Often folks turn to computer games for some much-needed escapism from real world concerns. With The Sims, players immerse themselves in a simulation that is not hugely unlike...the real world! The key here, though, is that players take on the role of director as they play a part in the orchestration of the lives of miniature people-like Sims. This program is a most innovative simulation game based on a rather, well, commonplace concept.
Players begin by creating families of "Sims", build their homes, then play a part in the direction (or misdirection) of their lives. Players must define each gibberish-spouting Sim's personality by carefully weighting the given personality traits (including such things as), choose their "skins", and then proceed to build a home for their new family with a basic start-up pool of funds. Making more money is crucial for survival, naturally, and though players won't ever get to peek into the workplace of their employed Sim, they'll take care of those who stay at home during their working Sim's absence. All of the mundane tasks of everyday living must be dealt with - guiding Sims to bathe, go potty, prepare food, establish friendships, watch TV, take out the garbage, go to bed, and the like. Sounds too close to reality to be entertainment? Guess again. This simulation is oddly compelling and quite engrossing. Watching what players choose to do with their Sims is a psychologist's field day - players can assume their role of director taking on a relatively passive role, or actively work to pave the way for their Sims to thrive...or self-destruct. Those players with a tendency to philosophize might enjoy analyzing the parallels between human lives and those of The Sims -- whether or not it was intended as a "sim"plistic and satirical snapshot of our own lives -- reduced to a few simple formulas -- it can be fun to compare and contrast.
One particularly humanitarian kid tester never once felt the need to experiment with his newfound power by exploiting his Sims or havoc-wreaking. However, we can expect that most will want to do at least a little damage. In the long run, though, the greatest challenge lies in managing and maintaining success in the lives of their virtual pets.
Controversial issues that earn this title a teen rating by the ESRB include the potential for Sims to die (and come back as ghosts), and to engage in same-sex relationships. Another issue is the materialistic theme of the game, as there is no doubt that the more things Sims have, the happier they are - Spartan living simply won't do in the world of the Sims. You won't find a Sim living on bread and water without watching him/her fall into depression. Sims' happiness is very dependent upon the amount of "things" they've accumulated.
It could be said that The Sims, from "aspect-of-life" simulation developer Maxis, rewards you in the same way that doing housework does -- with a sense of achievement. Add to your list of chores making friends, landing and keeping a job, buying things for your house (including additions and upkeep services), and falling in love, and you'll get a sense of how that sense of achievement can quickly become addictive.
The game starts with a quick tutorial. Even those who have never played any of Maxis' games before will find that the interface is easy to learn and that the game manages to pack a tremendous amount of detail into a relatively small space. Your neighborhood, for instance, is where the entire game takes place. It takes up one screen, and there are only ten lots on which to build a house (or occupy a house that's already there). After you've chosen your lot and house, most of the rest of the game takes place there.
If you want to play the game as a newly created Sim (instead of as the "bachelor" or one of the two other pre-designed families you can choose from in the beginning), you'll have to create that Sim (or family of up to eight Sims) from scratch. This involves giving your Sim a first and last name, choosing his or her skin color, clothing, hairstyle, gender, and size (adult or child). You'll also to distribute twenty-five personality points, in five categories: Neat, Outgoing, Active, Playful, and Nice.
Your Sim's personality-point distribution makes up a large part of the AI that goes into determining how the character will interact with the game world and with the other Sims in it. For fun (with no impact your Sim's personality), you can also type up a short biography for your Sim, which will pop up whenever you click on his or her icon in the interface.
Your Sim, like any normal person, can never have a big enough house or enough things to go in that house. The options for building onto your house outnumber the things you can buy for the inside. You can add additional floors to your house (and staircases to get to those floors), choose your interior and exterior wall coverings, place a number of different windows and doors, lay down just about any pattern of carpet or tile that you can think of, and landscape to your heart's content.
Not that there aren't also plenty of furnishings on which to spend your hard-earned simoleons: choose any number of lighting styles, appliances, furniture, decorations, electronics, and miscellaneous entertainment items, such as a basketball hoop, a chess set, or a pool table. Speaking of pool, if you have the money, you can build one of those too (the kind you swim in).
There are ten different career tracks for your characters to choose from, each with multiple levels of advancement and pay. All the jobs available to you at the beginning are entry level. Beginning Sims can join the military as new recruits, become waiters (Entertainment career track), human lab rats (Science career track), security guards (Law Enforcement), campaign workers (Politics), or take entry-level jobs in one of the five other available career tracks (Medicine, Business, Pro Athlete, Life of Crime or X-treme Sports.
