Review by dentj

"Good, but not great"

The Sims 2 is undoubtedly a good game, design wise. It has successfully taken a masterpiece of the gaming world and spiffed it up with new options, a new look, and a lot of new choices.

However, something got lost in the transition from the drawing board to the screen. For whatever reason, the final product feels like something released several months prematurely.

Gameplay: 10/10
The Sims 2 is undoubtedly an addictive game. Much like the vaunted Sim City entries, this game gives you complete free reign to play as you want. You create a family (or a lonely single person) and instruct them on how to run their lives. Everything from asking another Sim to marry you to the mundane chores of bodily relief is covered, with little left out. Your sims will converse with each other, laugh at jokes, and get into brawls with Sims they don't like. The game is filled with wonderful little moments that seriously blur the lines of reality and make you wonder if the Sims are more than a game. I've seen my sims cuddle while sleeping, tuck their kids into bed, scream at someone who flushed the toilet while they were showering, react to a sim with some funky BO, and even spy on their neighbors.

The game is also boosted by its new emphasis on the passage of time. Where in the original game, Sims were caught in an endless groundhog day, Sims in this release will age and die. Contrary to popular belief, the age spans are almost perfect in length, and force the player into making some difficult decisions over what they want to be. Leisure time often clashes quite hard with employment ambition, and there's a good reason why wealth sims have little time for family.

Rounding out the impressive new directions is the concept of aspirations. For the first time, your sims want something out of life, and accomplishing certain tasks will make them happy and content, leading to such amusing behaviors as a romance Sim's penchant to strut when wooing another. On the flip side, not accomplishing these goals (or purposely indulging in their fears) will lead to shell-shocked wrecks that cry a lot, pick fights with anyone, and die considerably sooner. What you want them to be is up to you.

Graphics: 7/10
Te Sims 2 is sharp and quite nice to look at. The implementing of a new 3D engine is almost seamless and further adds to the confusion over just how real these characters can get. The new DNA system is noticeable and fun to work with, although its overall effect is nowhere near what Maxim led us to believe. Sims do look different from each other, but the effect is often quite subtle, and almost absent until the teenage lifespan. The color scheme of the game is often quite garish, with many houses ultimately resembling circus tents. The faces of the Sims are articulate and quite expressive, although for practical purposes, the movement of their mouths is pretty restricted.

Unfortunately, the graphics engine is not as tight as it should've been. Despite what the minimum system requirements say, it will take a strong computer to run this game at high or even medium detail. While the level of detail in the game is pretty high, there is little that seems to justify the need for such power. Games on my computer such as Far Cry and Painkiller (both of which are graphically superior) both run smoothly at high detail, whereas Sims 2 needed some serious compromises.

Sound: 5/10
I have to admit that the sound was less than stellar. While the expanse of the sounds covered is impressive, the utilization of it in the game often falls short. There is a huge gap in volume between the TV, radio, and environmental sounds. What this means is that when the Sims turn on a TV, the massive eruption of volume drowns out everything else in sight, forcing you to lower the volume on your speakers. I'm not sure if this is a software bug or a design decision, but it is extremely annoying.

The musical score is also disappointing. While it has an initial charm to it, the relative blandness and repetitive nature takes over quickly. Here is one area where the sequel distinctly fails.

AI: 4/10
Here's where we really start to get into the problems that lead me to believe that the game was rushed out the door.

For starters, the sims have wildly inconsistent AI. One minute a sim will fix itself something to eat because it's hungry, the next second they'll wet their pants because they stood complaining about the occupied bathroom in front of them (and not noticing the four empty ones). Sims will watch TV or play Xbox until they pass out or die of hunger, even though their fun motive was filled six game hours ago. Any adult sim will have an undying urge to feed a baby when it's hunger drops even the slightest bit, wasting a bottle and leaving it on the floor. The adults will not, however, change the babies diaper, even when it's screaming to high heaven. Never have a bathtub in a house with a toddler, since every adult sim will try to bathe the kid. This leads to a massive traffic jam around toddler (who, incidentally, has a full hygiene bar).

Yes, the Sim's AI is shoddy as hell. It is a baffling mix of subtle genius (such as a sim's head following another through the room and smiling at their friends), and infuriating idiocy (pretty much everything in the paragraph above).

Overall: 6/10 (rounding up)
There's no denying that there is a very good game lurking somewhere in this package. Unfortunately, parts of it are obscured by a shoddy presentation that points to the game being released prior to it's completion. The inconsistency of the AI and the number of bugs in the game are unforgivable, and turn what should be an enjoyable experience into an occasionally frustrating battle against terrible programming. Still, there's enough in this game to warrant checking out, if you are willing to tolerate it's faults.

Hopefully the future expansion packs will be able to smooth the game out and make it what it has the potential to be.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 01/18/05

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