The Sims 3 Review
I must admit that I was a Sims virgin up until recently; I’d always been intrigued by what appeared to be a super casual game that had magically caught the attention of the public at large, but I was too busy eviscerating Nazis and pistol-whipping zombies to commit to something decidedly less... violent.
Partially due to maturing and partially to being an achievement whore, my gaming tastes have broadened considerably and so when The Sims 3 was combined with a controller in a streamlined package, my game of life was ready to begin.
EA worked wonders with porting the notoriously complicated RTS genre to home consoles with Red Alert 3, and The Sims 3 sees a similar adaptation. You’ll essentially use the analog sticks as you would a mouse, and there are plenty of hot keys and multi-tiered option wheels to quickly access what you need to. It works well enough, though you’ll have to take the first hour or so to figure out where everything is and what it does. Especially for casual gamers, I can see the menus alone being a very intimidating barrier to entry.
And that’s what’s most surprising about The Sims 3; I’m literally in awe that a game so freaking complicated somehow managed to usher in a new age of casual gaming. Just creating a single Sim is on par with creating a hero in Oblivion or Fallout. I spent at least an hour mulling over all the different possibilities and character traits I could choose from, knowing full well that getting a single one wrong would literally mean a (virtual) lifetime of disappointment. Do I want to be an infant, teen or adult? Do I want to be socially inept but extremely hard-working and successful, or do I want to throw the best parties in town while mooching off other Sims to get by?
That’s not even including choosing your physical appearance. I don’t know if I ever had the patience for customizing an avatar’s nose and eyelids outside of Rock Band, but I sure as hell don’t now. That being said, the in-depth physical customizations in The Sims 3 are highly involving. You can also create personalized styles and clothing (or houses) and trade/sell them online, but I found this feature too confusing and hollow to be of any use. I’m guessing there just weren’t any objects available online since each time I did a search, nothing happened. I’m glad it’s included, but if the communities not there to support it, what’s the point?
Once you get started, you’ll live out the day-to-day operations of your Sim(s). I made three Sims to start off with and get a feel for the game, which was admittedly a bit ambitious concerning that triples the amount of multi-tasking required. Sims will get hungry, tired, horny, and so on as the hours go by, and it’s your job to make sure that all their needs are attended to or else they’re throw up all over the place and maybe even set your house on fire.
You’ve probably heard about the insanity possible within Sims games, such as locking a sole woman in a room with a bunch of men with no exits or toilets and a single bed, or creating entire living nightmares from which the Sims cannot escape. You can play on their fears and desires to absolutely terrorize them until your heart’s content, and even when you’re not placing the city’s lone toilet on an unreachable island surrounded by fire, the Sims will do weird shit all on their own. This one chick kept coming over to my house at 2am and playing her goddamn guitar while everyone was trying to sleep. What the hell? How did she even get in? Why are there no Sim attack dogs?
But for the sake of thoroughness, I tried to play it straight, send my peeps to college or get them careers. And this is where the game started to fall apart. My first batch of Sims were test dummies, and I discarded them for a household of six Sims (the maximum allowed) once I devised a plan to become rich beyond my wildest fake, in-game dreams. Four of my Sims were designed to be relentless workaholics, and I got them all the best jobs possible: doctor, lawyer, congressman, so on. One of my Sims was a French maid who just cleaned the house all day and gardened and made dinner. And the last Sim was just for fun, so I eventually made her a professional lesbian athlete, although the journalism and crime careers were also tempting.
Now, four Sims working full-time jobs should be enough to elevate a single household’s financial standing, correct? Apparently not, as even after two weeks of in-game time (several hours of actual gameplay), kissing bosses and co-workers asses to complete milestones or wishes and get raises, I couldn’t afford to buy an HDTV, let alone a car, or better house with enough room for everyone, or anything that would have made the game feel like it was progressing beyond the monotonous tedium of actual life. Perhaps The Sims is too good at the whole “sim” thing, but I play video games to escape the boredom of the daily grind, not go through the motions all over again for people who don’t even exist.
To further compound my frustrations, the game’s command queue (the order in which you tell Sims to do things) is outright broken. I would give one Sim a list of things to do and then move on to another Sim, only to return a few minutes later and find that the previous Sim decided everything I told them to do was garbage and they’re going to walk to the park and read a book instead. When the things they don’t do unexpectedly cause a chain reaction of bad moodlets on the rest of the household, The Sims 3 quickly becomes more chore than game.
There’s a great deal more to this game, and I encourage anyone even remotely interested to dive in and see if it’s a good fit, as millions of others obviously have. Yet, despite the grandiose ambitions of the Sims concept and all of its inherit potential, the sluggish MMO-esque pacing and a handful of technical frustrations smother the experience into an early demise. In this way, The Sims 3 commits the greatest crime a game possibly can: I want to have fun, but it just won’t let me.
[Reviewed on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3]