After six years and numerous games on the PC, home consoles, and handheld game machines, the self-aware little computer people known as the Sims may be wearing out their welcome if the console version of The Sims 2 is any indication. The original game of the same name appeared on the PC in 2004, and that game had a lot to offer. The Sims 2 featured a genetics system that let you create long family trees with aliens from outer space, many new objects to collect, expanded house- and lot-building options, more-focused "aspiration" gameplay, and most importantly, better-developed artificial intelligence, leading to even more of the series' well-known and surprising character behavior. The Sims 2 for consoles has only some of these features, and it attempts to swap in a marginally interesting new cooking recipe system in exchange for the fascinating, advanced AI of its PC cousin. What's left is a game that's long on collecting and unlocking objects and short on truly compelling gameplay.
The Sims 2 has made the jump from the PC to consoles...but something might have been lost in translation.
For some years, Maxis' team has been experimenting with console versions of The Sims, trying to figure out a way to adapt the highly successful PC series to work well in the living room. The single-player part of previous games had much more direction and many different areas to explore. However, it still kept your focus on an underlying single-player goal, like moving out of your parents' house and becoming an overnight success, or moving to the big (Sim) city and becoming the coolest sim on the streets. The Sims 2 instead features an open-ended freeplay mode that resembles the basic mode of the PC versions of The Sims and The Sims 2, as well as a seemingly mislabeled "story mode."
"Story mode" doesn't really tell much of a story. Rather than letting you tweak your family genetics directly, like in the PC version of the game, The Sims 2 for consoles' story mode forces you to roll the genetic dice to get an overall look for your sims, though you can manually adjust it later. Your sim lives in a house with two roommates and can explore a neighborhood of connected lots that have been prebuilt, but your only real goals are provided by your aspirations--a direct carryover from the PC version of The Sims 2. The aspiration system lets you choose a life goal for your sims, such as romance (the pursuit of as many stolen kisses from as many partners as possible) or knowledge (the pursuit of learning through books or studying science). Each aspiration carries with it a certain number of "wants" and "fears": wants being minor goals you can accomplish to get your sims closer to their life goals, and fears being minor pitfalls you'll want to avoid lest your sims become depressed or even neurotic. Accomplishing a want goal will cycle that particular goal out of rotation and replace it with a new one. Accomplishing many want goals consecutively will put your sim into "gold" or "platinum" mode, which indicates an exceptional level of personal fulfillment, just like in the PC game.
Unfortunately, as you play through either story or freeplay mode, one of the major differences between the PC and console versions of the game becomes painfully obvious. Previous Sims games for consoles had highly goal-oriented gameplay for a reason--because the artificial intelligence for other sims just wasn't as unpredictable, active, funny, or autonomous as in the PC version. Unfortunately, The Sims 2 for consoles has no such cohesive story or overarching goals to distract your attention from the less-responsive AI. As a result, much of the story mode boils down to following your sims' individual, unrelated wants, such as jumping on a trampoline, making a certain number of friends, buying certain objects, and so on.
And unlike other Sims games, which generally featured bustling areas full of characters to talk to (and in The Sims 2 for PC, characters that could have their own unexpected interactions, romances, fistfights, and group activities), much of your character interaction in the console game takes the form of one-on-one dialogue with other characters. In fact, in some cases, your home and the outdoor lots in The Sims 2 for consoles sometimes seem sparsely populated, especially if your sim is trying to hold down a job and is inaccessible for much of the day. When you do find someone to talk to, you repeatedly act friendly, romantic, or hostile toward the sim--and mainly because a want goal requires this of you, not because you're actually interested in talking to that other sim. Successfully completing these goals unlocks new household objects, as well as new clothing options, which you may enjoy if you're the sort of player who absolutely must unlock and collect every item.
Unfortunately, there isn't much of a 'story' in story mode.
Unfortunately, if you're not that type of player, you'll realize that you're spending most of your story mode time going from point A to point B to point C, unlocking your current goal in order to unlock the next one. Like in previous console versions of The Sims, in story mode, you must also unlock different lots before you can go visit them. So, unless you spend all your time doing nothing but completing want goals so that you can unlock new lots to visit, you'll probably grow weary of those you've already unlocked, even though some have interesting new objects, like a beach-surfing simulator, which has humorous animations and sounds when used. There's even a minor issue with the interface in story mode, since this mode constantly hits you with reminders and pointers at the top of the screen on what to do next, like The Urbz: Sims in the City did. However, this hint window usually obscures the top part of your sim's personal interface, so at times you may not be able to see what your topmost goal is, which isn't a huge concern, but it's a strange oversight in the game's otherwise good interface.