After eight expansion packs and a long reign as king of the world of virtual citizenry, The Sims 2 has finally passed on its crown. The new emperor is The Sims 3, and the question isn’t whether he’s wearing any clothes, but how many racks of suits does he own and is it possible to customise the fabrics? Naturally so; in fact the game offers an impressive range of customisation options when it comes to clothes, furniture, wallpaper and so on.
But obviously there’s more to Sims 3 than putting fancy patterns on a pair of custom spatz. The most touted innovation, as you’re probably aware if you’ve encountered the pre-release hype, is the fact that the world is now one continuous environment. The days of the sim being a prisoner on a small plot of land, and jumping through loading screens in order to visit a new location, are officially over.
Now it’s possible to walk across your next-door neighbour’s lawn, stroll into town for a coffee or jog over to the park, followed by the camera the whole way. This seamless world makes the game’s neighbourhoods seem more like living and breathing places, and the lack of periodic loading screens is most definitely a major blessing.
Initially that’s the obvious striking difference, although there’s also a large dose of familiarity here for players who’ve experienced The Sims 2. The interface and controls are very similar, although that’s no bad thing as it means Sims addicts can get straight into managing their character’s lives and discovering what else has changed under the game engine bonnet. Namely, a vast slew of fine tuning tweaks alongside some slightly more involved tinkering.
The average sim is still driven by basic goals (lifetime wishes) and ‘need’ bars (hygiene, hunger, fun and so forth). However, in Sims 3 the micromanaging has been toned down, as characters will use their own initiative to look after themselves better.
There’s also a new moods system, which shows at a glance how your sim is faring. The environment and everything happening to the sim produces mood icons; something as simple as sitting in a comfy chair produces a mood boost. Similarly, having a blazing row, or indeed having a blazing house (leaving that fire on for so long was a mistake) will affect your sim’s mood badly.
Amusingly, depending on which five character traits you select for them, sims will experience mood boosts for differing reasons. For example, an evil character will get a positive mood lift from seeing someone struggling badly with weights at the gym, simply because they enjoy watching others suffer. The new traits add extra layers of definition to a sim’s character, which gives much welcome extra depth to the personality side of the game.
Otherwise, it’s all about a myriad little changes and touches that have been sprinkled over the game. As well as new careers, some jobs now have branching paths and the player decides how a sim behaves at work. Slack off, chat with co-workers or brown-nose the boss, all the while keeping an eye on the promotion progress meter. It sounds more in-depth than it actually is, but it’s a worthwhile addition nonetheless.
Building skills is now a more involved process, more interesting rewards can be purchased using your sim’s achievement points and little opportunities crop up throughout the game. For instance, if you’re a thief the mob boss might call up and ask you to deliver a bribe to the town hall. Modifying your home is also a lot easier, as you can simply pull walls around to extend rooms, with the furniture shifting with them. An enormous number of clever extras have been added to the game.
Disappointments? Well, aside from the inevitable little bugs in a game of this scope, there was only one real downer for us: the inability to see inside certain structures. Buildings which are labelled as community locations, such as the gym, are fully fleshed out, but others such as workplaces and restaurants aren’t.
Okay, we can handle work not being visible (it was completely invisible and off-screen in Sims 2 anyway). But it seems a bit odd, in this marvellous continuous 3D world, that when you pop into a diner for a meal you’re left staring at the outside of the building and a coffee cup icon representing your meal’s progress. It feels like a step backwards from Sims 2, where you went inside to sit down, order, abuse the waiters, play the pinball machines and so forth.