The Sims 3 review
Nine years on from the original game, The Sims gets a second sequel that refines the improvements made over the course of many expansion packs.
The essence of the game is still resource and task management in daily life, and if that and the open-ended gameplay seem rather fruitless, then The Sims 3 is unlikely to sway your opinion. But what does it have to offer fans of the series and newcomers?
We tried the game on two Macs: an iMac with GeForce 8800 GS graphics and a MacBook with the GeForce 9400M, the baseline of Apple's current range. On both machines, the game looks less harsh than before, and though buildings, vehicles and objects retain a certain boxy quality, in build mode, you can place objects at diagonals. The town map is also easier on the eye, with more interesting topography and spruced up street layouts, and there's a wide array of locations to visit from the outset.
To get started, you need to create your Sim, and that process has been improved by giving the player greater control over physical attributes. It's a sensible move on EA's part since character creation was one of the most appealing parts of its creature creation game, Spore.
Off-the-peg body sizes are gone, replaced with sliders for greater variation. Sims can start out skinny, fat or any size in-between. Clothing, too, can be customised with a proper RGB wheel and patterns, but some attributes are still lacking. Hairstyles, for instance, could do with sliders to tailor length and waviness. Where Sims previously looked a little glassy-eyed, they're now imbued with a livelier appearance with engaging results.
Move your Sims into a neighbourhood and, to a degree, they'll act autonomously, cleaning themselves and their homes, and making sure they've had a good meal. Take control and you can build (and destroy) relationships by clicking another Sim and selecting from the branching behaviours. Conversations are still carried out in the emotive tones of Simlish and thought bubbles that communicate desires. Perhaps surprisingly, when combined with updated graphics, it's fun to see friendships evolve and blossom into something greater.
Sadly, other aspects of life are oversimplified. Take, for example, a Sim's career. We sent one to work at the local diner, where he disappeared behind closed doors. Interaction on the job is reduced to choosing a priority such as working hard or sucking up to the boss, which is set by clicking the current task in the action queue.
By the time Sims reach adulthood, they acquire up to five character traits that define their wants and needs, on top of which they have a lifetime goal. If you've stacked these up to create a fun-loving Sim that just wants to be popular, then you probably won't care much that their working lives are simplified. But the sense of detachment is illogical and frustrating if you've created a career-orientated character. You're occasionally offered an extra task to help you climb the career ladder - perhaps washing more dishes or sometimes befriending a colleague outside of work hours - but you don't feel involved in the workplace as you do in your Sims' social lives. Surely EA could expand the gameplay to better fit the life that you want your Sims to lead.
If you're going to play on a MacBook, you'll be disappointed by the limited use of multitouch. Two-fingered scrolling zooms in and out, but more complex gestures to rotate and adjust the height of the camera are missing, and you'll have to fall back on the combination of keyboard and trackpad controls. They would have made for a more fluid camera system, as EA proved with the iPhone version of the game, making this a baffling omission. Still, if you're already a fan of the series, you'll still love this solid update, though it's not quite the leap forward you might be hoping for.