Will Wright’s game of life came out a few months after the world appeared to be going into meltdown with rumours of the millennium bug destroying every computer ever built. Thankfully, our desktops all survived and thus countless hours of real lives were poured into this virtual world of limitless opportunity. Nine years later, the novelty of sending sims to their deaths by selling the ladder in the swimming pool should have worn off, and EA’s relentless whoring-out of the sequel may have left a bad taste in some mouths, but The Sims is back with a third entry in one of the biggest videogame franchises.
One of the most consistent complaints attributed to The Sims 2 was how your sim felt disconnected from the rest of the world. Any trip to another house in the same neighbourhood was met with a loading screen, and expansion packs were like taking a holiday from the main game. Not so with Sims 3; this time round, the entire neighbourhood can be traversed from the off with no loading taking place. Sims can walk around to their hearts content, call for a cab or buy their own vehicles to keep fit or show off their status. Neighbours can be greeted and spoken to at their own homes, which makes organising parties a lot easier, and there are plenty of places to socialise such as the park and various shops.
All workplaces are located in the town itself, which means sims can socialise before and after the daily grind instead of hanging around at home waiting for the car-pool. The mobile phone feature means arrangements with other sims or sickies can be achieved on the fly, making your character more dependable and able to stand on their own two feet instead of dashing for home every time you need to make a phone call. Locations such as leisure centres, food outlets and stores mean your home doesn’t have to be a clutter of exercising equipment, research books and items that boost particular skills, instead offering ample opportunity to be creative and a bit wacky in your designs. You can spend the money instead on visiting the gym and the public swimming pools, which again is designed to get your sim outside and socialising.
The socialising aspect means your sim can have several attempts at making friends and building relationships using the options provided, of which there are many. Like life, each sim has their own personality traits which means they respond to your sweet talk in different ways. My nearest neighbour, for instance, loved my rude joke but freaked out when I jumped into her arms, whereas the maid that cleans my house was a sucker for anything flirtatious and was consequently banged 5 ways till lunchtime. There are plenty of places to hone your skills, such as the beach in which you can play chess on the quayside, partake in a picnic with other residents or doze away in an armchair under a parasol.
The way in which your sims work has been completely revamped and serves as a great tool for helping your character develop their skills and relationships. In previous instalments, waving goodbye to your sim as they entered the car-pool meant waiting for the clock to reach round to the finish time before the much needed salary was added to your bank balance and your sim was delivered home tired and in desperate need of relaxation. Every time your sim makes a friend or accomplishes a task in Sims 3 a notification pops up on the right of the screen, and a drop-down menu on the left allows players to set what their sim performs and how hard they’ll work at it. This means if you’ve spent the day greeting everyone in sight and then sent your sim to work with their needs bars in the red, you can tell your overtired companion to take it easy and not burn themselves out. Likewise, those that spend some time ensuring their sims are in a good mood for work can make them work their guts out, or just hang out with colleagues around the water cooler and make some friends.
Apart from the demands of everyday life are the buy and build modes. The former is the same as before, with lists of furniture and appliances that can be sorted by function or room type, only this time they can be rotated in 8 directions, so it’s possible to have a TV sitting diagonally in a corner. Fashion designers amongst us will revel in the new colour palette which allows complete control over colour styles and patterns, but despite this there is a severe lack of content to place in your humble abode, most notably the omission of a hot-tub. Instead, using the launcher after inserting the Sims 3 disk, additional items have to be bought with real-life money from the EA Sims store, which already appears to be as full as Ikea. Those that buy the game brand new get a voucher with £6 credit to be spent in the store, but as of yet my code still hasn’t seen my account credited. Boo, hiss. Building houses is the same as it ever was, with the only new feature being a revamped landscaping tool. Small mounds or rolling hills can be created on any plot, and for those that wish to live like a politician in the UK, it’s possible to build a moat around your house, though I haven’t yet found an option to have it maintained with public money.
As it stands, Sims 3 is a gallant return to form and takes a direction that breathes new life into a formula that is fast reaching a decade old. Time will tell how many expansions will be released and what new locations will be offered to explore and socialise in, and indeed whether the Sims Store will be a success; it certainly brings the series into line with EA’s current business plan of offering premium content on the side. On it’s own, there’s hours and hours of fun to be had designing homes, meeting other sims, developing a career and having a family. How you do it is up to you.