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The Sims 3: Another hype-filled review

I won't lie, this article primarily exists for me to gush about how awesome The Sims 3 is. But in the interests of fairness I will cut through my own enthusiasm and state here the pros and cons of the latest release. This review is not exhaustive and doesn't cover all aspects of gameplay, but hopefully you'll be able to see the scope of the game and the points most worthy of note!

Getting started

To start with you will be using the same disc whether you're using a PC/Mac much like Spore, which is great for those who don't want to shell out twice for the same game. Linux users are unfortunately out of luck as there is no native or wine support (the Sims 2 is listed as 'garbage' on the Wine App Database, so this is not entirely surprising. I've yet to try it in Sun Virtualbox). System requirements vary but you may be pleasantly surprised that you can still have things working with an old Intel Pentium 4 processor and just 1GB RAM athough as with any game it is recommended that your hardware configuration exceeds this for better visuals and performance.

Cool new features

The most important new feature is the freedom to explore. While you're out of the house you can ask your sim to 'jog here' and off you go on some exercise! You can then travel around town while earning fitness points. However, the far more elegant way is to use the all-new 'town view' and select a building for your sim to go.

There are all kinds of places you can visit such as a gym, a pool, a school, a library, a police department, a hospital, a book shop, and even a grave yard (where you may catch the occasional ghost!). There are far more buildings and facilities than this (such as beaches, etc.) and I'm sure future expansion packs will allow the range to extend even further. But, how do you get back to your sim? Well, click on 'sim view' and you can follow your sim as they travel. If they own a car (or 'borrow' a bicycle) they'll get there under their own steam. Otherwise they jump into a taxi (which is free-of-charge). Once you start making friends you can even go and visit their homes.

Missing features

There are still a few caveats however. You still aren't really involved when your sims are working, which is kind of annoying. You have a drop-down menu where you can set them to 'work hard' (increasing stress), 'take it easy' (decreasing it) or grovel to the boss/socialise with co-workers. You don't ever see any of these things happening, you just 'hear' it happening. That said this is at least better than the Sims 2 where your sim goes to work and you just whizz through the clock until they come back (and need only keep them in a good mood to progress) but it still feels as though there's room in this area for expansion.

I'm also disappointed that you can't develop random plots without moving in a family first. While this functionality encourages the player to interact more with their sims it is a little annoying when you just want to sculpt a grand mansion or community lots like we did in the Sims 2 without the need for cheats. On the upside building houses with odd-shaped floor-plans (i.e. with diagonal/octagonal walls) is much better supported than before and it's much easier to apply wall coverings and floor tiles.

Traits and life goals

But where one avenue of creativity seems a little stifled, another appears! In the sim creator you now have the ability to use 'patterns' which you can customize (i.e. change the colour scheme) and then apply this to the clothes your sims may be wearing. You can do similar things with the items your sims can purchase, meaning for instance that you could have a goth sim or a chrome-coated kitchen. With the Sims 2 you had to buy expansion packs with more 'stuff' to match together to do these things before, but now players can sculpt these themselves.

In terms of live game-play you have more freedom than before. You can interact with objects in more ways (for example you can deliberately leave the fridge door open, but this is not recommended!). And yes, you can even make your sims rummage through other peoples' bins! This can lead to some interesting rewards, but also has the effect of disgusting said sim.

If you've decided your sim is evil using the relevant 'traits' when you create them then all their actions are context sensitive (e.g. 'evil slumber' instead of 'sleep', etc). Once you hit 'young-adult' you can set your sim a life goal. If you satisfy all a sim's wishes then they become much happier as they are fulfilled, and these wishes can range from anything between reading a book to seeing a ghost.

Downloadable content

There are many hours of gameplay and replayability with The Sims 3, and for most casual gamers you won't need to start downloading stuff from the Sims 3 community exchange for a while. When you do though tou get £6 worth of free Sim-Points in their shop. Once the exchange is up and running and you work out how to create interesting custom content yourself then this may not necessarily be as attractive a proposition as it first seems though.

On the subject of custom content, you can still leave music files in C:\Program Files\Electronic Arts\The Sims 3\Custom Music and listen to them on your sim radio (or at least that's what the manual says. To get to this folder on my Vista machine I had to head to C:\Program Files\Electronic Arts\The Sims\GameData\Shared\Unpackaged\Custom Music, but I've yet to hear of this being the case for anyone else).

My verdict

The Sims 3 is an excellent addition to the Sims series, no doubt expansion packs will expand things but the potential is awesome. Though you don't need to rush out and buy it, it's re-assuring to know that this game is well worth the money.