PC Review

The Sims 2

Sam hands his life over to EA for the foreseeable future...

The Sims 2 is a true sequel. Which is a good thing, as the expansion pack route had been well and truly flogged to death. The graphics are the most noticeable improvement with everything now built out of proper 3D models. The move to three dimensions is a great leap forward - not only does it allow you to get right into every nook and cranny but it allows for the full arsenal of 3D effects to be unleashed on your eyeballs. The whole game world looks a whole lot better, even the details of the textures are an improvement over the old and the amount of new animations and interactions really help to make the Sims 2 more of a life simulator than a dolls house simulator. There are some really nice graphical effects on show as well; across the board The Sims 2 is a visual feast.

The interface has got itself a makeover as well. Things are laid out just that little bit better and most of the niggly control issues, such as quickly building rooms, have been ironed smooth as silk. There are a bunch of new attributes to keep track of this time round, with the most noticeable and substantial being the new set of aspirations. Each Sim comes with an aspiration. Depending on how you create your Sim in the powerful Sim Body Shop they will enter the world with a particular aspiration. This may be to become famous, rich, knowledgeable, a family Sim or a lothario. Whichever aspiration your sim has will determine the nature of the wants and needs that come into being with the start of each new day. Perform one of these wants, say shag three different Sims in one day or get a promotion at work, and your aspiration meter will rise. Get that meter high enough and the Sim enters a state of nirvana, where they are much better able to perform tasks and are more suggestible to new things. On top of that you will get some aspiration points, accrue enough if these and you can go shopping for a new aspiration award. These objects are typically whacky Sims things, such as an Elixir of Eternal Life and the Knowledge Helmet. There are also negative fears such as a loved one dying. Let too many of these things happen and your Sim will enter a depressive funk. Keep piling on the fears and the Sim will become a juddering wreck. The Sims 2 allows you to be as nasty or nice as you want to be. However, I found the acquisition of positive aspiration points to be an easy thing to achieve and had quickly bought out all of the rewards. As with the number of objects included in the game the number of aspiration rewards will inevitably be swelled by an expansion pack or nine, but it's a real shame that the object reward compulsion wears off in a few days. The Sims 2 definitely would have benefited from shipping with more objects. There's enough to keep you hooked on the acquisition trail for a good while and plenty of neat gadgets to sprinkle round the home but it is somewhat depressing to know that so much is being held from the player, only for it to be drip-fed back in a constant stream of updates.

One of the major criticisms of the fist game was the constant micromanagement hassle that you had to put up with just to keep your Sim alive and functioning. The sequel is a lot more forgiving with the needs bars, which consequently frees up more time to play around with the little fake people. The game benefits from a good dose of streamlining and the addition of aspirations fills in the gap left by the removal of the need to go to the bog every 30 seconds quite nicely. Consequently playing the Sims 2 is less of an assault on your sense of self respect as the majority of your time is no longer concerned with washing and feeding your computer dollies. The social bar was always a chore in the first game so it was a great relief to find the Sims social needs can be met through telephone conversations and time spent on chat rooms on the newly internet-enabled computers. You can even spend a while searching for jobs online, before you get bored and slump down in front of the games console - just like real life.

Of course your Sim will still do odd things, like go to bed in the middle of a party they have thrown or enjoy lifting weights. Navigating around the house can still present the Sims with some troubling choices and I would still like to have seen an option to program in set routines, say for mornings or dinner time. Time can still be a constraining issue but this time around it is an enjoyable challenge to prioritise things rather then a painful exercise in micro-management.

The biggest draw of the Sims 2 remains the opportunity to create a fantasy world and live a fantasy life in it. The total absence of morals and social restrictions mean you can have whatever relationship you like between the various Sims. Relationships are easier to maintain as there are now two separate relationship bars, short term and long term. So you can vent some anger at a particularly annoying Sim without having to worry that your previously important friendship, built up over many hours in the hot-tub, is not instantly ruined. Your relationship may suffer in the short term bar but the long term bar is a kind of backup as it takes longer for it to move up and down. Sex is an even stronger element than before and seems to have been inspired by the sexual society envisioned in Stranger in a Strange Land. Not only are the flirtatious and romance actions generously fleshed out now your Sims can finally give each other a proper seeing to, or making Woohoo, as it's known in the game. This is the one area where the Sims behave in a constrained manner as shagging only takes place in the bed. No doubt an expansion pack, Free the Love or something will open up the whole neighbourhood for carnal flings. The beauty of the graphics engine makes fantasy homebuilding a fun and pleasant experience, even if you can't watch the Sims bumping uglies. The game is even more flexible when it comes to enacting warped or nasty fantasies, such as creating a blimp man then locking him up in a room to see how long it takes for the forlorn ex pizza-muncher to starve to death.

