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The Sims

Taking its cue from Seinfeld, The Sims is a game about nothing. Oh sure, a lot happens during the course of the game--love is won and lost, houses catch fire, and there is much tomfoolery in the hot tub--but everything that occurs is tinged with the same sense of the absurd that made Seinfeld such a great show. And this absurdness is what makes The Sims tragic, funny, mundane, and one of the most entertaining games I've seen in a long, long time.

Taking Control of the Little People

The latest installment in Maxis's phenomenally popular SimCity series, The Sims, moves the action from city management to people management. You can play the game with either predefined Sims or Sims that you create. If you choose the latter, you decide how they look and what their personalities are (neat, outgoing, friendly, and so on). This determines how easily they'll make friends, whether or not their house is a pigsty, and how fast they'll move up the career ladder.

Once you've created your virtual guinea pigs, you need to get them a place to live. Each Sim "family" (the Sims in one household) is given $20,000, which is used toward the purchase of a house and a few belongings. Naturally, money is pretty scarce, so after you get a roof over your Sims' heads, you need to be pretty tight with your funds and forego the plasma television in favor of a cheaper black-and-white unit. Everything in the house affects the Sims' behavior and happiness in some way, so in the early going your little virtual people are probably miserable.

The real genius behind The Sims is its ability to mirror the real world, while still offering a compelling gameplay experience. To succeed, you must balance a number of factors, such as eating, sleeping, and learning career-building skills, all while making sure you get your Sims out of bed in the morning so they can go to work. And just as in the real world, there isn't enough time in the day to complete everything that needs to be done, so you must be extremely frugal with how your Sims spend their free time.

It's hard to explain in a few words how the game plays, because it sounds extremely simple but actually is exceptionally complex. One day you're cultivating friendships; the next you're recovering from a thief who has stolen all your electronics; still another day, you're trying to improve the mood of your Sims so they will go to work. And although there are some limitations built into the game--your Sims can't become serial killers, for example--you can do pretty much anything.

Building a Life

As with the SimCity games, the interface powering The Sims is a thing of beauty. Accessing the Build and Buy screens is extremely easy, and making the Sims interact with each other and their environment involves nothing more than a couple clicks of the mouse. All the items available for purchase are laid out by room or item type; just click an item to see what it is and how it will affect your Sims' lives.

On the surface, The Sims' graphics don't look as though they are hardware intensive, but don't be fooled--if you want to run this game at its highest resolution, you need a hog of a system. Even at 800-by-600-pixel resolution, scrolling across the screen can be slow and painful, which makes trying to manage multiple Sims frustrating. Still, the graphics are crisp and clear, and bring everything to life. The Sims themselves show off a wide range of animation, making it easy to identify their various moods and when they need something.


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