The Sims is a behemoth in the PC gaming world. The series has sold copies by the truck load for years now, and The Sims 2 can now be experienced on consoles. I'll admit to being more than a little down on the game a few days ago, but after a brief conversation with an old colleague I felt I should give it one last chance. While I'm still not a worshipper of all things 'Sim' the oddly unintelligent people (in this console version anyway) did manage to make a rather better second impression.
Let me make something clear from the start. If you like the idea of running the lives of a group of artificial people and own a reasonable PC, pick up the PC version of The Sims 2. Its wealth of features and available expansion packs make it the best way to play the game. For non-PC owners (or those with a PC that can't play the latest games) Sims 2 on consoles does a more than adequate job of bringing the experience to your lounge.
The Sims 2 is all about doing things to make your Sims happy. Each Sim has a list of 'Wants' that you must try and achieve for them. These depend on the type of Sim in question, so a creative Sim will want to do arty things, such as painting, while a knowledgeable Sim will want to learn and will be interested in reading books and studying. Achieving these things, making sure their 'Fears' are never realised (events that a Sim never wants to happen), improving their basic skills and building pleasant living quarters are the basics of the game.
In The Sims 2 you can take direct control of the individual Sims and this is a more natural way to play a console game. It isn't without its problems though, with your Sims not being as easy to control as you'd like. The game has two main modes that offer slightly different experiences. Free play allows you to build your own home, create a new family and take them through their - often laborious - lives. The so called 'Story mode' is where you'll be spending most of your time, and here you'll start off in a small home and be tasked with moving the Sims up in the world, hopping from one Sim to another, achieving their goals and then heading off to a new location.
'At first it's like having a baby, except they go to work and you have no parental bond.'
At first it's like having a baby, except they go to work and you have no parental bond. The game seems to drag. You constantly have to see to each Sim's needs, be it a snack or a visit to the toilet. The opening stages of the game really don't do it any favours, but stick with it and things do get easier. Your Sims will increase their skills over time, meaning that you don't have to carry out mind numbing care work throughout the entire game. They'll eventually be able to manage a whole night's sleep without needing a toilet break, require fewer meals during each day, and generally won't be as high-maintenance. You can also fast-forward through time when nothing is happening.
The game lets you decide when to move on to a new location, so if you want to stick around in an area to try and get a better job or achieve some more of your goals, you can. Fulfilling a 'Want' will earn you new furniture and toys to play with, and assuming you have enough free time to use them, they can be a lot of fun. New objects are dished out fairly regularly so you've almost always got something new to do, and this keeps your interest high even if your Sims currently have pretty dull lives.
Life isn't all rosy though, with a number of small problems often causing more irritation than they should have. To cook meals you have to choose ingredients from which the Sim's dinner will be made. It might have sounded like a good idea to give you this level of choice, but it's just tedious and annoying. In fact, washing up after meals is equally annoying. You have to walk around the apartment and round up all the dirty dishes and then take them all over to the sink. It's just taking the whole 'life management' thing a little too far and is more of a chore than a fun game experience.
The whole interaction element isn't too great either. While a filter is applied to the screen to reflect how Sims feel about each other, they often can't get close enough to talk and end up trying to find an alternative path to get to each other. There's also a lack of 'family' in the game as the Sims don't age and they can't have children. Some people might appreciate the lack of depth here, but it feels lacking. Homes tend to look rather dull due to the fact that you can't build multiple floors or even raised platforms and you can't help but feeling that the Sims have a pretty meaningless existence.
Visually the game has plenty of character and your Sims express emotions very well. You don't get the sharpness or the texture detail of the PC version, but it's more than acceptable. Audio is good too, featuring the trademark Sim-speak and a solid selection of modern music. Some of the tunes are taken directly from the PC version of the game, but unless you've played that extensively this repetition won't be a problem. It's worth noting that the PlayStation 2 version does suffer from some rather severe slowdown at times, but the nature of the game means that it doesn't affect gameplay significantly.
One of the best aspects of the Sims 2 is that there's just so much to unlock; you'll want to keep on playing just to get the next toy. You'll find yourself wanting to play for that little bit longer, eager to increase your Sims' stats, for no other reason than personal satisfaction. A two-player mode even lets you play in the same world as a friend, and while it's not something that'll send you into a Sim loving frenzy, any crazed Sims fans in the same household will appreciate being able to play together.
The Sims 2 on consoles isn't for everyone. It does itself no favours with its incredibly dull first impression, but give it time and you'll start to see just why these virtual people have sold so many videogames. It's got its problems (which could have quite easily been ironed out before release), but if you can get past them you may well end up spending all of your free time trying to create some free time for virtual people. It's not sad. Honest.