There are three things you can count on: death, taxes, and Sims expansion packs. We can do without the first two, but we'll happily take the latter. The original The Sims received a whopping seven expansions, and now The Sims 2 receives its first pack in the form of The Sims 2 University. Cynics might argue that this is all overkill, but when a game is a huge creative and commercial success like The Sims 2, who wouldn't want more? The Sims 2 University sure gives you more. You get a whole new young adult life stage, plus a new influence system, new careers, new interactions, new items and decorating schemes, and, of course, a whole new experience: university life. That new life experience is something of a letdown, but the new items and strategic options more than make up for it.
The worst semester ever: Urele-Oresha-Cham House experiences its first frat fatality.
Many fans were skeptical when the theme of this expansion pack was first announced, but have no fear. Even if the college-lifestyle angle doesn't appeal to you, you'll still get plenty of features that apply to the core game, too. There's a new influence system that lets your sims make other characters do their bidding, from sprucing up the yard to picking a fight with someone to playing with a sibling. Your sims gain influence points by fulfilling "wants," which is akin to how the existing aspiration system works. Now, many familiar goals, like a sim's child making good grades, grant both aspiration and influence points. The maximum number of influence points your sims can store depends on the number of friends they have. In the past, sims who reached the top of their career paths could forget about the hard work of constantly cultivating numerous friendships. But if you want to use the influence system to its fullest, you'll need to keep a bunch of friends throughout the lives of your sims.
The new features in The Sims 2 University aren't just about points and strategies. There's a lot of stuff that's just plain fun. Tired of the same old TV shows and stereo tunes? Well, now there's a new sim sports channel, so your sims can laze away on a Sunday afternoon, munching chips and watching the game. You get two new styles of music for the stereos, too. You get catchy college rock and, for something more sophisticated, straight-ahead acoustic jazz in a number of authentic styles, like soulful '60s hard bop. As with the existing The Sims 2 music, the tunes are well played and filled with great hooks, regardless of the gibberish lyrics. The expansion sports catchy new menu music to boot.
Speaking of music, your sims can now play cool new instruments. You can buy an electric upright bass, a drum kit, and a guitar, replete with effects pedal board, and more. As ever, the animations for the new items are a kick to watch, so you'll see show-off guitarists playing behind their backs and drummers flipping their sticks into the air midsong. Not only can your sims practice to earn creativity points, but also they can perform for tips by playing rock, country, or jazz tunes, though you can't actually load the instruments into a taxi for a gig at a community lot. Oddly and inexplicably, child sims can't use these neat new instruments. (So much for starting your own sims Partridge Family.) For that matter, they can't use some other new items, like the pool table, which serves as a new solo or group activity. At the pool table, sims can not only play, but also perform tricks or hustle for simoleons.
Gig for simoleons with the game's new instruments.
Along with new items, like the pool table, a bonfire, treadmill, cell phone, MP3 player, and arcade games, such as Pimp Viking (quirky Maxis humor at work), The Sims 2 University also boasts new decorating schemes. There's a small collection of medieval-style items, a battered-and-tattered college dorm theme, and a psychedelic '60s theme with colors so garish you'll need sunglasses to look at them. One problem with The Sims 2 is that your interior design options are rather limited, so getting new chairs, wallpaper, and so forth is great...in theory. The new ones just aren't particularly practical, unless you're creating a swinging bachelor pad for an Austin Powers sim.
In addition to the new design elements, you get new gamewide interactions. Now sims can "hang out" (laze about and chat), introduce one sim to another, play a few new games, like pillow fights or "kicky bag" (Hacky Sack), and pull pranks. The pranks were supposed to be a selling point of the expansion, but they're a big bust. Coming from the fertile minds at Maxis, the pranks are surprisingly unimaginative and boring. Water balloons? Joy buzzers? That's just weak. It would have been better if Maxis had spent time fixing problems with existing actions, because it can still take ages to perform simple tasks, like getting kids off the school bus or accepting grocery deliveries.
A kegger with fruit juice? This is strictly a PG version of college.
As for the college portion of The Sims 2 University, it has to be said that it bears only a vague resemblance to the real thing. It's college as a 12-year-old might imagine it. The pressure cooker of rigorous course schedules and intense studying is replaced by fairly easy academic demands, though balancing those with a social life is realistically challenging. The alcohol-fueled adult antics that many students use to unwind are replaced by drinking juice and pulling those lame, PG-rated pranks. This is a bland version of college.
Nevertheless, the college portion of the game has interesting things to offer. The Sims 2 University ships with three ready-made universities, each with its own layout and vibe, though the differences are mainly just cosmetic. You can basically do the same things at any of them, and you can access any of these universities (or ones of your own creation) from your existing sims neighborhoods.
So how do young sims go off to university? There are three methods. You can pick ready-made young adult sims, fashion your own college-age sims using the usual "create a sim" method, or take existing teen sims from your families and send them packing. The option of sending a teen to college creates new strategic concerns. First of all, it's the only way to enter the young adult life stage, which seems unfair and makes little sense. It's also the only way to enter certain new careers, which, on the other hand, makes perfect sense. If you decide you want those benefits, timing becomes an issue. Do you want to keep your teen sim in the house as long as possible to build skills? Or do you pack the kid off to college as soon as he or she becomes a teen to free up space in the house for new sims?