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Archived Review

The Sims

B.F. Skinner would be proud.

When I first heard about The Sims, I was, well, let’s just say sceptical. Actually, I was openly derisive. The idea of helping some Sim get a life seemed way too close to home and boring to boot.
I was horribly, horribly wrong!
First, a little background. The Sims is the latest Magnum Opus from Will Wright, the man who invented the Software Toy genre with SimCity. This whole genre of games has no real ending or no real way of winning, just loads of depth and replayability. They are time wasters, divorce fodder, addictions in a jewel case. In the Sims you create a single person, roommates or a family unit and move them into a house. The house may be one of the defaults or you can build their dream home. Once the simulation begins, you are in control of everything in the Sim’s life, from showering, eating, or reading to flushing the toilet. Getting them up, cleaned, fed and off to work is an event in itself. It is the greatest irony that I have ignored the bathroom long enough to send my Sim to the m’karzi.

SimCreation

To start the game you choose to either play one of the default families, evict/bulldoze a family/house or create a family. Moral ambiguity is a requirement for this game, but more on that in a bit.

To create a new Sim you divide 25 points between characteristics of Neat, Outgoing, Active, Playful and Nice. Obviously the more you put into a category the more dominant the trait. Want a Sim who will at least flush the toilet? Increase Neat. Want a Sim who will make friends more easily? Increase Outgoing. As you play with the character traits the game will tell you what your creation’s astrological sign is. This is a nice touch and helps personalize the Sim you are about to control, er, help along the path to ruin, umm, love and happiness.

After you have picked your dream Sim’s stats, it’s time to decide what he/she will look like. You can choose skin tone, hair color, face, clothes, and sex. Maxis has already released a face edit program called FaceLift (oddly enough) that allows you to play with the faces and customize the look of your Sim further. As for the Skins, there are hundreds to choose from at the fan sites already. I myself prefer the Warrior skins Maxis released. Bob and June Barbarian are fun to abuse, um play, er, control?

After deciding on your Sim, you have to decide on whether or not you want your Sim to be alone or have a roommate or a child or six. Once you have decided on the size of group you want to experiment on, uh, with, just save them and move them into the neighbourhood.

There goes the neighbourhood.

Now you only have 20,000 Simoleons so you have to be rather frugal in your choice of houses to move into, or, if you want to build, you can’t go for the palace right off. There are some cheats that will give you extra cash and whether you use them or not is your choice. The extra money will help you get the house just right for your Sim, but making the little bugger work for the upgrades is very satisfying.

When in the ‘Buy’ or ‘Build’ mode the game is paused so you can plan your budget and decide on carpet or hardwood on the main floor. There are several sections in the Buy mode: Chairs (including beds), Surfaces (counters, end tables and the like), Decorations (art, fountains, and plants), Electronics (phones, computers TV’s, etc.), Appliances (self-explanatory), Plumbing (sinks, toilets, showers and tubs), Lighting (do you really need a list?) and Miscellaneous (fun stuff and oddities). There are many things to buy in each category and I will leave it up to you to find the right ones for your Sim(s) to own. However, to give you an example, if you buy the cheapest fridge your Sims will get lower grade snacks and meals. The better you buy, the better the food that can be prepared. The more expensive bookcase allows for better skill increases.

Maxis has made this whole section so easy to deal with. Clicking on an object in the Buy menu and you get a description. Move your cursor onto the play area and click to place your newest purchase. Click and hold and you can rotate the object to a proper orientation. A shower with its door against the wall is of no use to your Sim. Be warned though, anal retentive are the watchwords here. If you want an alarm clock, make sure you have a table to put it on. Sinks have to sit in counters. If you put no lights in a room, it will have no lighting when it gets dark at sixish.

In the Build Mode you have the ultimate power, as you get to build your Sim’s home from the ground up. From floors to walls to doors to windows, all is within your grasp. The Build mode is an amazing piece of coding and is almost as big a time vampire as the actual game. I spent almost 3 hours building a house once. I even drew the damn thing out on paper before I started construction. If you go this route, be warned that money runs out very quickly for anything other then a very simple bungalow. The other limitation is that houses can only be two stories (no basements). This is minor in the grand scheme of things. Again, as with the buy mode, there are many choices with respect to wallpaper, floor types, windows, doors, and the like. The one thing this game does not suffer from is lack of variety.

After all is ready you can get your Sim(s) into the house and now the real fun starts.

SimLife

Sims are not a bright bunch. To be honest, they are rather useless at times. Fortunately control of the Sim is very simple thanks to the interface. Click on an object and a series of options appear around a floating portrait of the Sim being abused, hmm, controlled. For example, click on the phone and get the options to call police, services, order pizza, or call friends. Click on the newspaper and you can read it, recycle it or look for a job. Instructions are queued up and you can override any autonomous act by your Sim. This is very nice for the mornings, when you have to get them up, showered, toileted, dressed and fed before the car comes to pick them up for work. (I can barely get myself out the door that efficiently. Sad, really.)

Now, it was at this point that I noticed something odd in the game; it’s a little… indelicate, so please skip ahead if you are squeamish. When I send a Sim to the bathroom and they, uh, go number 2 it can take up to 45 minutes! A stand up leak can take 25 minutes. Now I do not know who programmed the timing routines, but I do not want to fly anywhere with them in a plane with only one bathroom. The time it takes for the Sims to do things is mind-boggling. 60 minutes to eat lunch. 30 minutes to get out of bed. I know it was done to speed up the game, but it throws you.

