The high cost of livin'.
Video games are amazing, managing to simulate everything from driving to flying, from running a theme park to managing a metropolis. Electronic Arts' breakthrough title, The Sims, got a bit more personal by allowing the control of a whole neighborhood and, on some level, life itself...or an ambitious facsimile thereof. Everything in this arena of simulation has the possibility for growth or change. Even the plants in this world thrive on attention and wither from neglect. As for the Sims themselves (the residents of this simulated slice of the universe), their every need and desire, from the most mundane to the most intimate, is left to the player to manage - or mismanage - as they see fit.
Now the expansion pack, The Sims: Livin' Large, has arrived seeking to improve on this relatively fresh new territory with enough goodies and added features to bring a smile to any Sim's face.
The new interactive objects (or, in the case of the sad clown painting, the newly interactive objects) are the real stars of Livin' Large. They include everything from a Vibromatic Heart Bed to a voodoo doll, a KraftKing Woodworking Table to a painting whose depressed spirit can wander the halls and keep your Sims awake all night.
The electric guitar is one of the better new features. Like the piano, it increases your Sims' creativity and they have fun playing it. Other Sims seem to enjoy gathering around to dance...that is, if they like the music. If the sounds coming out of the guitar aren't to their liking, Sims aren't shy about letting the would-be musician know how they feel.
At 15,000 Simoleons, Servo the 'self-powered, self-guiding, self-cleaning and self-denying' experimental home robot is one of the single most expensive purchases your Sims will be able to make. It is also the soundest investment. At the push of a button Servo performs all of the functions of a maid, a gardener, a repairman and an exterminator and spares your Sims from tedious and time consuming household labor.
This is a good thing, because in this version of the game your Sims risk more than sinking into a crappy mood by keeping a dirty house. There is always the lurking threat of legions of cockroaches (spraying them and stomping on them is a waste of time and energy...and doesn't rank high on the fun meter, either).
Some of the new interactive objects add an element of chaos to the game. Star-gazing, for example, may be a more interesting way to increase your Sim's logic skill, but it can also attract the unwanted attention of aliens who might want to beam your Sim aboard and fiddle around with their personality points. There's no telling what effect an alien anal probe is apt to have on an individual (you just had to go there, didn't you... - Ed.)
Objects like crystal balls and magic genie lamps only add to the chaos factor. You may appreciate this, especially if you have crowded communes of unemployed Sims that you're willing to experiment with. And with the addition of four new neighborhoods to manage (in addition to the original neighborhood), gamers can now create and control up to 400 individual Sims (although they would have to go on intravenous feeding and renounce all relationship with humanity).
They've also added five new career paths (Slacker, Journalist, Paranormal, Hacker and Musician) enabling up to 50 new jobs. These are a welcome addition and can allow for a bit more character development. They are also an improvement on the original careers, which were not so imaginative.
If you have ventured to Sims sites and have seen for yourself the huge variety of walls and floors available, you should be pretty mystified by what they've included here. Considering the poor color selection in the original version of The Sims, one might have anticipated a better color palette in the expansion. Better, of course, is a subjective term. If you have always wished to have the opportunity to wallpaper an entire room to look like a zebra's behind, you're in luck (and there's plenty of disembodied animal heads to go along with the jungle décor). Other decorative themes available are Medieval Castle (which doubles as Mad Scientist's Laboratory), Cheesy Las Vegas Honeymoon Hotel, Kind-Of-1960s-Retro-Futuristic-Danish-Modern and some odd Backyard Shed type of motif.
Of course, you can come up with your own theme. You'll have to use your imagination, and lots of it, especially when you're trying to work a sofa that looks like a badly rolled ruby red sleeping bag into your Japanese Modern Minimalist ensemble. If your tastes run to the more conventional, the pickings here aren't very generous.
If you were planning on soiling yourself with joy over the vast selection of new skins for your Sims to jump in, hold off on the waterworks. Most of the new skins are work outfits tied-in to the new careers. Although there are several new outfits for your Sims, most of them were available months ago on the official website for free.
While playing The Sims: Livin' Large, I had to keep reminding myself that it was an expansion pack and not a sequel. I found myself wondering why they hadn't added a means of maintaining existing friendships over the telephone (like the rest of us manage to do). And of course the Sims haven't gotten any brighter. They will still get so enthralled with the espresso machine that they relieve themselves on the floor. No matter how tired they get, they still cannot find a bed without managerial assistance. These things are still annoying, especially considering that they have enough Free Will to decide to throw money into the slot machine or set off fireworks on their own. Let's just say I have high expectations for the sequel.
The original game has sold a bazillion copies, and I think the fumes from all that money have gone to EA's head. How else can you explain the 40 dollar price tag? Yep - the official MSRP for this expansion costs is as much as most full games. You can find it for cheaper, but they really should have set a 20 dollar price tag. It's a hard recommendation at 40.
In fact, most of what can be found in this expansion could have easily been released as downloadable enhancements (actually, a lot of the stuff isdownloadable).
Still, The Sims: Livin' Large is a nice, though hardly necessary, expansion to one of the most innovative games yet to come down the pike, and a must-have for any true Sim fanatic. Just make sure you're willing to spend the Simoleons.