The Sims Life Stories
The Sims is a very special franchise. The original (since its 2000 release) has sold more than 6 million copies, therein gaining the title of the best-selling PC title in history. Add the various add-ons and sequels into the mix and that figure shoots up to over 54 million (as recorded in February 2005). While so-called hardcore players might scoff at the casual nature of the game's play, there can be no denying that that it has helped shape the industry's landscape in a way seemingly inconceivable before its arrival.
Female gamers, in particular warmed to the Sims' omnipotent, open-ended structure, which stood out like a sore thumb amongst the reams of first-person shooters and real-time strategy titles that the PC was best known for. It might even be said that The Sims set the foundation for the future successes of titles such as Nintendo's Animal Crossing, which continues to thrive on the same type of social networking required to play.
So after a wave of Sims bonus packs from EA, we have a new standalone title in Sims Life Stories, a slicker, slimmed down version of the series with a definite beeline towards those who might've loved the idea of playing The Sims, but who's busy lives haven't given them the chance to indulge in a spot of puppet-mastering a virtual life. Rather than the bare boned structure of the traditional Sims games, Life Stories offers the player two characters with previous life-given baggage and a series of ambitions that they'd like to fulfil. It's the player's job, then, to connect with the virtual avatars, make the magic happen and move their lives upwards and onwards through twelve plot-filled chapters.
Riley Harlow is a 23-year-old city slicker who has just moved into the Four Corners suburbs. She's chirpy, excitable... and caught in the middle of a love triangle. One of the guys involved is Mickey, a resident of Four Corners and 'OMG, what a stud!' who wouldn't look out of place in a photo shoot for GAP. Vince on the other hand is a successful businessman whose heavy workload has forced him to sacrifice gaining knowledge in the language of love, which is the point where you step in to help.
Since Life Stories plays like a stripped-down version of The Sims 2 (graphics 'n' all if you so choose), some of the frantic elements of micromanagement have been removed in order that the game plods along at a steady pace. This is to say that while the relationship, work and exercise needs of your chosen Sim still need tending to, requirements like having to leg it the toilet before they relieve themselves inappropriately have been cut out. So to has the need to stay near to home in anticipation of an important phone call. The inclusion of a mobile phone (first included in the Sims 2 University pack) makes important messages a lot easier to respond to in that respect. In addition, keyboard shortcuts have been included to deal with the most frequent of tasks.
Even the neurotic juggling needed to build and maintain relationships has been tweaked for Life Stories. In this edition of The Sims they're a lot simpler to form and develop. And, while any veterans of the series might even begrudge the newly forgiving game play mechanics which evidently lower the title's difficulty level, it does mean that newcomers and those after an experience they can dip in and out of with ease can do so, chapter by chapter, without the fear of returning to a messy domestic situation and an irreparable social mess.
Linked to this in another of EA's ploys to lure in the casual PC gamer is the ability to multitask while playing Life Stories. The title's 'laptop friendly' support (a version of the game that relies less heavily on the computer's RAM and video card) means that players are able to keep their game running in a separate window while they tend to unchecked e-mails and instant messenger in the real world - or just fancy a break from the constant oral jibber-jabbering of their troubled Sim. That said, the game runs splendidly in whichever option you choose.
After the book has closed on the two-dozen chapters in both Riley and Vince's lives, unfortunately, there isn't a lot more to see or do. You're given the option to preserve the happy equilibrium in each character's psyche, but without the expectancy of previously impending plot triggers subsequent developments, the routine grooming of each avatar doesn't have the same appeal all of a sudden. EA have already supported the game with an array of downloadable extras for players to introduce to Riley, Vince or a player of their own creation, though the game is strangely incompatible with other Sims titles, cutting out a considerable chunk of inter-compatibility in one fell swoop.
Perhaps, though, Life Stories isn't about a never-ending experience, just as the game's composition demonstrates in its separation from other titles in the series. As much as it can be seen as an introduction to the Sims universe for the uninitiated, so to it could act as a platform to the inevitable emergence of The Sims 3. And viewing Life Stories from that perspective, its enjoyably lightweight game play combined with a tirade of sickeningly clichéd narrative twists, fit snugly together to demonstrate another indication in the development of The Sims as a whole - and one which EA, love them or hate them, have moulded and managed with an admirable level of expertise.
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