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The Sims 3 Review

Improves on the franchise in fresh and interesting new ways, but intentional lack of content and some underdeveloped ideas keep it from reaching the heights of the original

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The Sims 3 is a life simulation video game in the popular and critically acclaimed The Sims franchise, originally created by Maxis. It still stands tall and unique, as no other game has come close, or even attempted to, overthrow the Sims franchise in the genre. The reason for this is the sheer brilliance of the original game, which lets you control your Sim, a human being, as they go about their daily lives and you control their every move and decision. It was addicting, revolutionary, and of course great fun.

Many big content expansion packs later, The Sims 2 was released. It received a huge boost in graphics, content, and features. But to the disappointment of many, the game lacked any of the features from expansion packs of the original game. It was fair though, since the new engine required EA to re-build everything from scratch, and all of the original Sims expansions would simply create too much of a game. But no matter, fans were lining up and breaking sales records for the game. EA then decided to start releasing content packs for Sims 2 much like they did with the original. However, fans were split over EA’s decision to create new packs, rather than re-create those from The Sims. Closer to the announcement of Sims 3, EA was simply putting out “Stuff Packs” now rather than any new gameplay content or elements. This only appealed to hardcore players and bored mothers, alienating whatever true gamer audience was left.

The Sims 3
Apparently, you can meet some very nice people at a riot

And so arrived The Sims 3. This review may seem to be all over the place, because in all honesty it is rather difficult to review such an impressive and expansive game all in one sitting. So I will assume that my readers already know what The Sims series is about and what the general gameplay mechanics are. So instead I will focus on the new stuff. One thing I’d like to get out of the way, is that Sims 3 may feel like a ripoff to some. Yes, it already broke sales records of Sims 2, but unfortunately the Sims 3 actually has even less content than Sims 2 did at launch. This is disappointing, since there is not an excuse “because it’s a new engine” this time.

Also instead of expansion packs, it seems EA is moving into the direction of micro-transactions. Chipping away at your money from home rather than making you go to the store to get another box. The Sims 3 requires the EA download manager to even start the game (clicking the EXE will not work), and there are a bunch of community features available. Sure, you can now easily find friends, upload gameplay videos and share stories with others Sims 3 players pretty quickly, but it also means you must run the Download Manager the whole time you wish to play the game, and have it idle in the background. Another option in the Manager is the mentioned mini-transactions. Here, you manage all of the content you’ve purchased at EA Store and can add/remove it from the game pretty seamlessly. It’s clear that in the future as more content becomes available to purchase, the Download Manager will have quite a big role.

On to the game then. One of the big new features in Sims 3 is finally the ability to leave your square piece of property at any time, and either walk or drive anywhere in the huge town map. Unfortunately, while it seems like a feature everyone has asked for in a very long time, it does not quite offer that much to do. There are a many “public” venues you can visit where you can shop, buy books, see a play or simply interact with other Sims. With enough money, you can buy a property and actually come back every week to pick up a percentage of the profit it made. It’s a neat feature, but adds little to actual gameplay other than providing some extra income with no effort on your part.

Public venues such as parks and simple streets are also a cool place to go and do things like fishing, jogging, and just enjoying your day out. Everything is not as great as it appears though. For public venues such as the grocery store, stadium, city hall and many others, you can enter and perform some kind of specific action which will bring you a random bonus. For example, enter city hall and select to get a tour – this will increase some of your skills and entertain you. Go see a movie at the theater – get some comfort and entertainment points. The problem here, is that all these public buildings are empty. That’s right, your Sim just enters them and disappears. You can’t zoom into the building and see it like you see your home. It’s just a blank building if you zoom into it, which is extremely disappointing I think. The public places such as parks and streets aren’t that much fun either.

Because the game doesn’t wish to take up your PC’s resources, you live in an empty world (with some cars randomly zooming about) until you drive out to a location such as a park. When you get there, it’s empty, no matter the time of day. The game then realizes where you are, and you can watch other Sims arrive, all from almost the same direction. Again, this completely takes the immersion away from the game. From there they behave fairly naturally, talking to each other and performing whatever activities are available. You can interact with whatever Sims you choose, and there is a nice feature that you can invite them back to your home right away if you’ve made a friend.

