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The Sims 2

The Sims 2, the inevitable sequel to one of the most successful PC games of all time. Originally released four years ago, The Sims became a PC institution and the number one game for women, with a whopping 7 expansion sets. The game sold so well, in fact, that in one recent August week, games bearing The Sims name occupied 5 out of the top 10 slots on the PC sales chart. Aside from the glorified chatroom The Sims Online, every single game released under this franchise was a best-seller.

All of this success naturally made the The Sims 2 one of the most anticipated games of the year. Now that it’s here, we can honestly say it won’t disappoint current fans… though it doesn’t offer anything nearly as original in terms of gameplay. Lightning only strikes once, you know.

The original Sims was a breath of fresh air. While your individual Sims had minds of their own, you had a certain level of control over them, guiding them to do things that may or may not have been against their nature. The play style has remained identical in The Sims 2, albeit with better graphics and more intelligent AI.

The design tool used to create your Sims is both complex and limited, depending on what you want to do. You have almost absolute control over the face, from jaw line to hairline; everything is adjustable with easy-to-use sliders. But beyond that, your Sims’ bodies are nearly identical. There are two body types, thin or fat, and one height. That’s right - everybody is exactly the same height at the same age. In fact, the only way to tell that some Sims are still teenagers is that they are slightly shorter than adult Sims, a lesson that our friend Sven had to learn the hard way. Yikes.

Sims go through several stages of development. As babies they are beyond your control, but within a few days they progress to the toddler stage, at which point you have slightly more control over them, guiding them to their favorite toy or asking mommy for attention. Then comes the child stage and the start of school, which helps shape the type of adult Sim they will grow up to be. Before you know it, they’re teenagers, getting their first job and even their first kiss.

click to view screenshotOn come the days of adulthood, which is where your Sims will spend the bulk of their lives. Start down a career path, find your own house, get a significant other, marry, and have kids of your own. Your Sim’s previous experiences, be it a great birthday party when they were a kid, starving most of the time growing up or watching a relative die, shape how they interact with other Sims. The continuity is much better than in the original.

For that matter, when your Sims have babies, genetics now play a hand in their creation. Newborns take characteristics from the two parents, including physical features and disposition, creating more of a family look and feel. You can also give your entire family a back story, explaining why they are the way they are and what they are truly looking for in life. The family dynamic in The Sims 2 is extremely well done and makes the game feel even more like a daytime soap opera.

As always, your Sims' needs guide your actions (need to pee, need to eat, etc.). However, they now have wants, such as Sven’s want to have sex with any woman that has a pulse. They also have fears, such as the fear of rejection, which will destroy your Sim’s mood. Fulfilling a Sim’s wants and avoiding their fears gives you aspiration points, which can then be used to get special objects to enhance your Sim’s life. This makes The Sims 2 more of a game and less of a sandbox than the first title.

Death also plays a greater role. Unless they continually drink the elixir of life (one of the aforementioned aspiration objects), your Sims will eventually become elders and die, leaving their wealth to future generations. The life cycle adds a level of depth to the Sims world that was sorely lacking in the previous version. However, as deep as the game may seem, it never really gets out of the shallow end.

Time is subject to various inconsistencies. Time passes and your Sims grows old, yet it only passes in the house you have active - and nowhere else. If you concentrate on one household, those particular Sims will grow old and die, while everyone else in the neighborhood remains healthy and young. Soon, your kids are playing with the same Sims the older generation played with; making out with the same girls, wooing the same women…it gets kinda creepy. I mean, I don’t want to date Grandpa’s leftovers.

It's a shame the folks at Maxis didn't attend to this, because the alternative could have been revolutionary and compelling. A living, breathing dollhouse sounds more interesting than one in which only one doll ages at a time.

And if you happen to get your Sim to leave the house to go to a community lot, time doesn’t pass back at their house. So, while your Sim might spend a whole day shopping, he’ll get back to his house and it’ll be the exact same time he left. There’s no global feeling to The Sims 2; you’re basically just the director of a household soap opera.

click to view screenshotBuilding is still handled the same way in that it takes simoleons to build anything, but it feels like there should be more building/furniture options in general aside from user-created objects that can be downloaded from the official website. After four years of expansions, The Sims had numerous options and objects available which sadly seem to be missing from The Sims 2. The most glaring example is that the pets seen in The Sims Unleashed are nowhere to be found. Integrating the good things found in the expansion packs into The Sims 2 seems like a no-brainer. Then again, maybe they’re planning 7 new expansions to this game, too. I wonder if there’s a money-grubbing software executive career path?

Minor bugs also mar the experience. Sims have notable pathfinding issues, constantly getting in one another’s way. It appears that only prebuilt staircases in existing houses can allow more than one Sim at any one time, meaning that if you add another story to your house, be prepared for your Sims to bottleneck at the stairs. Sven made the mistake of adding a floor to put in a rooftop hot tub, only to have the ladies complain that they can’t always get up there. Talk about destroying the mood.

Every so often, guests turn invisible and objects get stuck in their “used” position, in which case they can no longer be used by any Sim and, unfortunately, can’t be moved or deleted using the building tools. The system requirements are also rather fierce. Expect serious load times and the occasional slowdown unless you're running a top-of-the-line machine.

Even if you don’t, though, the graphics in The Sims 2 have greatly improved since the original. The camera now has free reign, allowing you to view your Sim household from any angle. The Sims use their facial movements to the fullest, expressing both their delights and displeasures. When a special event occurs, such as a birthday or the first time you “woohoo” with somebody, the camera shifts to an in-game movie cutscene that shows off the power of the new engine. The movies look good, but there’s only one animation set for each type of event, meaning that Sven only knows one way to please a woman in bed. I have to see the same flick every time he gets with a new Sim, no matter how many times I try cramming a quarter into my disc drive.

Conversely, the sound is remarkably similar to the original, including the gibberish the Sims speak to each other. People who hear it generally think it sounds like French, but that’s mainly because any language spoken by Sven becomes a language of love…

All in all, The Sims 2 is more of a refinement of the original game than an exciting new offering. While that’s not a bad thing, per se, it’s lacking the innovation that enticed people to play the game in first place. Still, it’s a solid, well-rounded sequel and well worth another trip to the dollhouse.



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