addictive. There’s always been something about The Sims games in general with me, whether it’s building out my dream house or playing with fictional characters, or just trying to get the sim to be happy, the games have always kept me entertained. I think I’ve played this one about as much since I first got it as when I plugged myself into Mass Effect when I first got it. This game is big on the addictive factor, especially with us OCD types that have to be in control of everything.

Addictiveness Rating: Incredible

screenshot-23Appeal Factor
As the first new Sims titles since 2004 with The Sims 2 (stories and the expansions don’t count), this title has a lot going for it with stream-lined play, better graphics and load times, and the option to customize out anything with new colors or textures, and you’d think the appeal factor would be through the roof. But then there’s the problem of not having the modding tools that The Sims 2 has. Granted, The Sims 2 didn’t have them at the start, but that’s where the longevity of The Sims 2 came from. Sure it had its expansions, but most people kept playing because they could put their own objects into the game, not just recolors of what EA has handed them. Still, it’s shiny and new and has a ton of interest.

Appeal Factor Rating: Good

Miscellaneous
Usually I talk about bugs here, but other than the humping cars and the other graphics glitches along with the pathfinding issues (I’ve never seen the sims in game ever find the quickest path anywhere.), I haven’t had a problem running the game. It flows and loads smoothly. I even upped the anti-aliasing and other options and it still flies. My biggest problem with it is the entire lack of options in creating my own neighborhood, and I’ve already talked that one to death.

Miscellaneous Rating: Good

The Scores
Story: Great
Graphics: Very Good
Sound: Enjoyable
Control and Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Classic
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Bad
Addictiveness: Incredible
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Good
FINAL SCORE: GOOD GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
Gaming Rexes are sad! As the first true new Sims title since 2004, The Sims 3 uses most of the classic gameplay and controls and cannibalizes elements from The Sims 2 to try and create what they call a new experience. What we get is a slim version of the game that loads and runs beautifully and looks great but is missing many of the options and objects you started with in The Sims 2. While I enjoyed the game and will be playing it more than The Sims 2, people looking to truly customize and mod the game should wait until those tools are available. Anyone seeking to create their own true neighborhoods should pass as that option just isn’t there. If you’re looking for something with more glitz and glam than the older titles and don’t mind giving up some of your options, this sim experience might be for you.

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