Thursday, 18 June 2009

The Sims 3 - PC/Mac

Since The Sims franchise first rolled out in 2000, it has split gamers' opinions. Some hardcore players look down their noses at it due to its broad appeal and heavy emphasis on home decoration, job seeking and meal making, while others have fully embraced the series, delighting in watching their Sims find life-long happiness.

I have always been intrigued by the series, but never immersed myself fully, mainly due to the excessive amount of micro-management needed for even the simplest of tasks. Thankfully, The Sims 3 is a more streamlined take on the hugely popular virtual life simulator and is all the better for it.

Creating a Sim - or a family of Sims if you wish - you get to control the destiny of your creations, leading them through life and love, while helping them to achieve their personal goals before they eventually get old and die. However, if the thought of losing your favourites is too traumatic - and you can get strangely attached to your creations - you can halt the ageing process and have as much fun as you want.

Starting with a wide choice of clothes to wear - from snakeskin jackets to funky t-shirts - the player then chooses five personality traits to bestow upon your newly-created Sim. These govern how your Sim behaves in society. There are 62 traits to choose from, including clumsy, artistic, hopeless romantic, flirty, over-emotional and friendly. However, if you want to really mix things up around town, you can create an insane, anti-social kleptomaniac - the choice is completely up to you.

One major change this time around is there is now a whole neighbourhood for your Sims to explore. To add a sense of community, computer controlled citizens go about their daily routines from dawn till dusk.

This is a huge step up from previous games, where the gameworld tended to feel a little claustrophobic. The whole town buzzes with life and wandering around, knocking on doors and chatting to locals is always fun and an essential element to character progression. Depending on how you get on with others, new chat options open up, which adds to the almost limitless social options.

Initially, The Sims 3 can be incredibly overwhelming. There is so much to see and do that my advice is just to play, have fun and learn from your mistakes.

Throughout the course of your Sims life, you'll forge friendships, fall in love, get married, have kids, go fishing, take guitar lessons, read the daily paper, attend cooking classes, make meals, get a job, get promoted, get fired, pay bills, chill out in front of the TV, play videogames, throw parties, read books, plant seeds, water plants, clean the house, take showers, play chess, study paintings, take part in hot dog eating competitions and party until dawn - and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

As the days go by, you'll discover Moodlets. Fulfilling these boosts your Sim's mood and can range from phoning in pizza to buying a laptop. Keeping on top of these is no easy task, and can be expensive, but seeing your Sim happy is always reward enough.

Aside from the fabulous open world for your Sim to explore, the frustrating micro management which soured my enjoyment of the first two games has all but gone. Sure, you still have to make sure your Sim can cook, clean, wash and tidy up, but the fact your Sim doesn't need to use the bathroom every 10 minutes is a real bonus.

While not painting the town red at weekends, the player can buy new items for their Sims. From kitchen appliances and lawn ornaments, to new sofas, cars and flat-screen TVs, there are scores of tempting objects to buy. Of course, to pay for all the latest house-hold gadgets you'll need to find a job, while the bills still have to be paid and the weekly shopping bought.

Aside from the main game, The Sims 3 is lovingly looked after by a vibrant and friendly community. Via the game's website, players can share pictures, video clips, create new patterns, objects, houses and items to share with other players.

Many people play The Sims for this reason alone, while others never bother with this side of things. And that is the beauty of The Sims 3. You can be as involved or as hands off as you like.

The website also has an online store, where you can use real money to buy in-game items. When you register your copy of the game, the team at EA give you 1000 free SimPoints to spend - my first purchase was a lovely PlasmaTron TV for 100 points.

There is no real storyline in The Sims 3, but why would you need one? It's like having your own soap opera in your PC, with every day bringing new and exciting stories to share.

It's not all perfect, though. While your Sim is at work, you never see what they are up to, and although there are many buildings scattered around town, you are only able to properly explore the interiors of a few. I'm sure the future gaggle of expansions will remedy these niggles, but it's a disappointment nonetheless.

The Sims 3 is one of those magical experiences that every gamer should investigate further. It sold 1.4million copies in its first week, so why not join the party and see what The Sims 3 has to offer? Just be warned, when everything clicks into place, it's one of the most addictive games you'll ever play.

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