The whole object of the game is to keep your Sim happy. They are happy if they have a nice place to live, lots of friends and a good job. The interface has a mood meter telling you just how happy they are. It will also give you an idea of their immediate needs. A small red/green bar will tell you what level your Sims’ needs are at. There is a bar for: Hunger, Comfort, Hygiene, Bladder, Energy, Fun, Social, and Room. If the bar is mostly green, then the Sim is good in that area. If you let the energy bar drop to zero, the Sim will just pass out on the floor and sleep. If you let Bladder drop then, well, three guesses what happens. If your Sim is a think for themself kinda guy/gal then they may take care of some of the more immediate needs like hunger, energy, hygiene or bladder.

SimTraining

Sims need to interact with the world around them, both people and objects. I will cover objects first as they have the greatest potential for disaster. A solid rule to follow is to make sure you buy a bookcase of some sort and have your Sims study cooking immediately, before they do anything else. Trust me on this one, okay? My wife spent about an hour getting a family all set up with a good house, only to have the Sim wife start a fire while making lunch and immolate herself. While funny, it’s counter-productive. It is also good to teach them mechanical skill so they do not electrocute themselves while changing light bulbs. (HAHAHAHAHAHA- I’m sorry, I know it’s cruel but there are so many fun ways to kill your Sims, it’s almost another game. I really want to start a web page with screenshots of Sim Darwin Awards). Other things like having them practice speeches in front of the mirror or practice the piano raises charisma and creativity (working out raises body and Chess raises logic). This will give them chances at better jobs or promotions, and are, as far as I can tell, non-lethal.

Now comes the fun part - other Sims. Sims interact with other Sims through speech and action. The Sim speech is very annoying after a while and is the biggest complaint I have. The language is late 20th Century babble, as near as I can tell, and becomes grating during a marathon Sim session (and most are). But let’s move on.

Once you move in, the other Sims in the neighbourhood like to come and welcome the newbie. Clicking on a Sim gives you options on how you can react to them. The opening options are talk, ask to leave, or joke. As you come to like (or dislike) the Sim, you can tease, entertain, scare, compliment, hug, give back rubs, kiss, even ask them to move in (wink, wink). In the game titillation is kept to a minimum. If a Sim undresses the naughty bits are pixelated out. However; the Sims have the sexual manners of minks. Multiple partners are pretty much the norm in Simworld. Same sex relationships are very easy to create and on the whole I must congratulate Maxis for allowing them. Outside of the standard American television slap and tickle sexual innuendo that permeates games and media, this is done with a sense of fun. Hell, I had one Sim get married then steal someone’s wife and have the other husband hit on him. It makes ‘Sex in the City’ look like a Disney film. Be forewarned, most job promotions come after you have acquired a certain number of friends.

The game gives you a visual guide as to how much someone likes you by placing a small bar under the portrait of the Sim you are talking to. Green good, red bad. If the bar goes completely red and the Sims are still in close proximity then a fight will break out. Again Maxis went for the comic and the fight takes place inside a cloudball that is easily recognisable by anyone who has watched a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Nurture other Sims with talk, tickles and back rubs and you will have a friend for life.

SimCradle to grave

While you can create children for your Sims (Party of Five here I come), if the relationship you have is going great you can expect the option of having a child. The blessed baby arrives and your life is never the same. You have to care for the baby for three full days or Social Services will show up and remove that particular burden. If you survive, you end up with a kid who will run you ragged (they grow upsofast).

On the flipside, you may have noticed that your Sims can die, either through accident or malicious intent (more on that in a bit). When they die they are replaced by an urn (inside) or a gravestone (outside). Family members will mourn in front of the remains and I have had Sims come on to my property to waa-waa-waa over the ashes of someone they never met. If you are lucky the poor departed will haunt your house as well.

SimSadist

Okay, there is a dark side to this game. The pure amount of evil you can perpetuate on your Sims is amazing. Luring the entire neighbourhood into my house then sealing the doors and removing the food and toilet is just one of the many indignities I have visited to those under my care.

My favourite trick is the house within the house. Make a house with double walls. Start with 4 to 6 Sims. Move 3 or 4 into the wall space and seal them in. (Edgar Allen would be proud). Give them a bed, food and bathroom and they will survive if not thrive. Setting death-traps by letting the sink overflow then using the microwave is fun, as is getting a Sim to light the Fireplace. I’ve even done death matches by sealing 8 people in a house and waiting until only 2 remained. Those two got to get a real life and are doing very well thank you. Walling up the urns into the walls (where else) provided a Poltergeist-like feel to the proceedings.

I know it’s sick, but it is fun.

SimPly fun.

(Sorry had to do one pun.)

The Sims is a giant step forward in the software toy time wasting genre. It is also a great cross gender game. The only violence in the game is the havoc you create. My wife loves the game as much as I do and that is amazing. Maxis and Will Wright have outdone themselves with this title.

If you want to lose several enjoyable days of your life running [Ed. Note: Ruining?] someone else’s, this is the game for you, but be warned: it will take over your life. Don’t be surprised if the next time you ask a friend/spouse to do something, they reply: “What am I, your Sim?”



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