The Sims games have been some of the most popular and heavily played, customized and modded games out there, drawing millions of fans from all over and creating a huge community of players. I remember playing The Sims when it first came out and loosing track of time, having to be told by friends that it was almost 2 AM in the morning. EA followed with The Sims 2, adding in more options, more life stages and advancing the game mechanics in amazing ways. So when The Sims 3 was announced, fans everywhere waited in breathless anticipation for the next incarnation of the game.
When EA created The Sims 2, the game was very recognizable to Sims 1 players. The town still had the same basic look and vibe to it; the graphics were just updated and players had more customization options. The Sims 3 looks fairly different than both of its predecessors, for the first time giving players a town that can be fully explored. Sim characters not only have their homes to enjoy, but the entire town. Sims can move through the town to interact with others, go visit their friends' houses and explore the town for collectible objects. Garden seeds can be found, as well as space rocks, gems and bugs. If a sim wants to go hang out at the local park to spend time with a friend or go fishing, players no longer have to wait for loading screens transitioning from one lot to another. It's all one seamless integrated town.
However, unlike in previous Sims games, players don't have the option to modify their town however they like. Don't like the layout of the town and want the grocery store a little closer to Town Hall and the Library closer to the Police Station? Too bad. The only change that players can make is to put down houses on existing empty lots or to build homes on existing lots. Build options are very much how players remember them, with the ability to build homes with multiple stories, pools, porches and garages: all the conveniences of the modern home.
However, a major change was made in the placement grid of Sims 3. Players will be familiar with the grid layout that was used to place objects, walls and other build mode objects. A coffee table, for example, used to take up two to three squares on a grid. In Sims 3, each of those individual grids are now segmented into smaller grids as well, allowing for placement 'off center'. It means that when a player puts down a coffee table, objects placed on them no longer have to be perfectly centered in only two spaces. A phone can be placed on the back right, allowing for a plant to be put in the center and another decorative object on the bottom left. It allows for more intuitive and 'organic' object placement, as well as automatically allowing for objects to be placed on diagonals. In Sims 1 and 2, a cheat was required to place objects on a diagonal, and they didn't always work properly.
And while the change allows for more decorative options, it may make building a little more difficult. When I first attempted to build a house from the ground up, it was a little difficult dealing with the new grid system. For instance, if a wall is placed in the center of the main grid, it may make a room slightly smaller than the player intended, meaning that some care needs to be taken when building and decorating your home.
One of the best new features in The Sims 3 is the pattern customization. It allows for just about every single aspect of your Sims home to be decorated however you like. For those decorative nuts in the Sims community, sometimes it was a little frustrating when trying to decorate and realizing that the objects that you wanted to use didn't have patterns that matched well. Now, the game uses a pattern system that can be applied over all aspects of the game. If you really like that red floral pattern it can be applied to furniture, walls, floor, even the Sims clothing. Not only that, but each pattern can be further customized, using a color wheel system. Each individual color in a pattern can be shifted amongst all colors of the rainbow and every shade in between, creating just about any look over the sun. Custom colors created by players can even be saved and used later.
Sims characters themselves can be customized much the same way as Sims 2, with players picking default outfits for their characters. There are even new added customization options such as socks, shoes and gloves; with players being able to pick different ones to go with outfits. Things like jewelry, makeup, beards and glasses are still there. And again, as with furniture and wallpaper, players can use the in game patterns and color wheel to change how the clothing looks on each of their Sims. The Create a Sim function also adds in the ability to create Young Adults, an age group that was previously limited to Sims University only. They are now a part of the regular life cycle for all Sims.
