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Game Over Online ~ The Sims Unleashed

GameOver Game Reviews - The Sims Unleashed (c) Electronic Arts, Reviewed by - Fwiffo

Game & Publisher The Sims Unleashed (c) Electronic Arts
System Requirements Windows, Pentium II 350MHz, 64MB RAM, 4x CD-ROM, Copy of The Sims
Overall Rating 82%
Date Published Wednesday, October 23rd, 2002 at 01:02 PM


Divider Left By: Fwiffo Divider Right

Every time an industry group takes a look at the top selling games, The Sims and its many expansion packs will undoubtedly be featured in the upper echelons of the chart. It boggles me how these statistics are usually gathered. Do they stand for the world market or the North American market? The Sims is like a piece of ironic and sarcastic comedy on the North American suburban life; white picket fences, minivans, SUV, Krispy Kreme and all. You have to live in this world, I think, to truly appreciate its subtleties and its puns. Anyone living significantly abroad may have a little trouble with it, as much trouble as we have today with puns in Shakespearean comedies.

Its popularity confounds critics as much as Deer Hunter did, although with The Sims, I wholeheartedly believe there is some unique and genuine magic to the game. But with every successive expansion released, there will be those who will question whether Electronic Arts is truly wringing the life out of the series, like Fox is doing to The Simpsons and NBC to ER. The Sims: Unleashed comes at an untimely period, when critics are beginning to point to the tiredness of The Sims game. All the while it comes hot on the heels of the much anticipated The Sims Online. Unleashed, however, aptly illustrates this old dog still has some tricks and amongst Sims fans, it is one of the more prolific efforts by Maxis to inject life into their simulator of, well, everyday life.

The most dramatic change from Unleashed is the new neighborhood. It is also the first one you will likely see. To really cement the suburbia parallels, Unleashed puts your existing neighborhoods into a much larger one; one that includes community centers, parks and quaint cafes that dot the suburban landscape. This new place is called Old Town and it's sprinkled amongst a few new houses and pieces of land. The residential plot you ran earlier is now integrated into the Old Town as a district or zone. Old Town works much like Downtown (the new place you acquired in Hot Date) except the attractions are tamer but you can still have a meal, wine and dine in Old Town as you did Downtown with other neighbors. Time passes in Old Town, unlike Vacation, so you'll lose your job if you spend too much time here.

The second fundamental change to Unleashed is the introduction of pet animals. Pets largely come in two flavors: interactive ones, like dogs and cats, or semi-interactive ones, like turtles, fish and birds. The autonomous pets are individual entities. That is, they take part in your family and you develop a relationship with every dog or cat you encounter. By default, they will follow the master around and you can even take them into other expansion packs, like Vacation, although pet lodging is not immediately available. Rather than be a burden on you, the pets themselves are pretty autonomous. They don't need constant feeding (unlike some of the Sim characters in my stable) and can usually amuse themselves by interacting with neighbors at home or people on the streets. In some of my games, my pets actually had a more vibrant social life than me, which is probably a pretty sad state of affairs.

Unleashed goes the full mile for pets. Not only are they semi-autonomous family members, they can also be pampered and taught tricks. Once you gain the trust of a pet, you can train them to do things (the simplest one is jumping) but there are also practical things too, like fetching the newspaper (very, very useful in my case) or asking your pet to sit and stay while you go hit on some cheap floozies. Tricks can be performed at local shows and you can win awards that adorn a trophy cabinet at home. There are other items that you can use to furnish your pet's home, like a dog house, a bath machine, a variety of plush beds (including a Persian tent for a cat) and accessories to feed him or her. Yes, there are genders and you can choose from a variety of breeds. For the pet crazy amongst you, there is even a mini-playground set.

Your pets will do a lot of stupid things in the beginning. Urinating in your house is something that you'll want to scold your pet for. My pet dog, for example, had an infatuation with toilet water. But pets also have a few skills that they can improve on over time, adapting to in-house life or being obedient to your commands. As a corollary to this, you also have some careers that revolve around animals, like a veterinarian. Guess what kind of relationships you have to foster to get ahead in that career.

