(Note: For the purposes of this review, I had a copy of The Sims Complete Collection, which contains The Sims and all the expansion packs. This review, however, is meant to cover just the original game, but there maybe be items in screenshots or references made to things only found in the expansion packs. I apologize in advance for any fudging.)
Ohhhh, life, is bigger…it’s bigger than you, and you are not me…with those words start one of my favorite songs ever and my review of possibly the most ambitious concept in gaming. Some might say Civilization, but that was a longform war game for most of its existence. Today, we try to describe a game whose mission is to replicate the vagaries of HUMAN FREAKING LIFE! Am I reviewing a game or making a commentary on human nature? I’m not sure.
Either way, you start by creating a family…or you can create the cast of Seinfeld. Again, we don’t judge. You name them, you decide how they’ll look from a selection of head and clothing options, and you can even write a little biography for them. However, the most important part of this process is allocating their personality points, potentially making your Sim a shut-in neat freak or a total slob who constantly craves the attention of others. Once you’ve tweaked your Sim to your liking, it’s time to give them a nice home. You start with 20,000 Simoleons (hah, I see what they did there), and once you buy a chunk of land, it’s time to go into Build Mode.
Build Mode is basically the world’s most elaborate LEGO set. You have free reign to put walls, windows, porches, patios, ponds, pools, pillars, and even plants shaped like llamas. The only limits are height (buildings can only be two stories) and your wallet. Building anything besides the most spartan of domiciles is probably out of your starting price range, and prices can shoot up astronomically just because you HAD to have the right color tile in the bathroom to match the awesome wallpaper. Whether Maxis intended it or not, Build Mode can be enjoyable in and of itself if you feel like going crazy to design the ultimate house, and I have to admit I’ve burned many an afternoon playing Amateur Avant-Garde Architect.
From there, it’s off to Buy Mode, where you furnish your new house with…well, crap at first. Your poor Sim will be sleeping on an army bed and watching a tiny black-and-white TV for a while. Yes, you’ll probably be pretty close to broke after building the house, which would be not as much of a pain if it weren’t for the fact that the game kinda mandates you to buy certain items from the jump. You have to purchase your own toilets, tubs, stoves, refrigerators, and sinks, and you’ll probably want to invest in a fire alarm and a bookcase so you can learn how to cook without causing a potentially fatal kitchen fire. Eventually, depending on what career path you choose, you’ll need to buy items to increase certain skills so you can be promoted, and you’ll be able to afford luxury items like bear rugs and chemistry sets.
Once you’ve burned a hole in your wallet (and probably burned the wallet, too), it’s time to click over to Live Mode to see your Sim get started on the soul-crushing experience of life. Those of you expecting to simply kick back and watch your Sim’s life unfold before you will be quite disappointed, as Sims have almost no cognitive autonomy a’tall; they have enough sense to eat if they’re getting hungry or watch TV if they’re bored, but that’s about it. They are quite literally dense enough to piss themselves if you don’t direct them to the john, and they will stand and gawk at a fire that’s swallowing them up, meaning you have to serve as their voice of reason and direct them in essentially every aspect of their day-to-day lives.
Since you have to do so much Sim wrangling, it’s absolutely essential that the control interface be smooth, and largely, it is. It operates very much like a point-and-click adventure; click on an object and you’ll be given a list of options for it, for example, clicking on the bed will bring up “Sleep” and “Make Bed”. Some actions are streamlined, like if you tell your Sim to make breakfast, he’ll go from the fridge to the oven to the dinner table without having to be spoon-fed every step, and if he’s a neat freak, he’ll put the dishes away without having to be told. Also, you can hire maids to clean the house every day, gardeners to keep any plants you have green and healthy, and repairmen to fix anything that breaks if you don’t want to risk your Sim dicking about himself and potentially electrocuting themselves. I’m also happy to report that things make logical sense, especially when it comes to raising skill points; if you need to increase your Body skill, buy a benchpress machine and pump some iron. Need some creativity? Buy a piano and let your Sim discover the world of music.
Now, ostensibly, the first order of business should be to get your Sim a job, which can be found either in the newspaper or on a computer (which has the advantage of giving three options per day instead of one). There are plenty of fields to choose from, anywhere between an upstanding life in the medical profession to a life of crime. No matter what you pick, you start out at the bottom, and have to work your way up, through a combination of making sure all your Sim’s needs are met and he/she goes off to work in a good mood, and fulfilling certain conditions, such as having a certain amount of points in a certain attribute. You don’t control your Sim at the office, instead, you’re free to queue up things for them to do when they get home, while time (which normally passes at the rate of about a second equalingm a minute of Sim time) passes at a greatly accelerated rate.