The Sims themselves have undergone a few major changes as well, with the Sims no longer having either a Comfort or Environment need bar. They also no longer have Aspiration bars. In Sims 2, Sims had Wants and Fears that were related to the type of Sims they were; Family Oriented, Logic Oriented and so forth. It was required for Sims to fulfill their wants and advisable for them to avoid their Fears. The more wants, the higher the Aspiration score. But if sims neglected to fulfill any of their Wants, then their Aspiration score would drop and they would go into Aspiration failure where they would start to have difficulty functioning, blubbering like idiots. In Sims 3, they no longer have Aspiration Wants or Fears, and no longer have 'types'. Sims are no longer classified as being Logic Sims or Family Sims. Instead, Sim has Personality Traits. Each sim has five traits that determine the things they like and the things they want to do. Instead of being necessary, the Wants that sims develop are all optional. They each come up with things they want to do, such as improving a skill or eating a particular type of food. When the sim fulfills this want, they gain points that can be used to buy different rewards. For example, one reward makes it so that the sim doesn't have to use the bathroom as much. Another reward makes it so that when a sim gardens, their plants do remarkably better due to their 'green thumb'. None of the wants are mandatory and they're not necessary to keep the sim sane.
And in exchange for things like Comfort and Environment, the Sims have Moodlets that they get, depending on what's going on around them and where they are. For instance, if a sim is in a room that's very well decorated, they get a 'Well Decorated' Moodlet, which improves their mood and makes them happier. Sims who 'Love the Outdoors', one of the Personality Traits, get happy Moodlets from being outdoors. Sims with the Evil trait love being in dark rooms, and so on and so forth. The Moodlets are pretty interesting and diverse, with all sorts of different ones depending on what's going on. I've seen Moodlets for sims being near a nice fire, for having eaten a good mood, getting a good night sleep. It's rather interesting to see all the different positive and negative Moodlets that can pop up and affect your Sims' mood. But because of the elimination of the Comfort and Environment motive bars, it's a heck of a lot easier to keep your sim happy and well taken care of.
Jobs are even handled slightly different in Sims 3, with the player having a bit more control over what's going on with their jobs. When at work, the Sims can pick what sort of task they'll be completing that day. And some of those tasks help improve job performance. For instance, in order to increase job performance to get a promotion (or even possibly a raise); you don't need to raise your skills to certain levels and get friends the same way anymore. You might need to befriend your coworkers, suck up to your boss, improve one skill or write reports on your computer at home, or keep a good mood in general. You don't have to improve everything in order to get promotions; you could have a horrible relationship with your boss and coworkers, but so long as your mood is good your performance will steadily improve to the point that you can get a promotion. You can select the Suck up to Boss task while at work to improve your relationship with your boss, or Socialize with Co Workers to improve your relationship with coworkers at work. Talking to them outside of the office will also help improve those relationships. And each of the jobs splits off into two different paths at a certain point, allowing for even more variety. On the Criminal path? Well at a certain point you get the choice to pick a path to either become a Master Thief or the Emperor of Evil. The freaking Emperor of EVIL. Now, how cool is that?
And because the Sims get paid by the hour instead of by the day, Sims can leave work early if they want to and don't have to stay the whole day, allowing them to do other activities in their town. Sometimes Sims will get Opportunities, which are events that can do things like improve their job performance, get them money, help improve their skills or do other things to assist the Sims. The Opportunities come up randomly on the automatic cell phone that each sim gets in their inventory, giving the player multiple chances to do interesting things with their characters.
Sims can also do things like go to various buildings around town to take classes to help learn skills, such as painting, fishing and cooking. These buildings are part of the town setup, such as the Grocery Store and the Science building. These buildings also host the jobs for the town, allowing the Sims to go directly to the job of their choice and sign up at a building. Wanna be a cop? You no longer have to wait for the police officer job to open up on the computer or newspaper. Just go to the Police Station and sign up. You can also go to some of the buildings and sign up for part time jobs, such as the Salon.
Some aspects of game play have gotten incredible easy and enjoyable, such as the customization options and job options. Some others, while nice added features, can take away from the game play that most Sims players are used to and just might not be as enjoyable. For instance, while it was fun to run around town collecting gems for a while, it started to become tedious after a while. Not only does your sim have to physically go pick the gem up in some out of the way places, they then have to bring it home and stick it in the mail to have the gem cut into a shape. And the more gems you send off, the more shapes you can have them cut into. However, you have to pay for sending it off. In the long run, I'm not sure if the profit (or decorative items you get) are really worth the effort.
