The Sims has always been a strange game. Why would anyone want to spend their time supervising the lives of other people? I mean, I have a hard enough time getting myself fed and to work on time and keeping up with friends and keeping my wife happy and keeping my house clean (well, kinda clean) why would I play a game that requires me to do all that on a computer screen? I must admit, I played the first one, but not with the kind of obsessive intensity that so many people including my wife did. Now, four years later, my wife and my best friend’s fiancι, and lots of other people who aren’t normally that excited about games are thrilled to get their hands on The Sims 2. So I thought I’d take a quick look to see if I could figure out why they were so excited. It wasn’t easy to get my wife to share the game with me, but I did and I soon realized that a quick look wasn’t going to cut it. The Sims 2 has nicely balanced a new game with surprising depth that is still accessible and recognizable to fans of the original and its many expansion packs. The most noticeable change from Sims to Sims 2 is the level of flexibility and customization. Choice is the operative term you as the creator have more choices and your Sim-creations have their own choices ever heard of a little thing called free will?
As you begin a new game, the first major alteration you encounter is in the camera and graphics, apparent as soon as the opening movie is played. The camera is more flexible and easy to control, but the big news is that the Sims have joined the 3D world. The graphics aren’t breaking new ground except in the world of the Sims. People used to the original will be blown away by how much better everything looks, while still maintaining its quirky Sim style. The Sim music remains the same hovering on that edge between appropriate and annoying and Simlish retains its fascinating linguistic-yet-sublinguistic qualities.
Once it finishes its traditional loading screen still reticulating those splines, huh? you will be greeted by the new and vastly improved Sim Creator. You can spend hours designing people either inventing strange creations of your own or recreating real people or characters from other sources. You choose body types, facial features, coloring, several different sets of clothing, even make-up. While this type of personalization is nothing new to gaming as a whole, it is a significant step forward for Sims. The specificity can be a little overwhelming and time-consuming but there is a randomization feature that allows you to roll the genetic dice to get a basic sim to start gameplay.
Speaking of genetics, one of the more fascinating elements of the Sim Creator is the genetic mapping that allows for the creation of children. Previously, building a family with a child simply meant constructing adults and children who might not bear any noticeable resemblance to each other at all. Now if a family contains a male and female adult sim, children in the family are created through a genetic combination of the two adult characters. You can cycle through combinations until you find one that pleases you an activity that almost qualifies for a mini-game on its own. What if the Insane Clown Posse and the Spice Girls had a child? Create the parents and find out!
The neighborhoods provide more options as well. There are three pre-created neighborhoods, each with their own scenarios that range from a recreation of Shakespeare’s most famous lovers to a town haunted by alien abduction. You can also create your own neighborhood using SimCity 4, a nice gift to the faithful Will Wright supporters out there. Each neighborhood has a variety of families and individuals already in residence, some empty houses up for sale, and vacant lots to purchase if you want to create your own castle or chamber of horrors.
The architecture editor is comprehensive, with some nice adjustments from the original Sims, though after the incredibly detailed Sim Creator it felt a little bit lacking. Of course that will be supplemented by downloadable content as time passes, but it feels like more effort went into re-imagining the Sims themselves than their possessions.
On the other hand, the range of options for how to use the possessions has increased dramatically. Sims can do more with the newspaper, the computer, and every other item in the house than ever before and those options continue to expand as the Sims improve their skills. As your Sim acquires new cooking skills, a whole range of menu items appears when you select the refrigerator ranging from cereal to French toast or pancakes and beyond. Now as long as my Sim doesn’t go on a low-carb diet
Diet? You’re probably thinking to yourself. Sims don’t diet unless I tell them to! Well, not anymore. The deepest changes in the game come in the gameplay itself, and part of that includes free will for Sims (though I honestly haven’t seen one go on a diet yet). They are better able to care for themselves now which means you don’t necessarily have to click on the toilet to tell them to use it, then click again to tell them to flush, then click again to tell them to wash their hands unless you’ve created a congenitally messy Sim and if you did that, half the fun lies in seeing just how messy he or she can get! Sims choose things for themselves, from what to do in their spare time to what to eat for dinner or who to fall in love with. Some of this seems to be randomized, but much of it connects to your Sim’s inner personality and aspirations.
Yes, the Sims have aspirations now which you select as you build them. Aspirations can include love, family, money, and more. Your Sim’s ultimate ambition in life gives you a variety of lesser goals to meet along the way. For example, a Sim with aspirations for family will want to have children, get a job, raise the children well, or purchase things for the house; a Sim whose goals lie in “love” will want to “make woo-hoo” with as many people as possible, or kiss them, or propose. This adds to the gameplay significantly, as you now have more to work on during your game. Instead of simply getting your Sim to work on time or seeing how many days you can skip work before you get fired you now have a whole series of smaller and larger objectives to achieve. These appear on a slot machine style window in your bottom-of-screen menu, and each time you accomplish one, the entire set spins around and presents you with new ones. You can lock in a specific goal until you finish it, or simply see what the game gives you next. As you attain each objective, your Sim’s aspiration meter fills up. This, like mood, helps your Sim improve his/her chances of earning a promotion. You can also “spend” your aspiration meter to buy special gifts, like a tree that grows simoleons or the elixir of life to keep your Sim alive longer because now the Sims have a lifespan.
Sims live and die very differently now. A Sim spends a certain period of time at each stage of life baby, toddler, child, teenager, adult, and elder and once all the stages are passed, the Sim passes on. Aspirations are added as the child becomes a teenager, and how well a Sim accomplishes his/her aspirations can help determine whether or not their lifetime is a happy one. This is another major change your Sims look different as they age and you can’t keep the same ones around forever unless they return as ghosts.
There are ghosts in the Sims. There are also aliens who abduct people and even a bunny rabbit who appears and talks to people who are lonely enough to need an invisible bunny friend. Your Sim can even go crazy frequently as a result of bad parenting. How you raise the children in your Sim family will actually impact how they behave as adults a frightening (or funny) prospect. Part of why child-rearing can be so powerful is that your Sims have memories and fears. They will remember their happy party when they grew from a child to a teenager or the sad event when no one came to the party that helped them grow into a lonely, depressed adult. Their fears are also tied to their aspirations someone with aspirations for love will fear rejection, while someone with aspirations for family will fear their children’s failures.
The most interesting element of the Sims is the random, life-like quality of it all. Your Sims do things you never told them to do never even thought of them doing. One of the families I played with was designed to look like my wife and I and our hypothetical children, which was fine until my Sim started flirting with the cute neighbor girl from the down the street. My wife was very understanding about it until the cute neighbor girl’s dad starting flirting with our newly teenage daughter! Now we have some kind of soap opera on our hands that was never what we intended but it sure is fun to watch.