The Sims 3
That looks awfully familiar

As usual, you get started with the game by creating a Sim. The character customization is not very different from Sims 2. You can adjust all kinds of sliders for facial features, attempting to create a photo realistic self. You still have the body type slider which takes your Sim from skinny to fat. Pick this wisely, because the same as your facial features, you cannot change your Sim’s appearance after you start (even if you make your Sim work out and max his athletic skill).

Once you’re happy with your physical looks, you can select your Sim’s standard clothing for all occasions, much like in previous games. But this is all old news. The catch here is that only a few hairstyles and clothing selections are available, and if you want more – to EA Store you go and shell out a few bucks. A new feature of your Sim customization is the ability to select your voice by either making it low or high pitched. But the biggest change is the Sim Personality selection, that will greatly affect how your Sim will live out his life and what action he will take, what he will like, etc. You can give your Sim 5 distinct traits from a selection of about 60, things like party animal, kleptomaniac, daredevil, childish, hot-headed, ambitious, snob, vegetarian, hates the outdoors, technophobe, inappropriate, loner, grumpy, great kisser, workaholic, excitable, green thumb, never nude, insane, flirty, evil and clumsy. These traits will then affect your Sim’s mood in the game accordingly, and also give various bonuses. For example, selecting “Neat Freak” will make your Sim fast at cleaning the house, and will also give a big Mood boost when he lives in a clean house. It’s a very cool system that lets you create tons of interesting personality variations and play the game differently.

You also have the huge “Lifetime Achievement” selection, and this usually means choosing a difficult to obtain goal, such as reaching a certain career level. Accomplishing this task will give your Sim a huge boost in Lifetime Points (discussed later) and big moral boost for a few days. You can then select a different wish by spending a lot of the Lifetime points. Don’t be surprised to spend some time customizing your Sim, the system in place is definitely quite good. For the first time ever, you can also create more than one Sim and control them within your game. The game now takes perspective of the whole town rather than just you. The rest of the world lives on while you control one family. Often, the other family you create can even come for a visit to the family you currently play as. If you want to switch though, another loading screen is required and you can only control one family in real time.

The Sims 3 also contains quite impressive and new RPG elements. Some things from previous games are now actually described in detail. What I mean by that, is now your Sim has an inventory. In it, you can carry pretty much anything. Things like the book shelf and fridge are now inventory spaces. You must place various meats and vegetables into the fridge if you want them to remain fresh, and you can store many various books on your shelf. Thankfully, this inventory management is done without an actual interaction – your Sim doesn’t need to walk to the shelf to put the books away, you can just drag them from your inventory to the shelf.

To get food and books, you must visit the book store, and grocery store in town, respectively. Here, once again you aren’t actually able to see inside. Instead, an inventory appears which lets you browse the store’s selection and add items to your cart, which you then purchase and put into your inventory. This is all quite interesting stuff for a franchise that never went quite this deep. Another example is finishing, because now you actually catch fish, which goes into your inventory and can be prepared and eaten or sold. Small cool things will also happen in the game, such as the book store or grocery store announcing a sale on a certain item, such as 10% off all tomatoes.

The Sims 3
Why did I buy that expensive stove again?

Your Sim also has a Blackberry-like device on him at all times, which does not take up an inventory slot and will ring together with your home phone –no longer do you miss calls in the middle of the night because you didn’t wake up fast enough. Gardening is also worthy of mention, because now you can plant seeds anywhere you want and care for them, then collecting your harvest for consumption or re-seeding. One more big RPG element is your work. The standard selection of careers still exists, but now you are actually engaged with your Sim while he is at work (in one of the city’s buildings). You can set your Sim to work hard, relax, interact with others, or even help the boss. You don’t see these changes in interaction, but they have affect on the gameplay, as your stats change and relationships are created. You can adjust what your Sim is doing at work at any time, but it’s best to focus on one/two actions per day to actually get an effect out of them. Your Sim is promoted at work much like in previous games, by increasing whatever skill is needed to the required level by reading or watching TV.

The progress you make at work depends on your mood as well, and your mood is very much affected by the personality traits you’ve selected at the beginning. But that’s not all – your Sim also earns “Lifetime” points for every minute you live. These points can be spent on various upgrades, such as making your Sim a good party host, a charming office worker or a quick-learning repair man. Once you gain enough, you can even spend points to change one of your core personality traits. The way to earn these points is to complete various wishes your Sim gets. These wishes are mostly dependant on your personality, the people you know and your skill levels. For instance, your Sim may want to order a pizza. You click on that wish and it is added to your 4-slot wish storage. As soon as you fulfill that wish, you get the bonus Lifetime points promised. Wishes can also vary, such as preparing a specific meal, making a friend, buying a new TV, etc.

