My favourite Bushism is the immortal "The problem with the French is that they don't have a word for entrepreneur." Well, you can't accuse EA of lacking an entrepreneurial spirit, because just over a year from the original release of Sims 2, here we are, already three expansion packs down the line. Ironically, in Open For Business, EA want you to see if you've got any financial acumen, by giving you the chance to build your own burgeoning business empire.
The expansion packs for the original Sims game were infamously content-light and all too happy to rest on the laurels of the core game's brilliance, but not so here. Open For Business not only contains the inevitable extra hundred-or-so items for your polygonal people pets to spend their hard-earned simoleons on, but a plethora of new features and Sim-management options, which do significantly alter the way the game can be played.
Unless you already have a well-established Sim family, you're most likely to start running a home business, because buying a business premises (and the business contained within it) is prohibitively expensive for a family just starting out. Starting a home business will result in just about every local Tom, Dick and Harry tromping through your front room, using your toilet and watching your TV (and not buying anything) at all hours of the day, unless you're very strict about where you give people access to (the new lockable doors are useful here) and remember to put up the all-important Open/Closed sign. Other tools of the trade are shelves (that must be kept stacked) and a till, so you can actually relieve customers of their cash. The nature of the business you choose to run is pretty much up to you, as plenty of possibilities have been provided. Crafting stations for making toys, robots and even flower bouquets are available, plus you can also sell food made from your home kitchen. My favourite has to be the salon chair, where you can dole out hideous makeovers to your neighbours for a sky-high fee. For an 80-year-old Patrizo Monty seemed very pleased with his dreadlocks, goatee beard and green sunglasses... Even kids can get in on the money making act, employing that tried and tested Middle American technique: the lemonade stall.
Staff can be hired (and fired, in an Alan Sugar-esque fit of pique), assigned tasks, and given stupid uniforms (the ninja and ape costumes are particularly fabulous). Tempting though it may be to hire the best-looking girls in the game and force them to work in their underwear, that's probably best avoided if you want to avoid barbed looks from your (real-life) girlfriend. "But, sweetheart, she's The Nearly Naked Chef!"
'My favourite new item has to be the salon chair, where you can dole out hideous makeovers to your neighbours...'
As you gradually build up your business, gaining sufficient customer loyalty will earn you business perks, which can be exchanged for bonuses that can boost your ability to gauge a customer's mood, give you better prices with your wholesaler, amongst other things. Talent badges for business specific tasks (such as manning a till, or making toys) make it easier to figure out which NPCs you should be employing, and can be gained by your own characters, once you've practiced the particular skill enough. These layers of management complexity really make running a business an interesting affair, and it's perilously easy to lose a lot of time building your entrepreneurial empire.
There are a couple of minor flaws, however. A tutorial to go over the basics of running a business would have been nice, as there are a couple of important areas skirted over in the manual that are not immediately obvious how to do in-game (such as needing to set the For Sale flag on an object so customers know that they can purchase it). It's also a shame that running a business from home or from a community lot does not dovetail into the Business career path. They're kept entirely separate, which is unfortunate, since you won't have time for your Sim to have a career and run a business simultaneously. The one advantage of running a business from home, however, it that it makes family life a whole lot easier: especially in those hectic few days when you're nursing a screaming baby.
Outside of the business-specific content, a couple of other gameplay tweaks have been added. Most notably, Sims now have turn-ons and turn-offs, giving Sim relationships that element of chemistry. The new backpack function is also handy for taking Aspiration Rewards (such as Elixir of Life dispensers) with you whenever your family moves house.
There's only one nagging question that remains: is it really worth £20 of your money? My verdict: just about. Get it from an online retailer for £10-15 and you're laughing. For once, it's an expansion pack that does exactly what it says on the box. It broadens the experience of the already panoramically wide core game enough to justify a purchase. There's certainly sufficient new content in the pack to keep dedicated Sims fans busy for dozens of hours, and with the basic appeal of the core game still undiminished, you're left free to take the expansion content as far as you want to: from running a lemonade stall on your front lawn in your pyjamas, to taking the retail world by storm with your crack team of ninja robe clad store attendants.