The Urbz: Sims in the City for Microsoft’s Xbox is the next console installment of the popular Sims franchise. In producing this game, Electronic Arts’ goal was to make a more streamlined and console friendly version of The Sims. The Urbz is definitely more streamlined – let me tell you; though, unfortunately, streamlining isn’t always the best course of action.
In The Urbz, you play an urban sim trying to become the hippest, most popular sim in the city. Bearing that in mind, let’s cover the basics. This is a game that features sims so, of course, we have the famous meters that monitor your needs. You have a meter for Hunger, Bladder, Fun, Hygiene, and Energy. Compared to the PC versions of The Sims, these meters have minimal impact on the game aside from letting you know when to eat, sleep – and pee. In the world of The Urbz, it’s not your mood but the people you know and the clothes you wear which are major deciding factors in your quest to become ?Mister or Miss Popularity’. And, to be honest, the game would be mostly unchanged even without the inclusion of the meters. The PC versions of The Sims are great, and the specific meters are vital there; however, in The Urbz, they have little impact.
To realize your goal of becoming everyone’s idol, you must befriend the right sims and wear the right threads. Really, no matter how far into the game you are, the gameplay remains basically the same. You meet new sims and you socialize with them; you gain their friendship and learn new social skills. You work a part-time job and spend your earnings on the hippest clothes you can find. You use your new social skills and your hot new outfits to gain access to new parts of the city. Then you rinse and repeat until bored. Luckily, each district of the city (there are twelve in total) has a unique look and the sims from each area are always original. Amongst others there are Punks, Goths, Snobs, Hipsters, and Ravers; collectively, they add some much needed incentive when it comes to tolerating the repetitive gameplay.
When socializing with sims, you have several options to choose from. They are Network, Ice-Breakers, Greet, Act Friendly, Act Romantic, Act Mean, or Power Socials. Networking is basic talking, and Ice-Breakers are things like tickling and jokes. Greet, Act Friendly, Act Romantic, and Act Mean are pretty self-explanatory. Power Socials are extreme social interactions like whipping out an electric guitar and slamming some sizzling riffs, or grabbing a fellow sim and kissing them so hard that you both shoot into the air. The whole point of interacting with other sims is to learn new social skills from them, as they’ll be needed to access the other districts of the city. The animations for the socials are all highly entertaining and emerge as one of the game’s cooler aspects.
Your social interactions are only half of the key to the city, though. You also need to have a great sense of style. That’s right, in The Urbz universe – You are what you wear. Every district of the city has its own clothing shops with their own style of apparel. So, your sim naturally needs to secure a part-time job and earn money in order to purchase said fine garb. However, the game’s procured clothing is generally a lame aspect because there are very few items for you to choose from. One of the regular highlights of The Sims series is the sheer amount of options you have when customizing your character, but in The Urbz those options are far from plentiful – and that’s a polite understatement. Lack of varied clothing options aside, the limited styles that are available do look great, though. It’s just a shame there weren’t more to choose from.
So, you’ve made a few hip friends and bought your first new swanky outfit; looking suitably hot and trendy you’re ready to hit the town. What is there to do? Well, basically, you can attempt to engineer more sim friendships?and buy some more clothes. The whole point of the game is to befriend as many sims as possible and build a popular reputation for being the coolest sim in town. So, when Electronic Arts streamlined The Sims concept, they didn’t fool around but, sadly, the streamlining feels more like scrimping on choice and variety. There are objects to interact with, of course, and dance clubs to visit, but these are basically just social tools for meeting more people and, in turn, learning new social interactions. As mentioned earlier, it all gets a tad repetitive.
The part-time jobs your sim can undertake emerge as pretty enjoyable distractions from socializing and shopping. You can do anything from bartending to serving sushi. All the jobs basically use the same ?tap the buttons in the order shown on screen’ type of prompted gameplay. The jobs are fun, and definitely provide a welcome break from the almost mundane socializing aspects of the game. The various job opportunities certainly stir things up a bit, which is a definite Urbz bonus. The jobs themselves, though fun, are not difficult to perform or hold down but, then again, they’re not the main focus of the game; in basic gameplay terms they’re merely a source of money for attaining new clothes.
Graphically, The Urbz is hot property; it has a clearly defined hip look and a slick, stylish feel – much more so than other games in The Sims series. The character animations are all stupendous and, as noted previously, they prove to be one of the game’s saving graces. You will be inclined to play through the game just to witness all the cool graphic interactions your sim can progressively learn. The in-game camera controls are intuitive and easy to use, although a zoom function that took the player a little closer to the action would have been a plus.
The Urbz features music by The Black-Eyed Peas, as well as the band themselves in sim form, which is an absolute boost for the game. The music fits perfectly, it really adds to the urban feel the game tries to create. All the urban sounds you’d expect to find in the city are present and accounted for. You can hear rats scuttling around in the dumpsters, people on the street casually talking and laughing as they walk, and even the occasional gunshot echoing in the distance. In the aural department, The Urbz really does a brilliant job of capturing a true city ambience.
So, EA has simplified The Sims format and come up with a streamlined version called The Urbz; their intention being to create a more console friendly version of The Sims franchise. For gamers who’ve never played, or perhaps didn’t favor previous Sims titles, EA’s mandate may have succeeded. For anyone who has played and loved previous Sims games, this one will most likely disappoint. The whole point of The Sims franchise is to endow the player with seemingly endless options as to what their sims can do. There are massive clothing options, and you choose your belongings, your house, your job, and your friends. In The Urbz, you get to choose your clothes from a strictly limited selection, and some of your friends. With The Urbz, EA has trimmed down the general Sims formula, removing more in-depth options along the way, but, in doing so, they’ve also cut away the very captivating essence of the franchise.