The Sims 3 Review

In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called it “night.” By the sixth day, we are told that God also created man. And then, in the seventh day, he decided to rest, content of what He had created. Bearing Schopenhauer in mind, I prefer to believe we are still in the seventh day, contemplating a God that has hidden himself from his creation, leaving this world for a less complex one: in his free time, God… is playing The Sims.

Welcome to the world of limitless possibilities, to the human Animal Planet heaven, where anyone can become a small and mentally disturbed Big Brother. Existence is much more convenient in The Sims 3, because, for the first time in your life, you can fine-tune what defines you, ranging from those strategically placed moles to your personality. You can choose your qualities and flaws; you also get to choose your weight and appetite so that you can finally fit perfectly in your own shoes.

This title surpasses the first games of the series when it comes to forcing the borders of science and human nature. The Sims 3 proves to have learned a lot from his Big Daddy, the universal life simulator Spore, and now boasts a similar way of customizing your characters.

It all begins in front of the magical mirror, where one confronts with their inner self. So The Sims 3 will follow the same rules, bringing you into a confrontation with your digital ego that risks never finding an end. Apart from the usual adjustments of different face muscles, the game now has a unique system that handles textures. You can combine different textures in infinite colors and nuances and you can mix them together to create revolutionary clothes designs, flower power hair or vampire looks.

Mirror, mirror

Mirror, mirror

If standing-out is an absolute must for you, you’ll be thrilled by your avatar’s voice pitch that can now be modified too. In a nutshell, The Sims 3 offers all the necessary tools to explore the limits of a virtual body. And, once you’re satisfied with the easily obtained six-pack, you can choose five of 63 personality traits that combine into 32 Lifetime Wishes, to coin the look and feel of your Sim’s existence.

Deceiving game

After all, The Sims 3 is a game and, like any other game, it must have a “catch”. So, out of all those nifty Lifetime Wishes, you, as the player, have to choose only one that you think your Sim can somehow accomplish throughout his life. Similar to any normal human being, your Sim too will age and inevitably die.

Thus, an unaccomplished Sim on the death bed can be considered a sort of “game over”, while a fulfilled Sim already gives you a “you win, now go home” type of feeling. Still, whatever the conclusion, the world spins around indifferently, countless generations of Sims die one after another and you tirelessly struggle to bring Heaven on their SimEarth. Before you know it, you’ve been spending several hours watching imaginary people doing the very same things you do each day.

Once a geek, always a geek.

Once a geek, always a geek.

Before you start worrying that you have a pervert curiosity, bear in mind that The Sims’ gameplay is much more addictive than in the past titles. The overall mechanic is no longer based on Maslow’s pyramid of needs and has been replaced with a much more human system of ideals. At last, a Sim can eat once per day without fearing starvation, he can now use the restroom at work and, in case he is tired, he can sleep when the boss isn’t watching. He can take care of the basic things on his own, so you can focus on more pressing issues like their digital ideals and most importantly, your own ideals. The universe of The Sims 3 is just like those cursed fairytale worlds: you cannot quit it because you tend to forget why you’ve started playing in the first place.

Simchievement Whore

The Lifetime Wish will soon find itself choked by unimportant hobbies and other knick knacks. You’ll struggle to learn new cooking recipes or to sell 30 popular books just because these all function like achievements. Each treat your Sim gets earns you additional points that you can spend on bonuses or new abilities. These range from improved sex-appeal to the possibility of living without food.  The most expensive bonuses are real objects that can clone food or teleport you to the other side of town.

The game also has less obvious rewards for people who take up hobbies like gardening or tinkering. And if you ever get tired of that you can always get a job and struggle to reach the top of your career, making friends and enemies as you climb the hierarchy. Jobs can offer bonus objects too: I got a nifty PC when working as a digital hacker.

And the list of things to do doesn’t stop here. The game is full of collectibles, like meteorite rocks, butterflies, bugs, unique plants or fishes. You can still visit the graveyard at night and the galaxy is still there to explore, if you don’t fear abductions.

One flew over the Sim’s nest

Similarly to the first titles, an important part of any Sims’ life is building a proper, comfy house. The Sims 3 offers the most flexible building tools so far. Placing walls diagonally is no longer a problem, for example. No architect should complain about the game’s design capabilities, although their style is a bit too domestic for most tastes.

