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We take a walk through The Sims' brand new neighbourhood, tipping our hat to perky sims as we go...
We know you're all eagerly anticipating The Sims 3. TVG readers have been making that point abundantly clear on the comments board below over the last couple of months, venting their anger at the game's delay from its previous February release window to a later June 5th release date. The first thing we can assure you of is that this delay was made purely to iron out bugs and improve the game prior to its release, rather than to move the product into a more profitable release window for EA.
It was an issue that we spoke at length about with the game's Associate Producer, MJ Chun, when we went hands on with the PC exclusive earlier this week. Keep your eyes peeled for a Q&A with MJ on TVG next week but, until then, we can regale you with our first experience of the title since the Leipzig Game Convention last summer. Then we merely got a first look at the title amongst a crammed demonstration room filled with sweaty game journalists, but now we've sat down with a more streamlined interface and gameplay style that promise to move the series forward in leaps and bounds.
A More Than Worthy Successor
The Sims 3 looks like it might do everything that The Sims 2 threatened to do but never quite achieved, even with the onslaught of expansion packs that followed in its wake. When you look back over four years ago to the last full Sims release, the title didn't actually add that many hearty additions to the original Sims' gameplay. Sure, you could take a stroll around the neighbourhood in The Sims 2 where you'd find some weird looking aliens and families that grew older through scripted life periods (indicated by instantaneous growth spurts), but it was largely the same gameplay experience overall.
The Sims 3, on the other hand, will streamline everything we know about enhancing a sim's quality of life. No longer will you spend most of your time checking that their bladders aren't bursting at the seams, or that they're becoming delusional with a lack of sleep, much less that they might keel over from starvation or become depressed because they live in a pig sty. EA assures us that Sims will become much more autonomous over these areas of their lives in The Sims 3, leaving you to focus on more important issues such as their life goals.
These life goals are based on the traits you assign to each sim when you design them in the character creator (more on that later). For example, if you were to create a sim who has the traits of being an angler and a bit neurotic, then one of the life goals for them might be building a perfect indoor aquarium, while a task required to complete that life goal would be catching 15 perfect tropical fish. Please note the use of the word perfect to denote the character's neurotic persona, adding a touch of humour that's drawn from the nuances of each sim that you create via the original character customisation screens.
And character is the key word here, because we've never experienced sims with so many different inclinations and penchants for certain modes of behaviour. It's unpredictable to the point that it becomes entertaining - it's almost fun enough just to leave each sim to its own devices and see what they get up to. The traits that you choose at the get-go are what determine this, with elements of character as ranged as hydrophobia and having a dream of leading the free world, to being a bit of a schmoozer or suffering from absent mindedness.
These then play-out through the usual command interface for each sim that we've seen in all the previous iterations. Selecting a sim will bring up a radial interface that allows you to chose from a variety of actions, whether they're telling your sim to flirt or dance around a bit with another sim, or simply to cook some food for guests or take a nap. The dial seems to be a touch more detailed than what we've seen in previous Sims games though, opening up deeper and more varied sub-categories of actions depending on who you're socialising with and how much progress you're making.
These sorts of interactions with other sims are now much more prominent in The Sims 3 over previous games, which is thanks to a mood system that puts a stress on socialising over the general upkeep of a sim. In short, you'll be spending much more time trying to break up the marriage next door by being rude about the husband while flirting with his wife. The Sims 3 emphasises creating a story for your sims rather than simply keeping them alive, which is why the game will allow users to create their own movies and edit them using a mash-up tool in the final game. EA has noticed various modders creating their own movies for The Sims 2, and it's something that the publisher wants to encourage in this sequel.
Rest assured, gamers won't be starved for content in the final game, with plenty of tools and features that will broaden their gameplay experience. As with The Sims 2, much of the modding will be committed through various character customisations, with EA now opening its doors for modifications of fabrics and designs that users can create or download from other Sims players. But even without these mods the character customisation is still notably deep, making it possible for gamers to create characters as obscure as an old man in slippers and a dressing gown with purple skin and fluorescent green cornrows.
All of this action will play-out in a game world that provides the sort of scope and scale that we've always wanted in a Sims game - one that encapsulate an entire village or town sized settlement, complete with a central park where you can meet other sims and complete life goal tasks to your heart's content. It's a truly living, breathing world with NPCs that are acting autonomously, marrying other sims and having children regardless of whether you're interacting with them or not. A DNA system also ensures that character traits and likenesses will be passed through to further generations in the natural way, while some sims will even live on after their deaths as ghosts that inhabit the town.
Truly a forced to be reckoned with, The Sims 3 looks like an inspired product at this late stage in development. EA seems to have listened to its fans in the creation of this sequel, and listened hard, providing a game world that's teaming with the life of fully autonomous sims, all of which have a specific (and usually quirky) story to tell.
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