The Urbz: Sims in the City is the latest title based on developer Maxis' incredibly successful PC game The Sims. And instead of restricting itself to tiny neighborhoods, the new game takes place in the big city. Maxis' bold changes to the original formula set forth by The Sims aren't all for the better, but they make The Urbz a very distinctive and surprisingly solid game. The removal of some aspects of the series and the emphasis placed on other areas suggest that The Urbz might be best suited to a specific audience, but it retains enough core elements to appeal to most any fan of The Sims.
The Urbz isn't about building a home--it's about hanging out in the big city.
Unlike The Sims for the PC (and most other The Sims products), The Urbz doesn't focus on building up a fabulous home or getting to know your neighbors well enough to love them or hate them. Instead, the game lets you create a group of up to four different "urbs" (the hip, urban version of a "sim") in a single saved game session, and control one of them at a time. Your character can start his or her career in one of the game's nine districts, each of which is designed around a particular type of urban subculture, such as skaters, ravers, and bikers. You have a set of roughly analogous goals to accomplish in each area, but your primary goal is to improve your reputation by socializing with urbs in the different neighborhoods. In fact, most of your character's interaction with other characters will happen as a direct result of your efforts to become more popular. Successfully socializing with other urbs (that is, interacting with them using the appropriate conversation commands, or "socials," without horribly offending them) increases an onscreen "reputation" meter that, when continuously filled, can make your character more famous and even appear on posters throughout the city. Filling up your meter, along with completing specific goals like advancing in a career path, can unlock access to new districts and areas, new standard socials, and new "power socials"--especially effective socials that can also be used to scare off bullies and muggers.
Like in other The Sims products, you interact with other characters by choosing from a preset list of socials, but The Urbz actually color-codes socials to show which ones will actually work (green socials always succeed, yellow socials only sometimes succeed, and red socials always fail). This minor addition makes getting in good with other characters much easier, but if you're aggressively trying to complete your goals, it has the side effect of making character interaction a lot less interesting--you'll end up using only the few green socials over and over. You can also increase your standing in a district by changing clothes at that district's clothier, which, depending on the district, will let you deck your character out in a good variety of different getups, including knit caps, flannel shirts, high heels, dreadlocks, facial and body piercings, and even tattoos. And you'll unlock more content by achieving other specific goals, such as scaring off bullies, using specific socials in different districts, and advancing through the first, second, and third levels in the game's new career system.
Unlike previous The Sims games, The Urbz lets you control your character directly at work at temporary jobs like being a short-order sushi chef, a pro skater, a sculptor, or a fashion model. You complete your "job" by pressing your controller's buttons in simplistic four-button sequences (three-button sequences in the GameCube version, presumably because of the default GameCube controller setup), as well as looking after a few other miscellaneous concerns, such as maintaining your urb's hygiene while making California rolls. Once you've completed the basic level of a job, you'll need to train in a specific skill to advance to the higher-paying second and third levels of each one--for instance, to be a level-three bartender on Cozmo Street, you need to increase your "mental" attribute. The actual act of pressing controller buttons in sequence isn't especially challenging or interesting (and it's the same for every single job in the game), and neither is the tedious process of using a skill object, which requires you to hammer on your controller's A button repeatedly (or X for the PS2 version) until your skill increases enough to take on the next job level.
You'll use your mobile phone to manage goals, inventory, and relationships.
Your goals, messages, and inventory are handled with your character's mobile phone, which rings whenever you receive a new message or unlock a new goal. Sometimes you'll be mobbed with too many messages to really keep track of them, and while the phone interface handles some features well, like your relationships with other characters and your remaining goals, it doesn't do a good job of organizing incoming messages (which appear in one long list) or managing the items you purchase for your urb's apartment or apartments.
Like in other Sims products, your character has a home--in this case, an apartment that can be decked out with different wallpaper and furniture. But in a baffling change, you can't buy anything for your apartment while you're in it. You must instead visit the cash register in each district to buy items, sight unseen, to bring back to your apartment and place. Since entering and leaving districts requires you to sit through a load time of 10 to 15 seconds (sometimes more on the PS2 version) each way, and since most of The Urbz's action takes place out in the city, there's very little incentive to furnish your apartment, which basically turns one of The Sims' most fundamental gameplay mechanics--building and designing a home--into something you may not even bother with. Considering that you can lay down some skill-increasing objects in the middle of the city, and also that you can find nearly all the amenities of home, including food, entertainment, and even a bed, out in each city district, you practically never need to return to your apartment, and you probably won't.