The Sims 3 also makes extending your living space much easier. Each time you modify your designs, the change will fit perfectly in the overall tone of the building. If you make the room bigger, the objects inside will move too, relative to their initial position. If you use a wall to split a room in two, it will copy the texture on the nearby walls. The same mechanism also applies to types of furniture, whose textures can be copied just as easily.

Probably my best shot

Probably my best shot

Speaking of objects, The Sims 3 has added several new products to its virtual catalog, while other traditional objects are no longer present. To illustrate, you can now own the much desired car, or other means of transportation, like bicycles. However, the pool table and the Jacuzzi, which were almost a trademark for the series, can’t tickle your Sim’s senses anymore. Good thing a huge virtual community is there to make up for the loss. This community is a platform that makes the creations of other players accessible to the world (through the Sim Exchange). It also has a virtual shop that will progressively contain all the desired objects.

Still, the online explosion of The Sims 3 is not fully welcomed. You may be able to better express your ideas through the solid community, but the community is also subject to a high degree of mercantilism. For example, rather than offering new objects, the Exchange is a place for swapping personalized textures. This is due to the fact that objects based on items in the online shop are not available to those that did not buy them in the first place.

And the shop itself is pretty expensive, especially when it comes to thematic sets. Here, the advertisements are right in your face, as the only free shop items are sponsored by famous brands. You can drive your own Toyota in-game and you can stuff your house with Coca-Cola fridges. For a non-free-to-play title, brand promotion is a little bit too obvious.

Deceiving reality

There are other things in The Sims 3 that are more annoying than the online shop. The game has an uneven rhythm, combining realism with fictional arcade elements. For this title, the producers have chosen a much more serious look, leaving a lot of Easter eggs out of the game. You can no longer summon clowns by looking at the cursed painting, a bear no longer visits your trash can and Mimes are no longer part of boring parties.  The game has also been stripped of the cinematic key-moments camera and this makes it feel much more impersonal.

Other aspects have been tuned to closely match reality. Optimizing the game for no loading screens at all is truly welcomed. You can now visit the whole town by simply getting in a cab. Interaction with the other Sim-citizens is much more natural than in the other titles and the Sim can now visit his friends and even make a lot of new acquaintances at work.

Career evolution is also more down-to-Earth in this title. You don’t need tons of popularity to get a raise anymore. It is still needed in politics for example, but a scientist will most likely live just as well without friends. Overall, the cities in The Sims 3 seem to evolve uniquely, based on the choices you make and your actions influence everyone’s lives, not just your own. The game’s visual style enforces the improved realism of the game, bearing less color but animating much smoother. And the soundtrack has given up the exotic tunes of the second Sims title, in favor of the flavored well-known tunes of the original.

Gardening never hurt anyone.

Gardening never hurt anyone.

On the other hand, some elements have been over-simplified. While you can spend hours in the Sim’s kitchen, trying out recipes, taking care of babies is as easy as stealing candy from them. You change diapers by magically spinning the toddlers up in the air. And giving birth is a two second hard breathing process and the soon-to-be mother does not suffer at all before the grand event. And although relationships are pretty complex at the macroscopic level, when it comes to direct interaction between two characters, trying to win the other over is close to playing a game of rock-paper-scissors. You simply have to guess the other Sim’s tastes.

It’s surprisingly annoying that you cannot control each family in a neighborhood anymore. Each time you create several Sims, you will have to choose one of two cities in which they can live. The problem is that each family creates an instance of that city and you cannot move a family in an already occupied town. So, if you really want to control a NPC character, you have to convince him to move in, either by a close friendship or through marriage. The game also offers custom-made families, with unique social backgrounds, from single mothers to crowded students, but the same one family per neighborhood rule applies.

Let there be… Sims

The Sims 3 is addictive. You don’t have to be a seven-year-old or a house wife to enjoy playing “Creation”. Most people don’t find enough meanings in reality and the system of desires offered by The Sims 3 is enough for physical existence to temporarily make sense.  After all, if God plays The Sims, why shouldn’t we?

This article has first appeared on ComputerGames.ro, which has in the meantime given up on its English section of reviews. You can also read the Romanian version of the article on the ComputerGames.ro website.

Ana Todor is a Computer Scientist with a playful and literary twist. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering, a Bachelor of Arts degree in Cultural Studies and a Master of Science degree in Computer Science, Digital Interactive Entertainment.

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