Review by DarthMuffin

"A great, although repetitive, life simulation"


I remember when The Sims came out some years ago. To put it bluntly, it looked awesome; plain and simple. And it was. Of course the Sims franchise is renowned for its slightly parodied simulation of everyday life. However, it also showed the world that a company could release a load of expansions that really enhanced a game. Over the last few years, there have been countless of Sims-clone, though none of them achieved the famous status of Maxis's creation.

The Sims 2 stays true to the original game, while improving it in many ways. The developers also realised that they had to include some of the features introduced in the first game's expansions right away to keep people interested.

When faced with a simulation game however, it is important to see if the game is truly better than the original. This should be, in my opinion, the heart of any Sims 2 review. As such, I will try to outline the strengths and weaknesses of the game while comparing it to its predecessor, as well as keeping it understandable for new players.

Gameplay 8

Ever heard of the famous SimCity franchise? You know the games in which you build and manage a city? The Sims is similar; only this time, you construct and manage a neighbourhood. The basic concept of the game is quite simple : you create families of digital beings called "sims" and you directly control them during all their life. Multiple families will make a neighbourhood come alive and you can have your families interact with each others.

Of course, the term "family" is quite large. One may choose to create a couple, a single man or a couple with four children. You can technically do anything you want.

Sims have needs much like ours. To keep them in a good mood, you must make sure these needs are fulfilled. As such, you need to make them eat to make sure they don't starve, they need to sleep to recover their energy and comfort, they need to use the toilet and the shower to maintain a reasonable amount of hygiene and, of course, spend some time playing or sitting in front of the TV to have some fun. A good mood will improved the sim's behaviour with others and at work; it is easy to understand why it is crucial to tend to their needs.

Sims have a personality. I like to call these "attributes", perhaps in tribute to hours of DnD gaming. When you create them, you have to choose whether they are neat or sloppy, shy or outgoing, serious or playful, etc. The nice thing here is that both sides are viable. For instance, it is perfectly fine, just as in real life, to be a serious sim and enjoy reading better than playing basketball.

Being a life simulation, it is easy to guess that money will have an important part. In the game, money is measured in Simoleons (which are essentially the same thing as dollars, euros, pounds, or whatever your currency is). To earn money, you need to work. Whether it is a job (the most obvious way of making money, more on this later) or painting at home the entire day, you will need to get some money sooner or later. Money is, of course, used to buy objects (from a huge TV to a toilet), to build your house (building walls and installing carpets costs some money, you know) and to buy food. Also, it is crucial to have a cash flow if you want to hire some services, such as a maid or a gardener.

Another important aspect are skills. You need skills. Using an oven without cooking skill will quite possibly resolve in a fire. A weak sim will loose every fight. A creative sim can write books that sell for quite a lot of money. Most importantly, you need skills to move up in a career.

While the game focuses entirely on the outside of work, everyday life of your Sims, jobs still have a great amount of importance (and take a lot of your time, too). There are ten career paths, each with ten (or so) possible level. In order to move up in a specific career path, you need skills, friends and a good mood, which, in my opinion, does somewhat represent what you need in real life. Of course it is ridiculously easy to move up the ladder (becoming a surgeon in a couple of days is no small feat!). This brings me to the first (so far) problem of the game.

It's easy to live. Way too easy. Even the lowest paying jobs will net you enough money to do what you want. Taxes are not particularly high, and buying food is a joke. While this is meant to encourage trying different styles of play, while keeping the game accessible to everyone, I think it should be a little harder to keep your sims alive i.e. it's fine to stay at the first level of a career if you are extra careful with the way you spend your money. Basically, adding a cost for, say, electricity might balance things up.

So far, everything I discussed could be applied to both Sims 1 and Sims 2. Let's get going with the new features.

There are two huge new features in The Sims 2. First are the aspirations, second are the genetic aspect of the game and the ability to create entire generations of sims spawned from the same Mr and Mrs Sim.

Aspirations are a great thing. Since managing the mood and needs is so easy, Maxis needed to create something that would throw some challenge. This is where the wants and fears (not to be confused with needs) come in play. When you create a sim, you have to choose an aspiration for him. Choose between Popularity, Romance, Family, Knowledge and Fortune. The aspiration will determine, along with personality, what the typical wants and fears of your sim will be like. As such, my Knowledge and neat sim wants to raise his skills, but fears to use a public toilet. It is important to note that wants and fears are also influenced by the way your sim's life evolves. Therefore, a Knowledge sim is not a typical nerd; he will want to share a kiss with his loved one, or have a chat with his best friend. In the same line of idea, a Romance or Fortune sim might want to raise his or her skills. As you satisfy wants, you get aspiration points that can be used to buy specific objects. Also, if you raise your aspiration meter to maximum, you gain a perfect mood that lasts for a specific time. Likewise, if it drops too low, your sim will be depressed and will need guidance. Aspirations are an extremely nice new feature, in my opinion.

In fact, since aspirations are so important, I thought it would be a good idea to comment on each one of them.

The Popularity aspiration is all about having lots of friends and having parties. The wants associated with this aspiration are therefore quite easy to achieve, since they usually involve talking with Mr X, telling a joke to Mrs Y or meeting new people. For these reasons, it is very easy to get the platinum mood with this aspiration.

The Romance aspiration is obviously about doing some serious kissing. This aspiration really encourages your sim to kiss anyone, cheat on their loved ones and have as many lovers as possible. Might be hard to manage, since it's like an extreme version of the Popularity aspiration.

