All dressed up and finally somewhere to go!
EA released their revolutionary title The Sims nearly
two years ago. Since that time they have doled out to a wide assortment of shut-ins
and social malcontents no less than three expansions. The most recent, Hot
Date, is without a doubt the best of the lot. Although it’s far from perfect,
it’s a big step in the right direction for the Sims.
If you consider yourself the Frank
Lloyd Wright of the Sim universe, Hot Date will seem a cornucopia
of construction. The main feature of this expansion is the addition of a downtown
district for each of your neighborhoods. Each downtown contains ten lots; though
nine of them are full at start, you are free to bulldoze what’s there and replace
the shops, restaurants and hang outs with those of your own creation.
The default lots are generally too sparse and the fun too far and few between.
Your Sims will probably find them about as fun as watching paint dry. Undertaking
construction of a new downtown, you will soon find yourself hard pressed to
create a variety of unique establishments where your Sims can gather for a reliably
good time with the limited selection of start up items. Fortunately, the downtown
lots are available for download and sharing, which should help out quite a bit.
Building downtown lots isn’t as fun as it sounds.
Each downtown area is populated by residents of the selected neighborhood and
‘Townies,’ NPC Sims who just happen to be downtown browsing for a skimpy negligee
or out for an evening of fine dining, frenzied dancing and wanton bubble blowing.
Your Sims can interact with Townies. They can form friendships and love affairs.
They can be called on the phone for chit-chat and invited home. They can even
move into your Sim’s house and become a player-controlled character. These extra
people add immensely to the fun factor in Hot Date.
But it’s too bad that they don’t allow Sims from your other neighborhoods to
meet downtown. I would have preferred a single downtown district where Sims
from all of the neighborhoods could congregate (like a giant Sim hub), maybe
throw in a few Townies for a bit of chaos and save us all a lot of wearying
Indeed, players cannot truly affect anything downtown in play mode other than
their selected Sim. ‘Build’ and ‘Buy’ are not selectable, which just adds to
the tedium of construction. There’s really no way to be sure that your downtown
will be free of corners in which Sims will get stuck and other building and
placement errors other than sending a Sim on a trial run and taking careful
note of what needs to be changed. This is simply more work than fun.
A sub-category motif abounds in this expansion and it extends to objects as
well as social interactions. Objects have been categorized to the point where
some items are nearly impossible to find. This is particularly true with the
downtown objects and compounded by the fact that some uptown objects, like computers
and the virtual reality glasses, aren’t available downtown. And, of course,
there are downtown objects which aren’t available to your neighborhood. Spending
two hours searching for the hotdog cart is sure to weigh on anyone’s fun meter.
The real joy of this expansion rests in sowing the seeds of discontent among
the residents of your Sim neighborhoods. Hot Date gives the gamer some
great tools for creating angst-ridden relationships, as it introduces more than
40 new social interactions. Familiar categories of exchanges have been broken
into subcategories. For example, a Sim hoping to entertain a guest must next
decide whether a Joke will do the trick, some Juggling might be called for or
to go whole hog and break out the Puppet. How a Sim reacts to your Sim’s amusements
depends, of course, on their personality.
Sims have always had Interests, but they didn’t appear to play a very large
part in forming relationships. In Hot Date, Sims now have more interests
and they can change these by simply heading downtown to buy a magazine and bringing
it back for a good read. Interests can be gained much more quickly than skills
and it gives your Sims schmoozing ammo for their amorous assaults on more difficult
Sims. Players can nudge their Sim into changing the topic of conversation, hopefully
to an interest they both share. That’s a lot better than being confined to watching
helplessly as your Sim bores the hell out of everybody he/she talks to.
Players will no longer be able to have one Sim pin another in a corner alternating
between Joke and Compliment until they have coerced a friendship out of the
befuddled victim…or at least not as easily.
There are far more physical interactions between Sims than in previous versions
and they allow for much more complex relationships, which is something that
the Sims apparently needed. If your Sims are feeling amorous while dining, they
might indulge in a bit of footsie. They can also Cuddle on just about any communal
piece of furniture, an option which might include sub-options like Embrace,
Caress, Kiss and Make Out. One Sim can give another a playful tickle or tickle
them mercilessly until they wet themselves. The additional options made me wonder
how the game had done without them all this time.
Gifts no longer come from thin air. Now your generous Sims can shower their
lovers with flowers, jewels, toys and candies. They can even buy clothes for
their friends and themselves, clothes which are added to their wardrobe and
available when they get back home. This is a very nice touch and a pretty cool
feature of the game.
The concept of time has never merged seamlessly into The Sims. Just
walking across a moderate-sized room will take a Sim whole minutes. Time is
even further warped in Hot Date, particularly in downtown mode where
time seems to have no connection to anything. A restaurant meal can take upwards
of four hours. If a Sim leaves downtown by taxi at 8:33 in the morning, they
should not be getting home at 6:56 in the evening. Fortunately, Downtown Time
is only a distant cousin to Neighborhood Time; time spent downtown doesn’t seem
to have much bearing on Neighborhood Time or even in relation to their careers.
We are given a bit of love with the energy meters, which seem to run down slower
while your Sim is downtown, allowing your Sims the opportunity to enjoy the
new downtown features and maybe even make a friend or two. Your hygiene meter
is the big loser this time out. Your Sim can step out of the shower and into
a cab to meet a potential lover downtown and by the time they have wined and
dined and the date agrees to return to his swinging bachelor pad for the ‘hot’
part of the date, either or both of them will abandon affection for want of
a shower. Apparently, there is something mysterious and unseen downtown that
will have your Sims smelling like rancid gibbons
in no time at all.
But this is a minor quibble. The addition of expanded conversation options,
physical interactions and interests makes it much harder for your Sim to win
friends, but it is a much more rewarding experience. It lends the game an eerie
trace of depth and plenty of potential drama. Hot Date is definitely
the most worthy of the Sim expansions, though a bit flawed. And it’s more fun
than a barrel full of gibbons.