There comes a time in every Sim's life when they must leave the nest and strike out on their own. In the past, they did so with just a high school education and a dream, somehow avoiding the real-world fate of most: working at Arby's.
Now, you can experience the joy and pain of sending your young ones off to college with the release of The Sims 2: University, the first of what surely will be many expansions. Why many? Well, let's just say that we are basing our opinion on past experiences.
So how does University stack up to the swarms of expansions for the first Sims? Well, it does what's expected by offering more objects, more options and some new gameplay tweaks, but it's definitely not teacher's pet.
The first thing you have to do is add a university to your Sim town. With three default schools based on the original default towns from The Sims 2, picking a school and getting going is easy. Once that's added, you can bring young Sims into the new university region. Strangely, they only become young adults if they go to college; keeping them in the normal game moves them directly from kid to adult, skipping the young adult stage entirely.
As with the original game, there are several established households with existing storylines to take over right from the start, although it's obviously more rewarding to play as Sims you've already cultivated instead. Though it feels a bit disconnected from the rest of the game, the ease of moving Sims to and from college works well, albeit slowly due to somewhat lengthy travel times.
Once at college, your Sims have access to several new opportunities. They can move into the dorms, pledge a frat/sorority, pay for school with a part-time job, join a secret society, or even pull pranks like streaking. Going to college also opens up new career opportunities with new awards for your Sims upon graduating.
Provided they make it that far. College is a time of growing, learning, and, let's face it, partying. For many, it's that last bit that takes up most of the time. Not true in the Sims world, however. Your new young adult Sims may want to party all the time, but going to University in the Sims world is anything but fun. It's work'a lot of work.
In order to pass each semester, your Sims have to study their tails off and accomplish specific milestones. If you don't spend enough time studying, your Sim will be doomed to repeat the semester. Time passes quickly, so you have to study often in order to keep up. Needless to say, spending a great deal of time watching your Sims do their homework isn't a great deal of fun. There are ways around the work, but your Sims are unlikely to follow those paths by themselves.
The main way to get out of doing your homework in The Sims 2: University is to get someone else to do it for you, a process that involves using one of the neatest new features added to the Sims experience: influence. This lets you have a bit of control over Sims that aren't a part of the current active household. The amount of influence you have over Sims is based on several factors, including how much the other Sim likes your Sim and whether or not there's a specific relationship between the two, such as a fraternity pledge. If you've ever dreamed of being the big man on campus, now you have a shot. Though the overall effect of influence is rather minor, it is still a groovy addition and a welcome twist to the gameplay.
Money is scarce for most Sims (this is college, after all), but you'll find plenty of new things to distract them from their arduous studies. Pool tables and MP3 players will keep morale high, while weird new d'cor will let you deck out your pad in any number of classic college themes (including the "nerdy gamer', by the way). That being said, expect to repeat a few grades while trying to form a college band that truly rocks.
Given all the distractions of college life included in The Sims 2: University, it's hard not to notice what's left out. For all the drama, sex, and cheating at homework, there's one major thing missing - drugs.
It's not exactly surprising that the designers didn't want bad press by including drug use, but it does affect the overall realism of a game that strives to be as realistic as possible. My Sim should be able to hang out with a drug crowd, get hooked and fail out of college. So long as they don't promote drug use, I don't see the harm. Instead, the kegs are filled with juice. Juice? Ever tried to pound a pint of O.J.? No so fun. The closest The Sims comes to drug use is minor shakes from drinking too much coffee.
Generally speaking, the absence of drug use points to an overall failure of The Sims 2: University to really connect with the more mature elements of the college experience. It's Legally Blonde instead of Animal House. Which one would you want to play?
That, however, is a very minor complaint in an otherwise solid expansion. The Sims 2: University delivers about what we've come to expect from a Sims expansion game, though not much more than that. They made it a bit too hard to actually go to school and do all the work, but the additions of influence, new items, and new career paths are welcome. Not a bad start to the semester.