Friday, June 12, 2009
A depressing Sims 3 review
I always end up buying the main game of the various iterations of The Sims, albeit not the expansions. Not only is The Sims one of the most successful franchises in computer gaming, and I feel I need to know what it is about, but also I recognize a certain kinship with MMORPGs. Of course The Sims 3 is neither massively multiplayer nor online, but you do control a little avatar in a virtual world, increase his skills, collect gear, and do quests. But maybe this kinship is also why I usually end up not playing The Sims for very long: As I already got bored playing a fearsome warrior battling the undead armies of the Lich King, playing an ordinary person leading an ordinary life gets boring within few hours.
Like in previous versions, in The Sims 3 your sims spends the majority of his day with an extremely boring sleep - eat - toilet - shower - work routine that can't be avoided. You can speed up time, but even at the highest speed watching your sims getting a good nights rest takes far too long. There are basically two extreme gameplay modes, passiv and active, with everything in between possible. If you are passiv, and you've set your sims to a high value of free will, he'll manage most of the chores himself. He cannot however call a repair technician for $50, or pay the bills, so if you don't do anything, sooner or later everything in your house will end up broken or taken away by the repo man. Your input is also required for buying new stuff. But if you handle the money side, your avatar will get along with his life quite all right. Makes you wonder if that is the future of MMORPGs: With quests already being so easy, will we soon get an option for our characters to automate the repetitive process of "get quest - kill 10 foozles - go back and receive reward"? In The Sims 3 you already can, although in passiv mode your sim isn't terribly efficient.
In active mode you'll do a lot of micromanagement to keep all your sims' needs meters as full as possible. Being more efficient that way gives you some spare time to do what I'd call quests, little tasks that pop up randomly and are related to your sims' skills and situation: turn an aquaintance into a friend, raise a skill, get a promotion, or in the more "complex" cases of opportunities, bake cookies for the school sale and deliver them there. That all earns you lifetime happiness points, with which you can buy rewards that make you even more efficient. Then you grow old and die, unless you turned the aging option off.
Unlike previous versions, The Sims 3 was programmed by a group of obese game developers, determined to force their lifestyle onto the world. That starts with character creation, where pressing the random button in most cases creates a sim which is anywhere between merely fat to downright obese. And once you finally found a slim random sim, or used the various sliders to create one, if you don't buy the fast metabolism lifetime award or work out regularly, your sim is growing enormously fat over time. Is that supposed to reflect the American way of life?
If you follow the path of maximum efficiency and self-improvement, your sims is going to earn enough money to not only pay the bills, but also to replace his basic household items with more luxurious stuff. As for my first game I created a single sims and didn't turn off aging, I didn't get all that far in that process. By the time I was able to afford a car, for example, I was already retired and didn't really need one. Unless there is a cheat code for The Sims 3 somewhere, I guess I'll have to go for a family working two jobs to be able to afford anything really nice. Unlike real life kids apparently don't cost all that much in The Sims, and you can accumulate wealth by having successive generations inherit your house and money. That is going to take bloody forever, which is probably how it is supposed to work.
If you are getting too bored with the ordinary life of your sims, you can have some fun by doing the stuff that isn't socially acceptable. Sleeping with your boss to get ahead in your job is totally possible in The Sims 3. Even if your boss is of the same sex as you are, everybody in The Sims 3 is bi. On the other hand there is no teenage sex, no drugs, and violence and crime are limited to a comic version. So drama is limited to the soap opera kind of romantic entanglements and jealousy.
The Sims 3 has more different things to do than the previous versions. Your house is now part of a town, which you can visit, and which has shops and restaurants and places of entertainment. Talking with other sims has a lot more options than before, and there is a system where you can find out more about the other character, and improve relations by acting accordingly.
All in all The Sims 3 is a perfect doll house, a great toy, but still lacking very much as a game. There are lifetime goals and achievements, but if you are playing The Sims with achievement in mind, the repetitive and mundane everyday chores are going to annoy you pretty fast. There is a reason why you WoW character in thousands of hours never went to the toilet or took a shower: Those activities just aren't all that much fun to play!