Electronic Arts is embarking on a new initiative to put out some premier quality titles on the iPhone/iPod platform. Instead of repackaging old franchises, the publisher is releasing games in conjunction with their hits, and The Sims 3 is about as big of one that Electronic Arts will publish in 2009. So what do we get with The Sims 3?
The basic tenets of The Sims continue to exist in this iPhone version of the game. You are given a chance to babysit your virtual Sim’s needs including hunger, sanitation, sleep, entertainment, etc. On top of that, you have the option to purchase what I call baubles and what critics of Western society would call consumerist capitalism in which amassing things like wealth, bigger houses, bigger TVs, bigger everything will lead to some sort of gratifying existence for your Sim. And finally, you get a chance to develop relations with other Sims in the town that will fill that lonely void that is innate to all human beings. Most of us get out of bed every morning if only to try to accomplish those things alone.
But wait, The Sims 3 offers more. On top of the sandbox gameplay, your Sim will now have personality traits and from there be offered mini objectives (wishes) that will guide the gameplay. For example, if you create someone who is promiscuous, you get the great inside track into meeting people but the (un?)enviable task of needing to sleep with a few of them. On top of the personality choice, there are over seventy wishes in the game but a lot of them are generally applicable to Sims of all personalities such as catching 15 fish or making minestrone soup. The question is whether you really want to do this. I, for example, grew rather tired of creating the village idiot so I had no wish (no pun intended) to complete the more annoying mini objectives. You can accept up to five wishes at one time or you can choose to ignore them as your Sim will still survive performing well with the sandbox portion of the game. Like in real life, no one will die from not fulfilling all their dreams.
The reason why I am lukewarm to the whole wish idea is simply the randomness of the objectives. Gameloft’s Night series (Paris Nights, Miami Nights, etc.) also has a random set of objectives but they are all tied to an overall storyline. In that game, you do have to make friends with x amount of people or do this or do that but it all contributes to the overarching goal of the story of becoming a celebrity. In The Sims 3, the wishes of the Sims seem almost like things you’d pull out of a Freudian stream of consciousness. It’s like reading a William Faulkner piece.
The Sims 3 features four career tracks: restaurant, commerce, science and politics. Jobs happen like they do in the previous iterations of The Sims, it’s a timewaster that sucks away your available time to do other things. You basically commit to a 9-5 type schedule (depending on the job) and it pays you and leaves you with a little bit of your day left to let your Sim enjoy yourself. I’m sure that sounds a lot like reality to certain readers.
Speaking of fish, there are several mini games in The Sims 3 which take advantage of the iPhone. Cooking food involves playing a version of Taito’s Cooking Mama except with not quite as many recipes. Fishing involves using your iPhone as the rod. Although none of them are too sophisticated, they break up the monotony of simply queuing up a bunch of orders for your Sim to do and get you actively engaged with the game.
From a technical standpoint, The Sims 3 is actually an impressive title. The character customization is well done. There are plenty of opportunities to zoom in and see the details of your Sim against others in the town and the use of color is expansive. The visual representation of small town North America is spot on. The only problem is the lengthy loading times which you have to endure. For example, to leave your house to go fishing, you have to load once to get to the town map. Load one more time to get to the lake once you exit the birds-eye map. Once you get to the fishing spot where you will engage the fish command, another loading screen pops up for the mini game. The load times are not instantaneous either which can lead to some longer than expected waits.
That’s not all there is to The Sims 3 though. It looks as if The Sims 3 is going to let you purchase items in the future like its PC cousin. However, right now the option is not available but I’m sure once they can figure it out, Ikea will come knocking on your door. In the meantime, you have a smaller version of The Sims 3 in your hands. Think small town upstate New York, rather than Manhattan. While Electronic Arts bills the game as limitless gameplay, unless you love nature and nurturing, you’ll eventually hit a wall with the game and run out of baubles to buy and achieve.
There is a certain undeniable professional polish to the iPhone version of The Sims 3. Its gameplay is charming and it captures the magic of The Sims without being too overburdened. That’s why it’s no surprise it was the top selling iTunes App Store title in its first week out. But as you play the game further, you come up against its limitations, which hopefully will be addressed with upgrades and expansions that The Sims franchise is known for.