Review by doktorsquidd

"Congratulations! You just bought the same game nine times."

When your game is both genre-defining and ground breaking and has already sold a gajillion copies, what more can you do with it?

Well, if you're like Maxis, you make the same game. Again. And with pretty graphics. And call it The Sims 2. Perhaps I'm just a bitter and jaded old gamer, but I'm having a hard time giving this game a definitive score. Perhaps that's because, for all the talk of its innovative DNA system and the pretty graphics, this is just The Sims, minus all the shiny crap you shelled out for over the course of a half-dozen plus expansion packs. So there's some good and some bad. But personally I'm really disappointed that Maxis--the company that made ants and farm animals into interesting gaming fodder--has run out of ideas with this game.

To the uninitiated, this is just The Sims with a full-on 3D engine--it's the most obvious and most-needed improvement. My greatest pleasure over this game's appearance is not simply the fact that it's so shiny, but the fact that it runs fabulously on a PC that literally chugged running the original Sims. Can you say "hardware acceleration" children? I knew you could. Character models, though disturbingly anime-inspired, are charismatic and expressive. Furniture and home decor elements are well-designed and on a number of items you have your choice of texture. It's all rather cool and it runs smooth to boot.

Regarding the sound: it's a mixed bag. The simlish (the gibberish native tongue of the Sims) is back, and it sounds roughly the same. There are fewer radio stations, and less music overall, and some nagging sound glitches regarding carpool/taxi vehicles, but these are minor complaints. Despite Mark "Rugrats" (also the guy from Devo) Mothersbaugh being involved in the soundtrack, it's kinda nondescript and doesn't have the same soul as the first game(s).

As far as the interface is concerned, streamlined and optimized is the name of the game here, and just as with all other aspects of the game, it gets the treatment. It doesn't feel radically different from the first game, but it just feels easier--you point, you click, your Sims do things. Despite incorporating a full 3D camera into the game, it's remarkably easy to control, although I've found that a few things (like trees) get in the way when I'm trying to look at stuff. Is it so hard to make them transparent?

The big revolution in gameplay as far as The Sims 2 is concerned, is the much-hyped DNA system. It rocks. It's fun. It makes you much more attached to those little digital persons, and at times I was disturbed at how badly I wanted little Haruko or Mr. Sunderland (my sims: don't ask) to grow up and live long, healthy lives. Of course, once I've played the game for a few months I'll start looking for innovative ways to kill them, but for now everything old feels new again. Instead of being static, you can follow them from birth to death and, like the box copy says, do everything in between.

Characters also have much-improved AI. They can multitask, for instance, sitting on a couch while eating and chatting, and collision detection (especially involving congested building layouts) is much easier for them to navigate. They interact with each other according to their personalities, and the fact that the game now recognizes familial bonds makes their emotions and interactions more appropriate to the situation. This is all very cool.

Another cool addition is the Aspiration system. In addition to the standard needs (Hunger, Energy, etc) each Sim has Aspirations which change every day depending on what kind of Sim they are. A Romance Sim may want to make out with three different Sims, for instance, while a Knowledge Sim may want to experience an encounter with the supernatural. Of course, all Sims have basic aspirations (for instance, you can get 500 points if your Sim wants to eat Toaster Pastries, or 1000 if they want to gain a skill point), but they do a great deal to differentiate between the five types of Sims.

As I mentioned, these aspirations, once achieved, earn you points. These points are used to buy special items--for instance, a hat that induces happiness, or a money tree that gives you cash several times a day. You can only use them safely when your character reaches "gold aspiration level or higher", but they add a nice little element of surrealism to the game world. In addition, each career path has special rewards that you can acheive with career success. Another nice touch, but there aren't enough of these awards. Which leads to the game's main flaw: A dire lack of Stuff.

For The Sims 2, it's evident that Maxis wanted the Sims to have as much personality and realism as possible, and everything else went by the wayside. As a consequence, it's a lot of fun to play with your Sims, but they don't have much to do. For instance, you can't own pets, there are fewer career paths, and you sure as heck can't go on vacation. The "Downtown" and "House Party" aspects are still there, albeit in a heavily neutered form, and the texture/archetectural elements are limited to normal suburbia--no asian or medieval themes here. For a game that's effectively in its ninth incarnation, there should certainly be more outfits, and when you compare The Sims 2 to any of the other games, there's virtually nothing to be had as far as furniture is concerned. Sims staples like the electric guitar and the virtual reality headset are gone.

Of course, it can be argued that having an extra 30 couches wouldn't make the game any MORE fun, but part of the appeal of the original game is that you could customize your home and make it unlike anything your friends had. The sheer number of options gave you lots of choices as far as recreation and learning were concerned, and so setting up different families allowed you to try a lot of different lifestyles. In The Sims 2, because there's really only one ultimate bed or refrigerator or whatever, families accumulate the best stuff very quickly, and it looks identical from one house to the next. But then again, it's just "stuff". So that's the critical part of my review, and I'm not sure what to say about it.

Overall, The Sims 2 is a big improvement over the orginal in terms of graphics and character--the Sims feel like real people this time around, and their actions and interactions are a hundred times more endearing and fun to watch. Unfortunately, the lack of 'stuff' is disappointing--and although I'm sure greed was the final motivator, I'm not terribly thrilled about the prospect of now having to buy Sims House Party 2 and Makin' Magic 2 and Unleashed 2 and so on. Ultimately though, I must caution against buying this one out of the gate, as it feels incomplete--maybe I'm just cynical, but I hoped Maxis would give us more to play with here right out of the box. Feel free to hop on the train somewhere down the line, but for now, you may want to give it a miss in favor of something you've never played before.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 09/27/04

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