Family is a hard one too. Sims following this aspiration will want to have lots of children, and show them how to walk etc. The way I see it, this aspiration is perfect for a sim who stays at home, while the husband or wife makes the money by working.

Fortune is all about money. Those sims will want to make money, buy objects costing a lot, selling novels that give a lot of money and fear the repo-man. Quite easy to manage as long as you have some money to buy objects they want.

Knowledge is my personal favourite. These sims will want to improve their skills (and eventually maximise them) and learn how to do things. They also sport a darker side, loving to see ghosts and aliens. However, as time passes, they tend to develop rather social wants, wanting to speak to other sims and kissing their beloved. Not hard, though not easy either, since it's touchy to raise skills once they are high.

Overall, I'd say the aspirations are pretty balanced for any style of play.

The other big chunk is that sims now age. A child will become a teen, who will become an adult, who will become an elder. Eventually, sims will die. The thing is, the game really focuses on generations. While it is a good concept, it needed something to keep it interesting. This is where the genetics come.

Sims have genes. Mr and Mrs Sim will therefore have children that somewhat look like them. Having studied in health sciences myself, I must say that at least the basics of genetics are in (two blue-eyed parents can't have a brown-eyed child, etc.; as far as I now, it's like this in the game too). Of course this is a much welcomed improvement, although it was somewhat necessary to make the new generation feature interesting.

There is a lot going on in The Sims 2, and I simply can't be sure I covered everything. I do think that I have discussed the important features, but I will surely update this review if I find I forgot something important.

So, why do I give gameplay an eight? Well, there's the little gameplay imbalance I mentioned earlier (the game being somewhat easy) to start with. The other beef I have with the game is that it's not that much different from The Sims 1. While the new generation and aspiration features really set the game apart, I found that I could do exactly the same thing in both games and achieve similar, if not identical, results. The fact is, gaining aspiration points by completing a sim's wants is not all that special. Generally, you'll just complete wants by playing casually. This resolves in a somewhat repetitive gameplay, in my opinion. After playing Sims 2 a couple of days, and un-glueing the generation features off of my eyes, I realised that the house I had built is surprisingly identical to the ones I used to build in Sims 1. Of course in future games I messed out with all the new building tools, but what I'm saying is that for someone who has played Sims 1 a lot (which is my case; by "al lot" I really mean it), the game might be repetitive a little. Once in a while, I think I'm playing Sims 1 with better graphics.

In my opinion, what really lacks in the wonderful world of Sims 2 is the ability to somewhat control your sims at their job. I realise this would be an extremely time consuming thing to do (since there are ten careers with ten levels each) but it would really set the game apart. Maxis already did it in the expansion "Superstar" in Sims 1, and something similar with each job would be truly wonderful. For example, the Medicine career would have a hospital with various objects that could be used once your sim has achieved a certain status (emergency beds or radiology for a specialist, operation room for surgeons, etc.).

Story N/A

Whether the story is good or not entirely depends on you (and your sims).

Video 10

I find it hard to find anything to criticise here. In my opinion, the graphics are perfect. Everything is perfectly modelled and skinned. If you enter a house using the free camera view, everything really looks real (at least with a decent computer).

Animations are great too. I was surprised to see that TVs and computers are also animated; that's a nice little touch. Of course interactions between sims are also flawless, from a fight to a cuddle on the crouch.

I can't say anything else here, except that the graphics are absolutely fabulous, probably exceeding by far today's gamers's expectations.

Sound 9

Well, there's not much in the sound department in this game. I give it a nine though since it fits the game very well. Every object susceptible of making a sound has one, sims perfectly speak their usual language (which I forgot the proper name) and there's always a nice, friendly music in the buy and build modes.

Not much, I hear you ask? Well, while music is extremely important for most games, The Sims 2 is a life simulation. It wouldn't make much sense to have a background music all the time. Actually, if you or your sims are music-oriented, then you can just buy a stereo system for your sims to mess with.

Replay Value 8

There is simply much to do in this game, whether it's playing through 15 generations of a same family, filling neighbourhoods of related sims or spending evenings designing houses, Sims 2 should keep everyone interested for quite some time. Add to this the fact that sims can be so different from each others and you have quite some replay-value.

I give it an eight in relation to the problems I mentioned in the gameplay section. I have no doubt that Sims 2 by itself will become repetitive sooner or later for most players. However, that's why Maxis releases tons of expansions. As of the writing of this review, the second pack is to be released in about a month.

Conclusion

Pros
-High-quality and well-made life simulation
-Parodied, yet somewhat accurate, view of everyday life
-Completely customisable characters and houses
-High-quality graphics
-Many interesting and new features, making the game unique
Cons
-Somewhat repetitive for dedicated Sims 1 fans
-Inability to controls sims at work, or to visit other sims's houses
-High-end computer required to get the most out of the game

The Sims 2 is a very strong game that expends on Sims 1's revolutionary concepts. While it might look somewhat repetitive for players who spent a lot of their gaming time with Sims 1, the game does leave the door open for many improvements that will undoubtedly come with all the expansion packs expected by the public.

In my opinion, Maxis should only learn that people might want a little more, whether in expansions or the next game in the series, such as the ability to do something more than hanging out in your house or at community lots. I am, of course, speaking about controlling sims at work, which is probably the only missing aspect that keeps the Sims franchise away from the "Near Perfect" or "Flawless" title.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 08/22/05


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