The Sims: Bustin' Out

Penelope Weasleton takes centre-stage today...

To say that The Sims is partly to be thanked for EA's current dominance of the gaming business would be something of an understatement. The brand has proved a reliable cash cow now since 1999, spurning several console versions and a whopping nine add-ons to the original PC hit, whilst also defying the traditional videogame demographic and appealing to, well, pretty much everyone really. Of course, to say that some of us are a tad sick of the series would also be an understatement - four years of bi-annual cash-ins have sapped any pleasure we once took from omnisciently controlling the lives of our charges, but I'm simultaneously aware that loyalty is still as strong as ever among the 'Sims community'.

This particular title is being released on consoles, and is mercifully only the second Sims title grace living-room boxes since the original was first ported early last year. So, The Sims: Bustin' Out it is then; lets find out what reasons Maxis and EA are offering us to part with our cash this time around.

For starters, EA have pulled their usual wee stunt of including features in this pseudo-sequel that less financially devious firms might have included in the original - thusly a new multiplayer mode is sported allowing us to play with or against our friends - and your highly evolved Sim can now be committed to memory card too and be integrated into other games in other places.

The biggest evolution from the original console Sims is the ability to leave the house, however, a scary prospect indeed for a gamer who has previously struggled to make his Sims observe in the basics of home making - Nigella Lawson my creations were not. Now however I have to get to grips with careers, workplaces, socialising and all manner of activities more complex than mere personal hygiene and the art of bread toasting.

Yes, an array of exciting locations are now yours to explore and master, from the unseemly Club Rubb (which is uncannily like my idea of the worst nightclub venue imaginable), to restaurants, art galleries, gyms, and other such diversions - where you'll find yourself making and losing friends, attempting to fall in love - and generally wishing you were back at home attempting to lure your same sex housemate into bed. Ahem. Alright, so they wouldn't actually get into bed together, but a few hurried games of strip-poker and a passionate tongue sarnie still counts as a success in my book, even if that was my only success of the entire game. Poor Penelope Weasleton not only went to work in a bad mood every day after I, in my role as virtual pimp, had cruelly forced her to stay up all night trying to chat up members of the armed forces and guys sporting multi-coloured afros with minimal success; as a result she floundered in her career as a lingerie model, lost touch with her dear old mum and had to sell most of the furniture to pay the bills. But hey, we kept the strip-poker table, so that's what really counts.

Other career paths such as 'mad' Scientist, Athlete and Mobster are also open to your prodigal son or daughter, and you'll find a vastly expanded array of objects to purchase, such as DJ booths, and new 'social' moves such as the moonwalk and an array of 'extreme' piercings are also now accessible too. Indeed, it's quite unnerving how Maxis have managed to boil the varying elements of an individual's life down to a series of well-defined categories and points-building opportunities.

In addendum to all of the above, your Sim is much more customisable in Bustin' Out, with a huge selection of hair-styles, clothes, shoes, et al available to model on your chosen avatar. You can even dress up as Splinter Cell's own Sam Fisher - although fans of the super-slick agent Fisher may wish to pause for a moment before rushing out into the world of the Sims in the likeness of their hero to consider this: are you really going to have as much respect for the super-macho government assassin once you've seen him wet himself because you forgot to tell him to take a trip to the loo?

The graphics have enjoyed the expected improvements - and whilst the interface has been tweaked along with the addition of a number of new effects, the general Sims 'look' still remains and this could be a good or bad thing depending upon your standpoint. A good effort none the less, with the shadows looking rather slick and the locales by and large feeling a lot 'richer' too.

So does The Sims: Bustin' Out warrant the expenditure of your hard-earned cash? Well, this should of course form the crux of the review - but sadly I'm going to have to make my conclusion plural and sit on the fence. On the one side, my enjoyment was certainly coloured for the worst by years of too-much-Sims, and this certainly isn't sufficiently different or original to make it anything refreshing in that respect. On the flip-side, you console gamers may not have seen quite as much of the series as your PC gaming counterparts, and with this in mind you may find Bustin' Out a pleasant diversion - and certainly a much more diverse and well-made title than the original console port. Indeed, this is probably what it all boils down to: have you had your fill of the Sims yet - yes or no. Personally, I believe EA are going to have to introduce some major innovations with The Sims 2 if they're to imitate the successes of the first iteration - but then again I'm also aware that there are enough fans still lapping-up games such as this to position my view firmly in the minority. In finale, if you do love the Sims, you'll certainly find many happy hours in this, but if you don't, then this game won't be changing your mind, hence a decidedly inconclusive,

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