There is one significant career that Unleashed adds to the fold and that's the job of the farmer. Now, you can create plots of land in your backyard, buy seeds and then proceed to plant crops. The crops themselves take a few days to mature, provided you weed and water them on a regular basis. Any field of significant size will take you most of the day to tend to so this is, for all intents and purposes, your day job. Afterwards, you simply take it to Old Town and hijack (or borrow) someone's vegetable cart to sell your goods. The pay isn't spectacular but it is the first Sims career where you'll be able to actually monitor their work progress, with all the comforts of working at home. After tending to six fields, you can always tell your farmer to go to the bathroom instead of tending another six.

If you think about it, a lot of these things were already done before. Old Town, for example, merely looks like a dressed up suburb of Downtown features. Pets, in the form of fish, were around before. Now, you simply get dogs, cats, iguanas, birds, turtles and even more fish. Finally, the new career path of the farmer is more hands-on indeed. But I've also had soccer moms in my Sims games simply paint pictures for a living. It wasn't as lucrative as a 14-hour work day on the farm but it got me by.

So are all these new things really all that new? After playing with Unleashed, I think there are significant advancements. I remember, upon the release of The Sims back in 2000, the developers were asked, "Why didn't you let Sims go to work?" They answered something to the effect of it would be boring. But then, slowly, they added Downtown and Vacation spots, until one day, we now even have an option to watch a Sim go to work, albeit, only one line of work. Thus, all the restrictions and preconceptions of what The Sims can't do, is now out of the door. The new Old Town neighborhood is a visceral testament to that.

There are a few minor quirks with the game. For example, upon introducing the pets, you also have a lot of stray pets or neighbor pets who come and visit you. Once you initiate contact with one, you'll have a relationship meter with them. I don't know about you, but more than half a dozen fuzzy animals dominating my relationships screen tells me something queer about my Sim's social life. Not only do they count as significant relationships, but the strays will come in, use your facilities (to put it lightly), eat your pet's food and simply live in your house for a few hours before moving on.

Unleashed also introduces skunk problems to the game, to which you'll have to call an animal pest control unit to remove. However, the existing helper aids really need to be expanded on to reduce the monotony of the game, especially if you're not cheating and you need to hold down some kind of day job. Maids, for example, don't fill up your pet's bowls or walk the dog. Similarly, gardeners skip right by your vegetable garden and/or your crops.

In larger families, pets only add to the tedium of the game as you struggle to get everyone to dressed, fed and go do what they need to do. With every rule almost broken in The Sims, save for the sunny weather day in and day out, I think Maxis seriously needs to consider making another distinction within families. Instead of direct control over anyone, there should be those who are considered autonomous and those Sims whom you want to play, should become semi-autonomous. That way, if you want to focus on the drama between your dog Skip and little boy Bobby, you won't have to worry about the basic necessities of mommy, daddy and grandpa.

The pets do add a new dimension to the game, though, and so does Old Town. The farming career is a glimpse of something that I hope Maxis will capitalize on in later packs. Still, I can foresee a barrage of negative critiques, especially when The Sims Online is right around the corner. But I have to allude to the perennial NBC sitcom, Friends. Some people hate that show for its shallowness while others embrace it. The Sims, in effect, is much similar and the haters will be the ones who will play this game on fast-fast forward most of the time, only stopping to queue up more events for their character. One hopes they don't critique Friends in the same fast-forwarding manner.

It is the human comedy, the interactions, however ridiculous, ordinary or clichéd or stupid, between people, that we crave most. Great epic stories and interesting sci-fi premises will always come and go (yes, even Lord of the Rings and War of the Worlds) but the joy of watching people interact, connect and explore each other is something that will always be timeless. It is something that we will never stop being fascinated in, until one day we all become hermits and live in solitary caves.

Now that I think of it, even Friends had their own pets on the show to add to the comedy. And that's what Unleashed brings to The Sims too. I still have hopes for the nearly three-year old The Sims. Maybe one day, they will fulfill my dream of having valets, butlers, footmen, maids and cooks work for my Sim, not unlike the upstairs characters in Robert Altman's Gosford Park. A Sims household where the British upstairs/downstairs drama is simulated--now that would be a fine piece of entertainment.

 

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Rating
82%
 

 

 
 

 

 

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