And relationships in the game have gotten a little more complicated as well. Sims no longer have the Current and Lifetime relationship bars, but they do have levels to their relationships. They can be friends, good friends, distant friends and so on. In order to raise relationships, Sims can do a lot of the same interactions, though some of the interactions have been expanded and several have been expanded based on personality traits. For example, Sims that have the trait No Sense of Humor can use the social interaction 'Bore to Death'. Sims can enthuse on subjects that they're enthusiastic about and tease, mock and make fun of others for their personality traits. And for those players looking for the romantic angle, be prepared: romantic interactions aren't anywhere near as simple.
As Sims interact, they unlock more social interactions based on how they're 'feeling' about the other sim. For instance, if they're having a conversation that's going well, they may be feeling that your sim is being friendly. And if they're being flirty, they may be bored, or feel that the sim flirting is just being 'ok.' In order to unlock more Romantic interactions, including things like Go Steady and Get Engaged, you have to finagle the interactions so that the sims feel like your sim is being 'alluring' or 'extremely irresistible'. Even just getting the option to kiss your beau might be difficult depending on what options you pick; doing the same interactions may just bore the other sim. So there's an aspect of chemistry that's now involved in social interactions, adding some depth and difficulty to socialization that wasn't present before.
The graphics in The Sims 3 are beautiful to see; with trees and bushes blowing in the breeze, adding some realism to the environment. Decorative bushes and trees look even more realistic than ever before, with some of them having a wild, natural look that is a very good improvement over the previous game. However, it can be a little disorienting at times when zooming in and out; the graphics can take some time to load up. Be prepared for gray blocks when zooming in and out of your home, and be prepared to have to move the camera around a little bit to see all the graphics. This problem was present even on a higher end computer; it seems to have to do with how the game loads the advanced graphics. It can be distracting sometimes, so be prepared. As wonderful as the new graphics are, it's a little hard for the game to deal with an entire town full of graphics and moving Sims. And some of the graphics on the Sims themselves are a little odd. They have a very doll-like appearance, with strange bug eyes that roll around in their heads, especially when you pause the game and they're still turning their head to look at you. Creepy. And the ultra-smooth complexion on the Sims looks odd as well. Makeup customization is a little odd as well, with a lot of manipulating needed to get the Sims looking a little less mannequin like. The Sims also have a very stiff manner of moving most of the time, making it appear as if they have sticks shoved up their 'you know what's'. Either that or they angrily stalk from place to place. And if they're not stiff walking or stalking around, they run.
And because the town is so full of Sims, EA has put limitations on game play that are quite different from the previous games. Players can no longer play as many families at a time as they want. Instead, when playing in a neighborhood, each neighborhood essentially is its own 'story', with only one playable family being allowed at a time. This is because of the new story progression mode that Sims 3 has. Basically, while you play your household, the rest of the town evolves. Other Sims get old, get married, have kids; all without you having to do anything. You also have the option of making your town static, so that there aren't any changes in the people that are there. This allows you to have a fairly dynamic town, but eliminates the ability to control the destinies of two different houses in the same town at once. You can have multiple saves, but each save is a totally different neighborhood story. While I appreciate the dynamic aspect of the town with this option turned on (it's really cool to be able to see other Townie kids) it was a little hard getting used to not being able to manipulate things in multiple households; such as when trying to merge two households.
Overall, The Sims 3 is a wonderful game. It's engaging and fun for old time Sims players. There are many, many aspects to adjust and get used to, however, some of which can be complete turn offs for earlier players. The inability to play with multiple households, the inability to alter the town and some of the difficulty in building and dealing with the new layout grid can be complete game killer for some. Even issues such as the loading can be enough to make people leery of playing and dealing with the game. However, for anyone who is interested in the Sims franchise or who has been a long time player, this game is worth trying. Play it, experience it; and as any Sim player knows, devote the life cycle of an entire household to the game. You may find your mind changed as to how enjoyable the game is. And for those who try it and enjoy it, it has some great improvements and changes such as the job changes and the pattern customization that make it a definite worthwhile replacement (or additions) to The Sims 2.