by Adam Rosenberg
Five years and eight expansion packs after “The Sims 2,” Maxis has finally stepped away from the drawing board to deliver a new approach to their popular life simulation franchise in “The Sims 3.” The changes range from subtle to dramatic, though ultimately it all still boils down to running partially AI-controlled rats through a maze. In the case of “The Sims” of course, those rats are actually human beings and the maze, a small-town community.
There is no story in “The Sims 3” except for the one that you create yourself. The first step is to create a Sim or a family of Sims to be your own, a process that now results in a much more realistic approximation of real people. This is largely thanks to five assignable Traits slots (ie evil, slob, party animal, lucky, loves the outdoors, never nude) which in turn informs the created Sim’s Lifetime Wishes, long-term goals that earn you points which can be spent on a variety of tedium-killing perks.
As for the game side, play is no longer explicitly focused on managing Needs meters such as hunger, bladder and so on. The needs are still there, submerged behind several menus, but they all inform a new, constantly visible meter that indicates your chosen Sim’s Mood. Performing different activities opens up Moodlets, which function as time-based buffs or penalties to your Mood. Lifetime Wishes provide definable goals for each Sim to work towards while randomly occurring daily Wishes offer smaller, easily achievable goals, acts as minor as giving your significant other an amorous hug.
Endlessly Replayable: Like every other “Sims” game, “The Sims 3” is designed to deliver radically different experiences on repeat visits. New elements such as randomly occurring Opportunities ensure that even identical Sims will experience different life stories.
We Got To Live Together: The neighborhoods of old are gone. Sims now dwell in one contiguous space as part of a whole town. Your home, place of business, shopping centers, recreational & learning facilities and more are all visible and accessible on the same map.
Streamlined Tedium: Each Sim still has Needs, but the Mood meter and associated Moodlets make keeping track of it all a snap. Rather than watching for one need or another to dip, you instead respond to negative Moodlets as they appear; if you get slapped with a penalty because your Sim has to pee, then send him to the bathroom. The expectation is that you’re eventually performing routine, lifelike actions to preemptively eliminate negative Moodlets.
If Wishes Were Fishes: Daily and Lifetime Wishes, and the Lifetime Wish Points you earn for completing them, add an almost RPG level of carrot-dangling and long-term customization to the game. Earned points are spent on Lifetime Rewards, each of which functions to make your Sim’s progress through life easier. You’ll make friends quicker, spend less cash in stores, have an easier time picking up new traits; it all depends on what you choose to “purchase.”
Great Power, Great Responsibility: Like its predecessors, “The Sims 3” still boils down to lots and lots of micromanagement. As more people enter your family circle, managing them all becomes quite a chore, especially since every Sim has an annoying tendency to do what he or she wants if left unattended. There are a lot of wheels to keep spinning in your typical Sim’s life; managing an entire clan of the fake humans can be a daunting experience.
User Unfriendly: “The Sims 3” is certainly bright and colorful, filled with whimsical imagery and sly pop culture in-jokes, but the non-stop stream of tutorials which pop up to confront newcomers is frequently overwhelming. Even longtime fans are going to experience a learning curve as they adjust to new gameplay systems. Series noobs are in for a slow learning process as they come to grips not only with the complex underlying meter juggling but also the series’ unique pacing.
Microtransactions: The Exchange, where user cans freely trade created items, is now joined by an official Sims Store. Here you can spend real money on points, which can then be used to purchase a variety of household items, pre-made Sims, even (eventually) whole neighborhoods. The new feature isn’t terribly surprising, but it also leaves players with an extremely limited collection of household stuff to choose from. A robust pattern creator allows players to put in the time to make each object distinct, but those coming off of “The Sims 2” and its many expansions will quickly want for more crap to choose from.
“The Sims 3” remains the unique experience it has always been, albeit with some welcome streamlining. The changes aren’t enough to make the game completely accessible to all, but mass appeal really isn’t what a proper “Sims” game has ever been about. Fans will certainly appreciate the more focused approach to simulated living, but newcomers will similarly be just as mystified as they’ve always been. Although it remains a “Sims” game through and through, “The Sims 3” is without question the best in the series so far.