Though it's the first game in the franchise to be developed independently of creator and sim game guru Will Wright, the Sims 3 still retains the same soap-opera-style addictiveness as its predecessors. Once again you are an observer of the trials and tribulations of quirky computer people, but this time the focus is on watching things unfold in a dynamic community that's more open than in any of its predecessors.
As before, what makes the game so endearing is its sense of whimsy, where almost nothing is taken seriously. Here the humor is heightened by the traits available to assign to your Sims, which influence how they react to others and behave in the world. Over 70 traits are available in total, so you're almost guaranteed that no two Sims will be alike, whether it's a hot-headed loner who hates the outdoors or a clumsy kleptomaniac with commitment issues. You'll want to create as many Sims as possible, seeing how close you can replicate an annoying family member, a Hollywood star, your friends and neighbors, or even yourself.
When you first start the game, registered owners will be able to choose from two destinations: Sunset Valley and Riverview. You can then purchase an empty lot or move into an existing dwelling. Each town offers a number of destinations on the map for recreation, shopping, and employment, each represented as icons. You can simply click on a destination and your Sim will either hail a cab or drive a car to reach the point of interest. Sadly, entering certain buildings means you'll lose contact with your Sim for a time. These "rabbit holes," where your Sim will disappear and reappear after the allotted time has passed, are sure to disappoint those expecting to follow their created Sims at the workplace, movie theater, restaurant, and other venues.
If there is an overall goal in the Sims 3, it's to build lifetime happiness, which is your "score" of sorts, and can be used to purchase special talents that make living as a Sim a whole lot more entertaining. There are the basic needs to fulfill to keep your Sim thriving (hunger, bladder, social, fun, etc.), wishes that periodically appear (up to four can be saved at any given time) to grant a boost to lifetime happiness, and moodlets. Moodlets are temporary boosts or penalties incurred by your Sim based on what's happening in his or her life. Most moodlets are positive, so sitting by a warm fire, exercising, or receiving a compliment from another Sim will increase his or her happiness. If a Sim has a negative moodlet, such as being disgusted, you'll need to either clean up the immediate area or simply leave the offending room or situation to avoid being penalized.
While moodlets, wishes, and lifetime happiness give the game a sense of structure, there are plenty of other things to focus on for those who like to create, modify, and explore. You can build a six-story house (providing you have the financial means), create new patterns, strive to become a creature-robot cross breeder or an international superspy, discover secrets around the neighborhood, and find romance. The sense of community goes beyond the virtual realm: you can upload created Sims, lots, objects, and patterns for others to download in an online component called the Sims Exchange. While Sims fans may have seen most of this before, it's generally much easier to do things in the Sims 3, whether it's moving into a new house, demolishing a wall, or adding a roof.
While the Sims 3 is far from perfect -- there are some glitches like Sims walking through each other, getting stuck, or caught in a loop -- it's hard not to be impressed by the scale of the game and the sheer randomness that can occur within the potential storylines. Your Sims can have children, optionally grow old, and grieve at the graveyard over the passing of loved ones. A ghost may haunt your Sims' dwelling, a thief might break into your house and still a prized possession, and you might catch a romantic interest kissing another Sim (enduring a "heartbroken" moodlet as a result). Fans of the Sims 2 will lament the loss of features introduced in previous expansion packs, such as pets, seasons, and higher education, but the Sims 3 is nonetheless an absorbing title thanks to the character dynamics and near limitless potential for creativity.
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