These are the people in your neighborhood.
Stupid alarm clock. Argh...and I was having such a nice dream. Oh well, another day, another dollar. I hate my job....hmmm...I'm starving.....hope I don't burn down the house cooking breakfast.....hmm...seems like ages since I had any fun...maybe I'll watch some TV....or should I call Daphne? We seem to be getting along pretty well....maybe I'll even propose....hmmm....what's that smell?...oh, it's me!....I should bathe....wish I had a bathtub instead of this nasty old shower....hmmm....I'm tired...last night was exciting, but I didn't sleep well...wish I had a coffee maker...great, now I gotta pee...
Welcome to the world of The Sims, brainchild of SimCity creator Will Wright. Equal parts resource management, home design tool and virtual pet, this is one of the most original and innovative games we've seen in ages. The Sims is a people simulation to the max, at once capturing both the guts and the glory of human existence, an exhilarating, addictive, and frustrating game if ever there was one.
The premise is so simple it's brilliant. The Sims lets you create a virtual neighborhood filled with virtual people, living virtual lives with virtual needs and desires. You design a house, create a Sim, and then try to steer your little buddy through the daily grind.
The first step is to create a Sim family. You allot points to 5 personality traits: Neat, Outgoing, Playful, Active, and Nice. These determine the basic demeanor and behavior patterns of your Sim. Neat freak, grouchy bum, social butterfly - the choice is yours. Of course, nothing in life is set in stone, and once you begin you'll find that your Sim might act out of character...or too much in character. As god of your world, you direct the actions of your Sim when you see fit, though you also just sit back and watch the little devils try to take care of themselves.
Those of you familiar with virtual pets will understand the essential gameplay. You need to fulfill basic needs (like hunger, comfort, and bladder issues) and pursue long-term goals, like forming relationships with other Sims and having a successful career. You'll alternate between these elements in your quest for happiness.
That happiness begins and ends in your home, which you create with the home designer. This part of the game is done very well, with intuitive controls and a plethora of nifty items to put in your house. You really do design it from the ground up - everything from carpeting, windows and wallpaper to pool tables, artwork, televisions and toilets can be part of your home design plan.
The objects you put in your house play an important role in the growth of your Sim. Buy a chess set to keep his brain sharp, and of course you'll need a phone to order pizza or call friends. There are plenty of objects to purchase, not to mention the endless number of updates you'll be able to download from The Sims site. Of course, the higher the quality, the more it costs. Self-flushing toilets don't grow on trees, y'know.
Fostering a healthy Sim is an exercise in minute to minute management. You'll find that most of the game has you alternating between watching your Sim take care of himself and then interrupting his book reading to force him into a long overdue bath. You can take control of his life at any minute and to whatever extent you see fit.
And I guarantee you'll be dealing with your Sim a LOT. The Sims is one of the most addictive games in town, particularly if you model your Sim after yourself. My first Sim - Sim Ben - was like a lost little brother (VERY little). I spent hours upon hours making sure that he was well fed, well liked, and just plain well. I made sure he went to work, built him a cozy pad, and gave him plenty of toys to play with. Of course, I lost a good chunk of my own personal life in the process. Is that my stomach growling, or my girlfriend?
Technically speaking, The Sims is adequate. The graphics are crisp if a bit outdated. The sound, on the other hand, is fabulous. From the menus to the various stations on the sim stereo (which you have to buy), the music is top notch. The Sims themselves speak in a sort of gibberish, with little intonations to reflect their moods. Sort of sounds like the teachers from the Peanuts cartoons.
In a moment of inspiration, the designers came up with one of the coolest save game situations ever. You build the entire Sim neighborhood by creating different families in different homes. Each of these acts as an independent saved game. However, the events that transpire during one game can affect other saves.
For instance, I'm playing as Sim Ben. I invite Sim Jane (who is just an acquaintance) over for dinner, and we have a great conversation. Our relationship soars, and now Jane is one of my closest friends. The cool part is that when I play as Sim Jane, I'll find that she now has a better relationship with Sim Ben. In this sense, the whole neighborhood can be thought of as one huge saved game. Very innovative, to say the least.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of The Sims is its open-ended feel. Things that occur during the life of your Sim will both amaze and amuse. Sims can fall in love, get married, and even have kids (who then become playable Sims). You'll encounter love triangles, depression, and fistfights. Think of it as an endless sitcom. You'll find yourself testing the limits of what situations the game can deal with, and more often than not, you'll find that The Sims passes the test.
While The Sims is a definite breakthrough in terms of design and innovation, it comes up a bit short in certain areas. There are 10 career paths that your Sims can follow (doctor, policeman, actor, pickpocket, etc.), but there just isn't much of a difference between them. None of them have any direct impact on your Sim aside from what hours they work, which is very untrue to life. How about benefits and detriments to the different professions? It seems pretty basic, but was left out for unknown reasons.
This affects the replay value, which, at first glance, seems amazing. But like all other Sim games, there is no real point, no goal to reach. You can literally play the game forever. While the meaning of life makes great dinner conversation, it should be better defined as a game. This is made quite obvious in The Sims due to one major detail - your Sim doesn't age.
That's right - adults are perpetual 30-somethings. Kids never 'enjoy' puberty or graduate from high school. Evolution is what keeps life interesting, and the fact that your Sims are outside the laws of time and space hurts the experience. Sims can die, but only by accident (electrocution, starvation, burning down the house). Some sort of natural life cycle would have upped the replay value tremendously.
Yet in the grand scheme of things, these are fairly niggling flaws. The Sims is a truly addictive and unique experience, the kind of game that keeps you glued to the monitor for literally hours on end. I advise leaving sticky notes on your monitor with reminders like "Go to the bathroom" and "Go eat." In the meantime, go buy The Sims. I have to brush my teeth.