In order for your Sims to be happy enough to continue to develop, they need help micromanaging their lives. Left to their own devices, they'll quickly get into trouble, missing work, leaving trash all over the place, being lazy, and getting depressed. As in real life, achieving a healthy balance of sociability, nourishment, rest, play, and cleanliness is not easy, and it becomes harder as your Sims achieve higher levels of success and complexity. The "mood" categories that serve as the scale for your Sims' overall happiness are Hunger, Comfort, Hygiene, Bladder, Energy, Fun, Social, and Room.
You satisfy the requirements of these mood categories by having your Sims manipulate the different objects in the game, such as a refrigerator for hunger, a couch for comfort, a shower for hygiene, a toilet for bladder, a bed for energy, a television for fun, or a telephone (to invite other Sims over for socializing). The telephone can also be used to order pizza, or request a serviceman, maid or gardener to pay you a visit. Also, the phone will occasionally ring on its own, with a variety of seemingly random calls that range from cryptic cranks to practical boons such as winning a contest or earning a reward.
You'll also want your Sims to work with certain objects in their house in order to improve themselves for the sake of advancing at work. They can work out on the weight bench, use their bookshelf to read up on cooking or mechanics, improve their logic skills with a game of chess, or practice speaking in front of one of the mirrors to improve their charisma. Higher levels of these skills and attributes become necessary as the characters advance in their chosen career paths.
The game mixes so many features with such good ease-of-use that nearly anyone can play nearly any sort of character, with nearly any sort of lifestyle. Like most real people, though, what makes most Sims the happiest is having an active social life. This means you have to invite other Sims over frequently and engage them in long conversations. Sims don't exactly talk; they have speech bubbles with icons that represent what they're talking about. Also, instead of words, you hear a bunch of different recorded nonsense sounds that, surprisingly, convey each Sim's current attitude quite well
Despite the fact that there is no real game-ending objective, the challenge never fades. The game remains fun after many, many hours of play. It becomes harder as you get better, and it instills in you a sense of responsibility for making your Sims' lives good ones. You begin to care about the character you've developed. Hearing the flies buzz around the dirty dishes they left on the table, or having your Sims start crying because they're not getting enough sleep (or because they wet themselves on the carpet) may instill genuine feelings of guilt, and you'll want to do what you can to make their situations better as quickly as possible.
Any game that can instill such a sense of compassion for its characters is something special, especially when those characters are not great heroes in Earth-shattering situations, but ordinary people leading ordinary lives. The Sims is sure to appeal to all kinds of gamers, hardcore and casual -- the "heroes" and the "ordinary" alike.
While the colors are bright and the animations are fun to watch, the level of detail is not all that it could be. Also, the zoom and rotate features aren't quite enough to give you adequate visual access to everything in your house that you'd like to have access to. The variety and customizability available for Sims and their houses are nice, however, with more items and skins being added on the Web weekly, both by other players and by Maxis.
If you're running a largely unsuccessful game, you might end up with an annoying amount of whining and crying from your Sims. Also, the buzz of flies around your Sims' unemptied trash can and dirty dishes can become unsettling if left unchecked. The sound effects, like footsteps, the honk of your carpool car's horn telling you it's time for work or the brassy "wah wah wah wahhh" telling you your Sim just wet him- or herself are more practical than interesting. Otherwise, the Sims' nonsense language is both fun to listen to and impressive in its ability to express the emotion and subject matter of what they're discussing. For instance, if you direct your Sim to entertain a friend or neighbor, he or she will start juggling some hackeysack-looking things and "doot doot dootling" in a mock Barnum and Bailey circus-act song. If you listen closely, you might even familiarize yourself with some of your Sim's favorite expressions, such as "Bettah-nu" and "Blah bloo bluh blah." The sounds do get repetitive after a while; it would've been nice if Maxis worked in a little more variety. The music is pleasant to listen to and always appropriate. It's even funny at times, recalling some of the wide-eyed romance flicks of the 40s and 50s, with a nice mix of Leave It To Beaver-esque background tracks.
Absence of a multiplayer feature and other gripes aside, this game provides superb gaming entertainment.
There's no specific endgame condition to be met; you just expand, build, and develop as many Sims and Sim houses as you can. Maybe after playing for a few years you'll get bored or exhausted, but even then you'll still probably find yourself going back to The Sims every now and then, once you've grown weary of your other games. The Sims rivals Sid Meier's Civilization II in replayability.
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