What can be said about The Sims that hasn’t already been said a hundred, no a thousand times before? Ever since that fateful day in January of 2000 when Maxis unleashed The Sims on an unsuspecting horde of PC users, the gaming world has never been the same. Flocks of usually non-gamer types amassed to their respective retail outlets and purchased more copies of the title than the publisher could dish out, earning The Sims the title of most popular PC game ever. Then the mud-slinging began. “The Sims is a girl’s game” some would declare, “A hardcore gamer wouldn’t be caught dead playing The Sims” others would pronounce. But I never listened to those naysayers, with their dollhouse mentality and complicated shoes, and I wish I could say I’m better off because of it. But the fact of the matter is that The Sims has penetrated the deepest reaches of my subconscious, forcing me into exhaustion-induced reckless abandon. If I go to the bathroom or take a shower, who will look after my sim?! He’ll gorge himself on unwholesome snacks until dawn and relieve himself on the carpet if I’m not there to instill good manners and etiquette! And so it went, as my sim got a taste of the better things in life and developed healthy, satisfying relationships with his neighbors, my real life was reduced to playing make believe; reality be damned.
Luckily, my obsession was met with reason and eventually my crack-like habit of dwindling my life away one click at a time came to a bittersweet end. When the myriad of expansion packs were released, I simply turned a blind-eye. “That stuff’ll kill you”, I’d say to the hostility-prone consumers who were still caught in the throes of a Sim-induced gaming binge. But when my editor asked if I’d like to cover the new Sims game on the PS2 I said sure, why not, one last time, for old time’s sake, I can handle it. Upon nonchalantly booting the game up, I was enticed by the sexy new 3D engine, beguiled by the ability to jump right into a pre-made scenario, inveigled by the host of new additions to the game. Ten hours into my experience with The Sims’ new “Get A Life” mode, I thought to myself “I can quit anytime, I’m not addicted, I’m not .. an addict”. Then it was 6 A.M., my real-life guest was passed out on the couch, and I realized that I had just spent nearly half a day tending to a fictitious little digital representation of myself. How could I let this happen, again? My name is Carlos, and I am a sim-a-holic.
But my addiction isn’t unwarranted, I assure you. How was I to know that Maxis refined and polished the classic The Sims foundation to such an extent that I’d fall in love with the game all over again? I was expecting a straight port of the three-year old PC game, and moreover I was expecting the transition from keyboard and mouse to Dual Shock to be rife with complications. Boy was I wrong. Surprisingly, The Sims on the PS2 plays even better than the PC original. The ability to seamlessly rotate the screen at any angle with the R-analog stick, move the selection cursor around with the L-analog stick, and view every possible statistic by pressing a different direction on the D-pad, makes the Dual Shock even more efficient than using a keyboard and mouse. You'd think that targeting small items using an analog controller wouldn't be able to compete with the precision of a mouse, but you’d also be wrong. When you click the cursor near two or more objects, a menu will pop up allowing you to quickly select which item you want to interact with; there you go, problem solved.
The first time you start up The Sims, your only option is the “Get A Life” mode. This rich and deep mode of play begins in a dream sequence as you are living life in an enormous mansion with all sorts of wonderful and expensive things around you. But as soon as your dream girl or guy walks in, you wake up to realize that you actually live in a tiny house, with your mom no less. To make matters worse, the TV is on the fritz, your mom doesn’t know how to cook, and the chump change in your pocket isn’t nearly enough to move out on your own. This first stage of the game has three objectives: fix the TV, learn to cook, and swindle (the game says “borrow”) -- whoa, déjà vu -- 800 bucks from mom to move out. Once you move out, the set of objectives will change to other things like getting a roommate, getting promoted in whatever occupation you’ve chosen, and so forth. This brings the immersion to a whole other level: a Sims game that you can actually beat, now that’s what I’m talking about.
As you tend to your sim’s specific needs - comfort, hunger, social, bladder, etc - you’ll be compelled to try new things and build skill points in different categories like mechanical, creativity, and body. And as you build up the skills of your sim, it will become better at doing things; anything from making more nourishing meals to fixing broken appliances quicker (and with less chance of horrific electrical shock too). As your sim excels at these things, you will be rewarded with varying levels of remuneration. Most rewards come in the form of new household items to play with and use, but more substantial success will yield far better results like new modes of play for example.
One of those modes of play is a nifty two-player game wherein two people compete in various time-restriction based objectives, like eating the most food in the shortest amount of time, dancing with the most people, talking to the most people, etc. The premise is astoundingly simple but the amount of entertainment that one, or two actually, can derive from them is surprisingly immense.
But despite my unbridled affinity for The Sims, there were a few things that tended to rain on my parade. The first thing that got on my nerves was the incessant buzzing of flies coming from somewhere in my sim-house. From where? I don’t know. I scoured every inch of the place like a lunatic searching for a trash can that needed to be emptied or a dirty dish that needed to be cleaned, but my search for the elusive buzz yielded no results. “Where is that buzz coming from? WHERE ARE THOSE GODT-DANG FLIES!?” “There's that buzzing again, I'm about to lose my mind, up in here.” Aside from the invisible flies, the inability to switch to super-speed at will was another annoyance. By hitting R1, you can speed up time to around twice as fast as normal, and when your sim is out to work or sleeping, the time will automatically switch to super speed. But building skills takes a ton of time, and having to sit there watching your sim workout for long durations can get old. Lack of auto-save is another issue I ran into. About two hours into my game I had skipped a couple days of work, which resulted in losing my job, which resulted in a big fat game over screen. Suffice to say, I was not pleased when I discovered that I'd have to start from scratch because I didn't save my progress. But these are all very minor qualms on an otherwise perfectly tuned experience.
Visually, The Sims is a sight to behold, if only because the transition from 3D-style sprites to full-on polygons is so seamless and efficient. Every object in the game, be it a plate of food or a jumbo plasma-screen TV, is rendered with impressive detail. The Sims won’t be winning any technological awards in the graphics department but when compared to the PC original, the difference is night and day. The coolest addition to the visual facet of the game is the ability to freely rotate the camera. |That may not sound like much but once you get used to the convenience that it brings to the table, you’ll swear by it.
You won’t find an audio presentation on par with The Sims in any other game on the PS2, it is filled with believable yet vividly fictitious sim-lish (sim-style English) that transitions from ho-hum conversations between two sims to actual songs that can be heard via an in-game stereo. These songs, I tell ya, these songs are absolutely brilliant; you can have your sim switch the genre of music between rap, dance, country, jazz and more. The style of these songs reflects their real-life counterparts with eerie similarity. What’s more is that the sound effects in the game - from brewing up a fresh cup of cappuccino, filling a bathtub with water, or typing away at a computer - sound extremely, extremely convincing. Just phenomenal, that is the only way to describe The Sims multifaceted aural arrangement.
Well, I thought my sim lovin’ days were over, but just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in. Even after spending countless hours with The Sims on PS2 (and loving every minute of it, mind you) I can’t help but wonder what the next manifestation of The Sims will be like. The Sims 2 may very well be the death of me. Unless Maxis decides not to make the game. But they will, right?