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TVG gets caught up in Simglish and spends plenty of Simoleons in The Sims 3...
Wake up, have breakfast, go to work, get back home, eat, go to sleep... It's surprising just how accurately The Sims manages to model the mundane routines of daily life. But fortunately, there's much more to life and so it seems is the case with The Sims 3.
The Sims is an odd franchise. You probably won't find it appearing on too many hardcore gamers' top 10 lists; yet it's a franchise that has shifted over 100 million copies from two main titles and a steady supply of expansion packs. Naturally this is the one that Sims fans have been waiting for. Under a different leadership (EA Redwood Shores instead of EA Maxis) and following the delay earlier in the year, The Sims 3 has finally arrived and we've got to admit it's been worth every minute.
From the first screen, The Sims 3 is both welcomingly similar yet satisfyingly different. Creating your Sims has undergone a bit of an overhaul, bringing greater control over every little detail, yet never in an overly long or elaborate way. Although you can easily spend a couple of hours perfecting every microscopic detail, the setup makes it easy enough to get up and running in no time at all. Selecting character traits from a huge list now provides the groundwork, choosing between characteristics such as 'Commitment Issues' to 'Kleptomaniac'. Certain traits will contradict others, so you can't have somebody who is 'Brave' yet also a 'Coward', but choosing five provides the canvas for Sims that are thoroughly unique and for a considerable spectrum of different actions. Choosing the correct Traits is also key to doing well at work and advancing the career ladder when it comes to picking a job, but more on that later.
Choosing each Sim's Lifetime Wish provides an ultimate goal to aim for, which is complimented by smaller Everyday Wishes such as speaking to a specific Sim or watching the local football team play a match. Not only do these provide mini objectives to add a challenge to the traditionally 'open' Sims experience, but by successfully completing them you can earn Lifetime Happiness Points to unlock Lifetime Rewards such as always throwing a good party or cleaning in half the time usually needed. It seems there's an almost endless spectrum of opportunities that The Sims 3 provides. Interactions between Sims has been greatly enhanced, whether it's moaning about the dirty dishes to your virtual spouse, or criticising the book that one of them is currently writing.
Building and buying new items to decorate your house has also undergone a considerable overhaul. Walls can now be built diagonally and items placed at angles. The range of colours and patterns that you can apply to virtually everything in the game is bigger than it's ever been; you can literally get lost in the myriad of options to tweak and tune. The result is a dream for those that like to put their stamp on everything in the game.
Of course you're not really going to go anywhere unless you get your Sim a job. With various different careers to follow, working has been given a slight revamp. Although you still don't actually watch your Sims going about their daily duties, you do have a level of control over how they exert themselves at work, i.e. choosing to catch up on some sleep when your Sim has a had a bad night, or working hard on the boss's paperwork to improve your chances of a promotion. There's also much more to jobs than ever before as your develop each Sim's career. We haven't sampled every career path, but the option to rummage through other Sims' rubbish bins in the hope of finding a juicy scoop as an aspiring journalist, gives a hint of what to expect. You can also expect plenty of Job Opportunities (along with Skill and Special) to pop up along the way, which provide timed challenges such as entering your prized dish into a catering competition, or securing an interview for a front page scandal.
Breaking away from the rigmarole of the 9-5 is as much a challenge in The Sims 3 as it is in real life; although this time around there's plenty to see and do thanks to the seamless integration of the town. Stepping outside of your home and into the town no longer involves an arduous load time. Everything is entirely seamless which creates a level of cohesion that has never really been present in The Sims before. Every building and landmark can be interacted with in some form: items can be purchased at shops; different lessons learned at various venues; or just simply take a stroll on the beach with your loved one. You can easily spend as much time in the town as you do back at home; just make sure not to sacrifice any furnishings or DIY unless you really want to annoy your Sims. Tied into this, is the introduction of the Story mode, which ensures the city is alive and thriving. Sims beyond your control will lead normal lives, moving away, having children, and eventually dying. It takes the concept of The Sims 3 being about the whole town rather than just your home to the next level, however the option to switch it off is a welcome one for some Sims fans we're sure.
With such a considerable range of new things to see and do, perhaps the single biggest change is the reduction in micro-management that's required. EA Redwood Shores has done a great job of automating things, yet at the same time sustaining the micro-management if keeping close check on your Sims is what floats your boat. Much of the experience still revolves around looking after the Needs of your Sims, but you'll certainly find yourself instructing Sims to take a visit to the toilet less frequently than ever before. The streamline from eight different Needs down to six coupled with the introduction of 'Moodlets' makes getting to know your Sims a much easier task than ever before. Moodlets cover a wide variety of emotions from the vast array of actions available in the game, each of which are based around the specific traits of your Sim. They're a visual representation of all the inner-workings going on under the hood, and in turn affect the flow of Lifetime Happiness Points that your Sim is earning. So you can be sure your Sims will be grumpy all day if they discover their precious rug that tied the whole room together has been stolen, whilst having a good night sleep will keep your Sim happy for the course of the day. This isn't to say EA Redwood Shores has automated everything and all you have to do is watch (and occasionally buy); exactly how much control you want to exert is largely down to you, but it's nice to see Sims looking after the most basics on their own without too many instructions.
The Sims 3 also benefits by the closer integration of the various online features. Players can easily share custom videos and content, and we'd suspect the ability to purchase new items with micro-transactions will keep EA's balance sheet healthy for the next few years. One of the big issues in The Sims 3 is the decision to release the game without any online DRM. Although the game has inevitably found its way onto torrent lists, the heavy integration with the online website, the ability to download a second town, and the online shop is surely enough incentive to convince any hardcore Sims fan not to spoil the experience. You're really going to miss out on what The Sims 3 has to offer.
Despite its many successes, there are still elements that need further work. Watching your Sims sleep is still a tedious event, especially when you need to ensure they're getting at least seven hours kip. Surely the creative bods behind The Sims can think of something to make this time of the day more exciting for the gamer; perhaps linking in a Sims dreams with Lifetime Wishes? Despite the increase in things to do and see, there can still be a Groundhog Day feel to proceedings and we'd suggest that The Sims 3 doesn't quite manage to achieve its lofty goal of telling stories as opposed to the gameplay combination of scheduling tasks, managing resources and decorating the place.