Creating your fantasy home is a lot easier now. There's a handy autobuild function for making square rooms, and placing roofs is a lot less tricky task than before. There are a decent number of objects to build with, and the amount of wall decorations like paint and wallpaper is frankly ridiculous. You can now add decks to the Sim's abodes and with the improved graphics it's very easy to while away the hours creating some hideous/beautiful mansion. If you are into writing stories about your Sims there's a lot more scope to fill in the tiniest details about your Sim's life and its surroundings. The story mode will allow you to create an entire virtual Mills & Boon novel if you are so inclined. On top of the expanded picture taking feature you can now take little home videos, both of which can be posted onto the Sims 2 website for the more narcissistic amongst us.

The improvements over the original Sims are legion, but they do come at a cost, and the asking price for these changes could well be too much for the core group of users that made the first game into such a phenomenon. You see, the system requirements for The Sims 2 are rather high. Whereas the original game could run on anything one step above a calculator the sequel requires a good graphics card along with a meaty processor and plenty of RAM. This won't bother anyone who has bought themselves a Dell or some other consumer friendly machine in the last year. However, all those Sims fans that have up until now been happy with their four year old PC as it could run Word and surf the net on top of transporting them into their alternative lives will find themselves in something of a quandary. Will they want to spend a grand on an all new PC, or will they have to phone up their son/grandson/nephew/paperboy and ask them how they can upgrade their PII 350 running Win 98 with 128 meg of RAM into a machine able to handle the demands of the Sims 2.

Either EA have a much better understanding of their user base and believe this won't be a problem, or maybe they just don't give a stuff as they are still counting the revenues from the game. Or maybe they are doing their bit for the hardware industry with the specs of The Sims 2, which will certainly spur a good number of people onto a full upgrade. Either way, if you are tempted to enter the realm of the new and improved Sims bear all this in mind. The game tends to suffer from a nasty dose of the stuckies when there are more than a couple of Sims onscreen at one time, and trips to highly populated areas are best down with the Sims decked out in Victorian finery, to give the resulting slideshow a period feel. Bizarrely, there are lots of people out there on message forums with lower specced machines than mine who have reported no such problems. So there's a good chance there's a problem with the code which will be addressed in a patch.

Still, even with the unpleasant jerkiness The Sims 2 remains a very compelling game. It addresses the longevity issues that many players had with the original, with the introduction of the aspirations along with wants and fears injecting a previously missing sense of purpose into the proceedings. The whole concept of progeny and DNA also works very well to provide both an extra element to the gameplay as well as a reason to continue playing the game once you have maxed out on all the rewards. The Sims 2 is an enjoyable way to pass an hour or two, with that period of time invariably ballooning into marathon sessions which find you half comatose in front of your monitor at four in the morning, convinced that you will finally go to bed once your Sim reaches level nine in creativity. Paint you wee bugger, paint for your life! The Sims 2 is the latest in a long and distinguished line of games which just suck your life away every time you sit down to play, and no matter how much you try to put a limit on each session the enjoyably compelling nature of the gameplay will fight hard to keep you in its grip.

Maxis are to be congratulated for dragging the previously archaic Sims into the modern world of 3D graphics. The vastly improved graphics are well complemented by the addition of new gameplay elements and the successful tweaking of the old paradigms which made the original Sims both so compelling and frustrating at the same time. So if you are under the impression that The Sims 2 is for girls and housewives and that you wouldn't touch it with my rocket launcher you could be doing the gaming node in your brain a great disservice to pass over this title with such wilful abandon. The Sims 2 feels like the game that The Sims should have been, and as such it does very well in the Ferrago marking system, as revealed here:

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