In my opinion, there is no other video game with the replay appeal of SimCity. I remember when I first discovered it – packaged with solitaire in Windows 3.1. To this day I can amuse myself for an hour or two with the same game (although I ran out of variations of Katieville years ago). There is no doubt Maxis is good at what they do and the sequel to the record breaking Sims, is no exception. Instead of zoning and expanding a town, you build a family and provide them with a house. The goal is to keep them happy and content, but torturing and tormenting them can be very entertaining.
However, just like with SimCity, these games are not for everyone. If you are the kind of person who needs to finish missions or levels, the sandbox style of this game will turn you off. There is no winning The Sims 2, although there is constant feedback to let you know how well you are managing the lives of the people you have control over.
You have the option of building a family from scratch or mucking around in the lives of Sims that come with the game. I’ve done both and personally I find it more satisfying to play God with pixilated people I created than with the other residents in town. I consider it rude to butt into the lives of characters I don’t feel are mine. I’m not sure what that says about me. It’s probably best not to think about it too closely, that way lies madness – or at least eccentricity.
The first thing you’ll notice when comparing The Sims 2 to its predecessor is the graphics. Things have improved greatly in that department, which is no surprise as graphics in generally have become prettier during the years in between Sims games. There are a lot more options available for designing characters. It reminded me of Oblivion in that regard – although less sepia toned and grainy. After determining a character’s weight, hair color, brow shape, even makeup, you then get to pick a personality for your creation. You can create introverts, extroverts, saints, sinners, and everything in between. Perverse creature that I am, I often see if opposites attract. Imagine a petty social climber married to a sweet, shy nerd. Or a straight and narrow military man married to a hippie. Interestingly enough, the pairings work. I’m not sure if that’s because characters are programmed to split far less frequently than in real life or if opposites really do attract. Maybe the programmers just think they do. A new feature is a character’s aspirations – do they want a family, a lover, a beefy brain? A character’s aspirations affect their goals and fears throughout their lifespan. The more goals they achieve, the happier they are.
Now that you have a family (functional or otherwise) you need a place for them to live. You have a choice of three towns, each with an underlying plot, much like a soap opera. Or you can create your own town, with tools very similar to those found in SimCity 4. Then you can buy an existing house or a plot to build one on. I’ve done both and don’t have much of a preference either way. However, I do know people who love building houses for their Sims. It calls to their inner architect, I suppose. Furnishing the houses is my favorite part. It seems that my inner shopper is far more prominent than my inner architect. I use the money cheat and soon my families inhabit mansions with top of the line furniture and priceless artwork on the walls.
Now for the actual game playing part. Your characters move in, interact with their neighbors, work, raise children, grow old, and die. Just like in real life, if real life had a money cheat and little green bars to tell us how happy we are. I find the career track too tedious (just like in real life!) so I use the money cheat when I need to and often have my characters paint pretty pictures to pay the bills. I can never seem to get my Sims to the carpool on time and they wind up getting fired. Once again I find it safest not to dwell on how this mirrors my own life.
I haven’t had a great deal of time to play this game since I received it for Christmas at the same time as Burning Crusade and Marvel Ultimate Alliance which have eaten up a lot of my time. So there are still some new features I haven’t figured out. For example, there are public buildings in each town. I can’t move families into the structures and I have no idea how to get Sims to visit these places. I even broke down and read the game manual all to no avail. I’m sure I’ll figure it out eventually, but in the meantime it bothers me a great deal.
All in all, this is a solid game. It has a great deal of replay value, although nowhere near as much as SimCity in my opinion. I do have one caveat though – this game can get very boring. You set up a family in a house and help them live their lives. It becomes routine quickly. After all, there’s not a lot of change in scenery or in the action. There are people this type of game really appeals to, and there are those who would be sick of it within an hour. I will leave it to you to determine which group you fall into. Personally, I’m somewhere in between. I like the game in small spurts. If you’re somewhere in between as well, I’d recommend waiting until the Sims 2 drops in price and has about ten different expansion pack bundled with it before you pick it up.
This columnist would love to hear your thoughts on her work. All glowing praise should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org and all hate mail should be directed to whoever thought Happy Feet should win the Oscar for Best Animated Movie, exactly where it belongs.