As promised, changes were also made to the classic gameplay formulas. Your Sim no longer needs to go to the bathroom 3 times a day, and all of the “Needs” are much easier to satisfy now. In fact, you can buy a pizza (which strangely takes a very long time to go bad) and eat only its leftovers for a week. It fills you up completely, requires no ingredients or cooking time. It almost feels like I am cheating at the game. One complaint I have though is that your Energy now drains pretty quick, and there is no way to boost it other than sleeping or relaxing on a bed/couch. In previous games, you could at least drink Espresso coffee to give yourself more hours in the day to do stuff.

Pretty much all of the classic Sims 2 and 1 features are back, including exhausting new interaction options for almost every object in the game. The buy mode is pretty much identical, except of course it’s lacking many items you’d hope to see, such as more electronics or even a hot tub. Most are readily available at EA Store for your precious money. The build mode is also not changed very much, except now you are able to completely customize the available items, such as floor tiles and wallpaper, by giving them a custom color or design. The same can also be done with any Buy mode objects, but to a lesser extend of customization flexibility. You really can “customize everything” here as the game box promises.

The game runs on the Sims 2 engine for the most part, and it runs well enough. However, the engine is showing its age when you zoom out to see the town or select a destination to attend. Regardless of the specs, I experienced frame issues on both my test machines, one being medium and one high-end. So it’s not me that’s causing the issues, it’s the engine. And it’s been a number of years since the previous game, so it’s not exactly surprising. Other than that though, if you were able to run Sims 2, you should have no problems with the latest instalment of the franchise. The sound design is still outstanding, with background music being as catchy as ever, and SimLanguage giving you a good laugh now and then. Character animations are fluent, but disappointingly unchanged from Sims 2. There has been some issues reported with corrupt game saves, or struggling to get Sims 3 started because the Download Manager is being finicky, however I have thankfully not experienced these issues during my time with the game.

The Sims 3
Having a lot of friends over causes some hilarious pathfinding issues

The Sims franchise is a really amazing piece of work, that’s being well rewarded for it’s accomplishments by loyal fans. At some point though, you would expect that the blind followers of the series will realize they are part of a big money making machine now, and perhaps take caution before purchasing that new hairstyle or clothing item for their game. Sims 3 is a huge step in the series, but not quite the leap that Sims 2 was. A lot of the features in the game are well-conceived but disappointingly executed. I would be all but ready to give Sims 3 an excellent score, because the new character customization and breathtaking customization levels are well worth the price of admission. However, a clear business plan aimed at driving consumers into spending more money simply cannot be ignored. For the new features that you get, yes Sims 3 is worth a purchase even if you own both previous games. Just be prepared to spend a lot more in the coming weeks if you cannot resist the temptation.

Our ratings for Sims 3 on PC out of 100 (Ratings FAQ)
Presentation remains unchanged from the Sims 2. There are more animations and various new gestures, it's solid but nothing revolutionary.
Some great new gameplay ideas with the Life goals system. Ability to leave your home and travel around town is a great start, but there is very little to do.
Single Player
This is still an open-ended game with no "end". You are free to play as long as you wish and accomplish any goals. The lack of out-of-the-box content is appalling, Sims 3 has the fewest game items out of all the series. Rest must be purchased.
(Show PC Specs)
CPU: Intel Core i7 CPU 930 @ 2.80GHz
GPU: Sapphire Radeon HD 5870 Vapor-X 1GB
OS: Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
PC Specs

Solid loading times and frame rate. Some have experienced issues with screen tearing during cross-town travel. A few crashes and lost game save files.
If you are a fan, you probably already own it. If you've never played the franchise, then you must give this game a try. It's the latest and best in series. Just be prepared to fork out even more money than ever before for DLC.
Sims 3
Sims 3 box art Platform:
Our Review of Sims 3
The Verdict:
Game Ranking
Sims 3 is ranked #153 out of 1982 total reviewed games. It is ranked #11 out of 63 games reviewed in 2009.
152. Gears of War
153. Sims 3
154. Quake 4
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