Thursday, 14 October 2004

Archive Review: The Sims 2

(PC review)

Reminds me of the time I...

Not being one to brag I often just look back on days in my life where I lived a James Bond style existence, drifting from continent to continent, playing poker with retired oil industrialists, and having my fair share of easy women. I rarely tell people about my times as a super spy extraordinaire and instead just make obscure references to it in reviews like this one. Of course, my days as a wannabe Bond were actually, rather sadly, within the realms of digital reality - a computer game to be precise.

It was only when I played The Sims 2, Maxis' latest people simulator, that I realised I actually could make myself and live this excessive lifestyle (without the poker and traveling). I was soon to give it a whiz, or a swirl, possibly even a spin.

I had never played any Sims game before except for Sim Copter which was hardly anything like The Sims series itself. In that respect this review comes from someone who won't bother comparing it to the original or expansions, since I rarely played them.

Now before we get going I would like to draw the audiences attention to my four part preview of The Sims 2. After giving this comical account of my wrong doings a read it will be easier for you to follow the review for I will be cross-referencing with the preview quite rapidly.

My first encounter with this game was the process of making your sims and designing your house. I wanted to get the most from the game so worked on my own everything, except for actually creating my own neighbourhood itself which you can do thanks to Sim City 4 (which I do not own or likely ever will). I made the initial mistake upon making my house of making it way too expensive for my new family to move into but the fact was the house designing process taught me the basics and it all seemed easy enough to pick up.

I was impressed with the house designing system. It not only let you create design's exactly as you imagined them but it also has an interior design system that lets you almost re-create any room you've been in in your life. I tested this by making my bedroom and other common rooms I am aware of and the results were often scarily lifelike. The only problem I found with the design system for houses and interior content (furniture, wall paper, etc) was that some objects will not place themselves diagonally within a room. Say for example you build a bedroom with one diagonal wall, you won't be able to place a wardrobe along that diagonal wall, only the straight ones. This is no big deal though as you simply don't see many diagonal angles in houses nowadays!

After early attempts of designing I finally made the perfect dream pad. See the preview for the pics of it and the full account in a longer, drawn out, and painfully detailed, fashion.

It then came to the creation of the sims themselves. I made me and my mates all share a house. The create-a-sim system is really very good. It is like a conventional create-a-wrestler mode in wrestling games but seems even better. The clothing system is good enough but I feel there should have been an in-game ability to change the clothing colour and an ability to have more than one clothing layer. But even with these issues the final result is often more or less what you aimed for - a great sign!

The most detailed part of the creation of sims is their face. You can spend hours, literally, getting the look perfect but I realised whilst making my pals that I simply didn't know them well enough, if you know what I mean, to go beyond just a quick "that'll do" make-up. I made myself and my buddies look pretty lifelike by the end of it but my main gripe here was that you couldn't alter height's or really customise the body sizing. Apparently this is down to the fact Maxis wanted to make sure the player model animations looked perfect at all times, so maybe making an obese man would have made the animations look all messed up. With this in mind you can accept it I guess, just.

When finalising a family you must set the age and relationships. This area really annoyed me. For example Maxis, obviously overly politically correct with this "people" sim, don't let old men act as father's for teenagers. Teenagers can't live in a house without... an adult, and can't have teenagers with their own kids. My feeling is that you should be able to set whatever family you want, in other words, it shouldn't have any restrictions based on the ages.

The aging of sims is something I really didn't want to happen since in my opinion the time it takes to go from young stud to old has-been is way too short. Luckily you can cheat and just turn the aging process off.

The other factor to create-a-sim is the Sims 2 Bodyshop, a separate program to the game which you get with the game. It enables you to make sims outside the game then save them into the game directory, great for making sims whilst not wanting to keep minimising the game to reply to "Dan" on MSN Messenger. It also lets you export textures or "objects" such as a shirt and fiddle with them in something like Adobe Photoshop, thus letting you change the colour of clothing etc and even make your own - but outside the game. It's good to be able to do all this outside the game since it keeps the games create-a-sim system simple enough to be able to work out quickly, as opposed to requiring you to read a fat tutorial first just to make "Brian", your imaginative alpha male with black hair and blue eyes.

On a quick note the game lets you log into the Sims 2 website in-game to download the latest in community made chars, houses, etc and stuff Maxis have worked on. It's a nice system but the in-game browser is quite honestly crap compared to just going on the website itself in an explorer and downloading stuff manually.

Time to get into the game! As you can tell from the preview I made all sorts of mistakes in the game but eventually worked out how to play it in a way where I was playing it "well". The thing is that you can't suck at games like this. Even if you work hard and end up with a family of happy, rich, sims living in a large villa/compound whose to say you are a good Sims 2 player? The truth is some people (me) might want to capture the essence of grim, suburban, life by making my sims experience "reality". Yes, reality, being not getting that dream job, getting double timed by that bitch of a girl, and organising a party only to have one person turn up, late. Yes my gaming time was as morbid and "lifelike" for my sims as I could make it.

The A.I in this game acts in a way where it will not require your help in doing basic tasks. The dev's call this Sim Autonomy or Free Will. Unlike the first game, but not the more recent expansions, the sims will not require you to point and click them in the direction of the toilet. They will get on with all the basics, and a little more, without needing, or wanting, you involved. In all honesty if this had not been the case I would have not only lost interest with this game within three and a half minutes but I would have likely tossed it aside forever.

The fun that can be had in watching the lives of the sims play out is great and highly amusing. But to me it felt like a form of voyeurism and I ended up asking myself some pretty tough questions. Is this truly what man has come to? Watching artificial people sit and watch tv whilst you sit and watch them watch tv? They could probably do more in this respect to make a game like The Sims 2 but with this want and desire to watch more of a factor. I lost interest in bothering to "interact" with this game, I just wanted to watch funny things happen and didn't label them funny if I had had anything to do with it as player.

After going around the various community lots, discovering all the things the sims can do, and seeing all the stuff you can buy and learn, I felt as if I had watched a television show and one that really only requires the viewer to see it once, maybe twice if you missed bits whilst getting up to make a coffee. It's a good game, and a serious piece of software since the amount of stuff actually in it is quite immense, but I just lost interest once I'd seen my sims do all the "funny" stuff - like strip naked and take a wash in a public toilet - more than once. In that respect I would dub this game a really good piece of entertainment, but the entertainment fades the more "you" interact. I wanted to just watch, but maybe that was just me.

The Sims 2 is fun, funny, full of features, and I can't think of another relevant word beginning with "f". It's certainly not fast, feisty, or ferocious but would you really want it to be? In my view this game does actually bring up hard-line questions about us as a society that I will bore you with.

The people who really dig games like this, on the level of going beyond me and really "playing" it on an interactive level are often the same people who want more from their lives in general. When I play an FPS game I don't hope that one day I too will be getting shot at by punks and aliens whilst dishing out my own version of ownage. But I feel as if people who are fans of The Sims franchise in general sub-consciously are looking to forge the perfect world or reality for them.

Personally I feel there is a "real" world to live and computer games to play.... There is also a time and a place, and a moral to every story. Not to mention clouds that have silver linings...


+ Highly amusing

+ Solid create-a-sim

+ Good house design system

+ Sims have A.I

- Sim's act like spoilt brats

- Missing good features from the original's expansions


At some point you do yawn

by The Critical Alien
© 2004

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