Originally released in 2000, the Sims quickly became one of the best-selling games of all time. Its innovative and addicting gameplay spawned seven expansion packs, each of which added a little more to the title. Its hard to live up to that much success, but not surprisingly, Maxis has accomplished that with the Sims 2.

If you were a fan of Maxis' original title, you'll be an even bigger fan of this one. Maxis has really built on the shortfalls of The Sims, adding new designs, textures, colours, and characters. The sequel also allows you to make your Sims into real people, with fears, hopes, desires, and aspirations. In other words, they now have a purpose in life, rather than walking around like zombies. Also, there is a wider range of decorating and building styles for the houses, and the kids' stuff got a lot more realistic. All of these new additions means that the game leaves a hefty footprint on your hard drive, but don't worry - there's a trivia and memory game you can play while installing. On lower-end systems, loading times can be long, but overall they are acceptable for a game of this magnitude.

After installation, you will find three existing neighborhoods available: Pleasantville, Strangeville, and Veronaville. The Sims players will recognize the families in Pleasantville, like the familiar Goth family. Strangeville is home to UFO remains and other such odd occurrences. Veronaville highlights the feuding Monty and Capp families, and the romance between their children. All of the neighborhoods have empty houses available for you to create a family and move in. If you don't want to live in these neighborhoods, you have a plethora of other landscapes to choose from.

There are several house and lot options to choose from, as well as families. If you decide to create your own family, you can pick ages, skin colour, and body type. The real bonus with The Sims 2, though, is that you can model the characters after yourself or people you know. There are many different face, nose, eye, and mouth shapes, and you can stretch them or shorten them however you see fit. There's also a wide range of clothing styles to give your Sims. One thing they could have added here is more ethnic styles of clothing. They have some really nice Orient-inspired dresses and Japanese outfits, but there's a lack of any Middle East regalia for the Sims to wear. Even with these shortcomings, you'll can still spend hours on end refining and perfecting your characters, one of the most powerful elements of the game.

The newest concept in the Sims is the concept of "generations". One of the biggest flaws of the original was the inability to continue your family beyond a single generation, as children never grew up. Fortunately, that is the inspiration behind the Sims 2. Couples can have children, watch them grow up, and eventually have children of their own. When your Sims have children, they automatically take on the appearance of both their mother and father, thus making the genetics that much more believable. This element of the Sims 2 is a long time in development, and was definitely worth the wait.

As previously mentioned, the Sims now have aspirations. When you create your Sims, you have to give them a Zodiac sign and an aspiration: family, knowledge, career, romance, or popularity. When your Sims reach their aspirations (platinum is the highest), you can receive special rewards, like a money tree or a noodle-soother. But be careful, using these rewards when your Sim's aspiration meter is less then gold will cause adverse effects, like getting abducted by aliens, for example. Sims will also earn skill points, which will allow them to cook new meals and eventually they'll learn to automatically clean up after themselves when they're done eating.

If you choose to build your own house, make sure you have lots of free time. If you want a really nice, well-designed house, it will take hours to create. If you just can't resist using the cheat codes, you can make an even better house, but it will still take hours to create. On second thought, maybe you'd better set aside a weekend or two. The different floor and wall textures are fantastic, although they still look very flat. A wider variety of colors and designs could be added to the wallpaper and paint features. Again, there are a lot of really beautiful Oriental designs and furnishings, but they're lacking in anything from the Middle East, Africa, or South America. Designs like these would make a community more multi-ethnic and more realistic. Also, a wider variety of outdoor and indoor plants would further perfect the simulation, as would being able to curve your swimming pool to achieve that perfect peanut shape. Overall, the design tools are great and will help your Sims achieve a comfortable environment and add to their overall aspiration meter points.

The sound is very good overall - the music changes depending on the different mode that you're in at the time, but it does blend together rather nicely. Although it does become slightly irritating after a few hours. The sounds are quite clear, without fuzzy or tinny at all, and the amazing thing is that the Sims seem to have their own language. It was present in the first, but has been really refined in the sequel to become a more 'structured' language. It may sound like gibberish, but you can tell by their tone of voice whether they're happy, mad, irritated, angry, frustrated, or sad. The lighting is excellent - even when it's nighttime it's not overly dark, allowing you to see throughout the house. Some genuine weather would be nice, like cloudiness or thunderstorms to add to the overall realism of the game. Another thing that would add to the game is the introduction of a car and letting the Sims learn how to drive it. This would save you some Simoleans in terms of grocery delivery and would keep you form missing the carpool. Perhaps an idea for a future expansion?

Maxis has to be complimented on the simplicity of their user interface design. It's very straightforward and easy to use. The ease of this interface design makes it easy for gamers to lose track of time while playing, and the story that you create will make you want to play it again. As with the original, expansion packs are destined to arrive shortly and frequently, which can keep players going for years to come.

Pick an existing community or start your own. Choose to live in an already constructed house or build one. Choose a family to live with or create your own. With The Sims 2, the options are endless. Maxis has taken one of the most popular games of all-time, and made it better.