If you're reading this, there's a very good chance that you've heard about The Sims. It's been difficult to escape the popular franchise's web, what with two full games and a seemingly endless stream of expansions. The first thing you may be asking, then, is whether The Sims 3 is worth playing, or if it's just more of the same. Well, it most certainly is worth it, and yes, in some ways it is more of the same. But in this case, that's a very good thing. For anyone who's played The Sims or its first sequel, this familiarity will let them ease into it, feeling like a welcomed guest rather than an outsider. But this doesn't make The Sims 3 a simple rehash of what's come before. Instead, returning elements have been energized and extended by a number of terrific improvements, such as expanded customization tools, additional tools for interaction with other sims (and other players), and more tangible goals and rewards. Most importantly, the free-to-explore town makes you feel like part of an entire virtual society--a feature approximated but never fully realized in the previous games. By blending together the old and the new, developer Maxis has created the best, most charming game yet in the series.
6210404NoneSome Sims find it easier to exercise their jaws than their muscles.
If you're new to the series, here's a quick primer. The Sims 3 is a virtual life simulator. In it, you take control of a character called a sim, or an entire household of them. Sims have needs; they need to empty their bladders, to eat, to sleep, to bathe, to have fun, to socialize. It's real life boiled down to simple mechanics, but within these mechanics lies an entire universe of possibilities. Your sims can have babies who will cry in the middle of the night, needing their diapers changed. You can manage their personal development by sending them to the gym to work out, or by telling them to fix a broken television, or by having them play chess, or by sending them to the park to play the guitar. Sims go to work to earn simoleans (money, of course) so they can buy better things for their homes and redecorate--or just buy a brand-new home. They make friends and enemies, they go swimming, and they clog up the toilet. In other words, they act a whole lot like real people, except that they yammer in a delightful gibberish called simlish and communicate via speech bubbles that appear over their heads. It all sounds terribly mundane, but balancing the needs of your sims and tending to your digital playmates can keep you happily glued to your monitor for hours at a time.
For experienced Sims players, the laundry list of new features in The Sims 3 is extensive, but the one overhaul that has the biggest impact on the game is how seamlessly you can now move around your virtual town. In previous games, the presence of various neighborhoods led to a disjointed experience, so you rarely felt like you were in a living world. Now, your burb is freely explorable, so traveling to the gym, the art gallery, or your place of work means walking, biking, driving, or taxiing to the location in question without any loading times to break things up. Want your sim to head to the library and read up on the latest mystery? Just zoom out to the city map and select your destination, and your sim will travel there automatically, using the most efficient means of transportation. You might even get the option to invite someone along with you, so you won't have to head to the diner alone if you've got a friend or acquaintance nearby who's available to tag along.
The effect of the open town has a profound influence on the community aspects of The Sims 3. You can call other sims and invite them over using your handy cell phone, but if you're feeling adventurous, just head directly to another sim's house and introduce yourself. Or travel to one of the many public venues: the beach, the park, even the graveyard. In these places, you will have a chance to interact with other sims, and there may even be surprises in store if you happen to be in the right place at the right time. For example, you might be able to join a picnic in progress, or a midnight visit to the cemetery may introduce you to some new see-through pals. The game also provides spontaneous opportunities for your sims to socialize. Other sims will call you on the phone; if you're growing a garden, they may ask you to bring some veggies over in exchange for a few simoleans; or perhaps they'll ask you to repair a broken appliance for them. Either way, these tasks send you out on the town where you'll run into other sims, which gives you a sense of being part of a society that exists outside of your realm of influence.
Those social opportunities often result from the traits that you assign your sims during creation. These social traits are another new feature, and they influence how your sims will behave in certain situations, the careers that they will most likely excel in, the conversation options available, and many other aspects of daily sim life. You can select up to five traits for your sim, and there are a lot to choose from. So if you'd like to re-create your insane, neurotic, kleptomaniac aunt within the game, then you can do that, and those traits in turn will influence various aspects of her virtual life. For example, a sim with the neurotic trait can increase his or her happiness level by compulsively checking the sink and stove, but will also be prone to random freak-outs during moments of stress. Not only will a sim with the neat trait automatically clean almost everything, but his or her fun levels will actually rise in the process.
For the first time, your town feels like a living society.
Of course, when you create a sim, you're choosing more than just personality traits. The physical customization options are far more extensive than before. Sliders let you determine skin color and tweak various facial features, color wheels let you settle on exact clothing hues, and there are a number of accessories, hair styles, and so on to choose from. Although it would be nice to have had even more options in some cases (for example, men's available hair styles seem limited), there's a good chance that you can still create a sim that resembles your kleptomaniac aunt. There's also a good chance that you can outfit her in that crazy polka-dot dress she wears, thanks to the Create a Style feature, which lets you choose from a huge number of patterns (even those used for nonclothing items such as masonry and linoleum) and tweak their colors as you see fit. If you want to put your klepto sim in a beautiful, subtle ball gown, then by all means, go for it. On the other hand, if she prefers swimsuits made of bricks, well, no one's going to judge (except maybe the aunt she's based on).
Getting sims together is usually a guaranteed laugh. As before, you can just sit back and let things happen if you prefer, and the AI does a good job with automated behavior; sims will act in ways remarkably true to the personality that you've established for them. But directing social encounters often yields even more hysterical results, and your sims' traits allow you to direct conversations more easily than before. There's a wider array of conversation topics when meeting up with others, and you'll want to play around with all of them just to see how your friends react. Try jumping into a romantic interest's arms--he may not catch you! Take your weakling sim to the gym and watch what happens on the treadmill; kiss another sim in front of your husband and watch the slaps ensue. Or generate your own masochistic amusement by denying your sims the use of a toilet, or putting them in a room without doors. Watching the expressive animations and listening to the dramatic vocal inflections is always a delight, whether it's your toddler sim chewing on her xylophone mallets or the man of the house throwing a tantrum because there are rotting leftovers in the fridge.