To Maxis’s credit, they certainly portray the drudgery of trying to climb the corporate ladder quite well. Your Sim has no designated days off, so planning a day for them just to advance a skill or make friends requires you to just bail on work entirely, which you can do without penalty (aside from just not getting paid that day), but two consecutive missed days will get you canned. Even worse, all career paths will at some point require you to have a certain number of friends before you can get any further. I suppose this is suppose to reflect having references, but in practice, it will be one of the most aggravating features in the game. First of all, it takes the better part of a day to get someone else to like you (be prepared to click “Talk About Interests” a LOT). Secondly, as you get near the top of your career path, you’ll need more friends than you have neighbors, so you’ll probably end up having to create more Sims SOLELY FOR THE PURPOSE OF FRIEND FARMING, and thirdly, you have to make time for all of them or they’ll stop being your friend; I can’t tell you how many times I went to work, finally having the required eight friends, only to have one unfriend me while I was at work, and if you have a job with screwy hours, be prepared to blow off work, because your friends aren’t available 24/7, and they will bitch you out for calling them at the wee hours of the night.
You see things through an isometric perspective, which can be rotated at 90-degree increments and zoomed to three different levels, as well as choosing how transparent the actual structure of the house is. You can’t make purchased items disappear, however, so some camera turning and furniture rearranging might be needed if there’s a lot of clutter. Everything’s pretty detailed, and there’s plenty of choice for furniture ranging from the classic to the garish, so whatever your tastes, they can be indulged. Sounds are another highlight, most notably the fact that Sims all speak a sort of gibberish dialect called Simlish, and points for continuity, because not only will you hear it in conversation, but on every TV and radio station. It’s one of those things you’ll either find either endearing or annoying at first, but eventually, it’ll fall somewhere in the middle.
This being a sandbox sort of game, there’s not any real goals to achieve, per se. Sims can die, although it takes either extreme negligence or a very concerted effort to make it happen. You can have Sims form romantic relationships, regardless of gender, although it takes a lot of doing. You can have a child, triggered by kissing (which, I suppose was the most PG way of handling um…such business), and babies, if properly cared for, will turn into older kids after three days (and have to go to school like adults go to work), but other than that, Sims don’t age. You get bills every three days, with the amount owed being a percentage of the value of all the stuff you own, and if you don’t pay, eventually a repo man will show up and take some of your stuff as collateral, but even that shouldn’t be an issue. You can do things like sell paintings or garden gnomes you create for extra cash, but that’s as close as you’ll get to running your own business.
0Expansion packs were eventually released that centered around things like going on vacation or taking people to restaurants and such, but those basically turned out to be minor diversions before going back to the daily grind, and definitely not worth the price of admission, at least not for me. If anything, eventually, you’ll probably reach a pattern where your Sim wakes up, goes to work, comes back, does all the stuff they planned to do before work, goes to bed, wakes up, and does it again, at which point you’ll realize art is imitating life a bit too much and put the game down.
All in all, especially considering the sheer scope of what the designers were trying to emulate, The Sims is a pretty solid game and a very unique experience (well, aside from the fact you’re basically living it as we speak). It’s decidedly less wacky and more grounded in reality than it was advertised to be, although the potential is there to have some crazy situations. It does suffer from the same problems as any sandbox game, i.e., without concrete goals or new content, it gets repetitive after a while, and probably quicker than a game like Rollercoaster Tycoon because, well, it’s simulating day-to-day life. That being said, it’s still a fun ride while it lasts, and the designers definitely deserve credit for their amazing attention to detail (I spent a hefty block of time just reading the little descriptions for the different items) and for making a life simulator that’s this functional. The sequels definitely smoothed over the rough edges found here, but the original is still strong on its own, just remember, The Sims, much like real life, is as fun as you make it.
Well, if you wanted to make a life simulator, this is probably the best way to do it. Logical, but doesn’t take itself entirely seriously. As with most Maxis games, just enough detail to convince you they covered every base, without being bogged down in minutia.
Like other sandbox games, it will wear thin, and the social aspects are quite tedious.