For about a decade now, gamers have been detaching themselves from their own depressing lives by creating and living the lives of virtual avatars with The Sims series from Electronic Arts. This gaming phenomenon has reached sixty different countries and become a worldwide pastime and, in some extreme cases, actually taken over the real lives of some players. When The Sims 3 was released for the PC in 2009 (all Sims games have been designed originally for PC gamers) it rapidly became the top-selling title for North America and Europe. The last several iterations of the series have been ported over to consoles, and now The Sims 3 follows suit by bringing all of its “Barbie Dream House” fun to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Does it arrive intact? Is it just as fun as its PC parent? Will your girlfriend’s cries of “turn that game off!” change to “let me play that!” as they had before? The answer, in Simlish, is “Wetash-e-wetash!”
It’s never easy translating a keyboard-centric title to consoles. A controller is never the same as a PC and mouse combination, but The Sims Studio developers have done a magnificent albeit intimidating job of making sure all of the controls came over intact. This menu-driven title may seem downright daunting at first in terms of its controls, but even below-average gamers will get the hang of it after only about thirty minutes. It also sports a very strong tutorial system that will help you out in the beginning. The Sims 3 is not a title you blow through in a weekend, it is a title you savor for days, weeks or even months at a time; a digital ant-farm with inhabitants that vaguely resemble idealized versions of the players at the controls.
While the PC version revels in this “barbie ant farm” style and philosophy, the console versions take a more goal-oriented approach. That is not to say that it radically deviates from the PC version, but what it does is focus more on driving players toward achieving goals for their digital-life counterparts. A new addition called “Karma Points” is granted to players at midnight each night, and these points can be spent, basically, on two types of mystical “events” that will either help your Sims or unleash hell on one of their enemies. Players start out by creating their Sims (or Sim families) and are dropped into a modest home in which to begin their lives. How your Sims succeed or fail in life is all up to you and your... tendencies. Yes, in this game you are a God whose whimsy can mean winning the lottery or dying in an earthquake. All aspects of your Sim’s daily life is under your control, from the mundane to the magical.
The Sims 3 takes a step further this time out with an online aspect that allows players to download anything their Sims may need from “The Exchange;” an online item-swap store where all kinds of clothing, furniture, appliances or construction materials created by other players can be found and used. If you wish to create your own materials by yourself, you may do so and upload your creations for all the world to see and download themselves. It’s a feature that has been a long time coming for the series and is quite welcome.
Visually, the game is cute with impressive graphical flourishes. Although the box claims 1080p support, the game seems to run at a consistent 720p. It is important that the game’s main detractor be told here, and the fact that the game does have some performance issues and, in some cases, showstopper bugs is somewhat of a letdown. It’s almost a certainty that future patches and expansions will address these issues, so don’t let this fact stop you from enjoying this delightful title. The Sims themselves all animate realistically, and are speaking a “third-generation” version of the silly, gibberish language called “Simlish.” Don’t be surprised if you find yourself talking to your significant other in these grunts and tones after a long day’s playing!
The Sims 3 succeeds on all counts, despite some technical difficulties. All of the addictive, virtual-life fun that made the PC title so shamelessly successful is present here, and the fact that the developer managed to cram all of the functions into an on-screen menu system is nothing short of remarkable. The living-dollhouse nature of the title brings out both the creative and devilish side of anyone who plays it, and the price of admission is worth the look you will get from your girlfriend who cannot figure out how you can rebuild the Sims’ entire house, furnish it with expensive luxuries and guide their successful career paths while repeatedly failing to remember what day the garbage goes out in your real life.