Publisher: EA Games
Release Date: 03/25/2003
Ever since that fateful day in January of 2000 when Maxis unleashed The Sims on PC, gamers have been living out the lives of computer-generated characters in a miniaturized world full of life’s little nuances and annoyances. Flocks of Will Wright fans and curious gamers alike amassed to their respective retail outlets and purchased more copies of the title than the publisher could produce, earning The Sims the title of most popular PC game ever. Then the mud-slinging began, “The Sims is a girl’s game” some would declare, “A hardcore gamer wouldn’t be caught dead playing The Sims” others would pronounce. But I never listened to those people with their dollhouse mentality and complicated shoes, and I wish I could say I’m better off because of it. But the fact of the matter is that The Sims has penetrated the deepest reaches of my subconscious, forcing me into exhaustion-inducing sessions of digital projection. “If I go to the bathroom or take a shower who will look after my sim? Who? Tell me! He’ll gorge himself on unwholesome snacks until dawn and pee on the carpet if I’m not there to instill good manners and etiquette!” And so it went, as the days grew long I too grew ever closer to irrevocable delusion. As my sim got a taste of the better things in life and developed healthy, satisfying relationships with his neighbors, my real life was reduced to playing make believe, and contemplating the usefulness of a colostomy bag.
Luckily, my obsession was met with reason and the cruel inevitability of reality. Eventually my crack-like habit of dwindling my life away one mouse-click at a time came to a bittersweet end. When the myriad expansion packs were released, I simply turned a blind-eye. “That stuff’ll kill you” I’d say to the poor bastards who were still caught in the throes of a Sim-induced gaming binge. But now, as if one life to live isn’t enough, that same game that has so preoccupied an eager crowd of simulated-life junkies is now resurfacing in updated form on the Nintendo GameCube. Upon nonchalantly booting the game up I was enticed by the sexy new 3D engine, beguiled by the ability to jump right into a pre-made scenario, and downright inveigled (inveigled?) by the host of new additions to the game. Ten hours into my experience with The Sims’ new Get A Life mode I thought to myself “I can quit anytime, I’m not addicted, this is strictly professional, I’m here on business not pleasure.” Then it was 6 A.M., my real-life guest was passed out on the couch, and I realized that I had just spent nearly half a day tending to a fictitious little digital representation of myself.
Don’t look at me like that. You’d have caved under the same circumstances, too. How was I to know that Maxis refined and polished the classic The Sims foundation to such an extent that I’d fall in love with the game all over again? I was expecting a straight port of the three-year old PC game. Moreover, I was expecting the transition from keyboard and mouse to gamepad to be rife with stifling annoyances. But surprisingly, the console version of The Sims plays even better than the PC original. The ability to rotate, zoom in and out, and view every possible statistic by pressing a different direction on the D-pad, makes the gamepad even more effective than a keyboard and mouse. You'd think that targeting small items using an analog controller wouldn't be able to compete with the precision of a mouse, but you’d also be wrong. When you click the cursor near two or more objects a menu will pop up allowing you to quickly select which item you want to interact with. There you go, problem solved.
The first time you start up The Sims your only option is the “Get A Life” mode. This rich and deep mode of play begins in a dream sequence as you are living life in an enormous mansion with all sorts of wonderful and expensive furnishings around you. But as soon as your dream girl or guy walks in you wake up to realize that you actually live in a tiny house, with your mom no less. To make matters worse the TV is on the fritz, your mom doesn’t know how to cook, and the chump change in your pocket isn’t nearly enough to move out on your own. This first stage of the game has three objectives: fix the TV, learn to cook, and borrow 800 bucks from mom to move out. Once you move out, the set of objectives will change to other things, like getting a roommate, getting promoted in whatever occupation you chose, and so forth. This brings the immersion to a whole other level: a Sims game that you can actually beat, now that’s what I’m talking about.
As you tend to your sim’s specific needs - comfort, hunger, social, bladder, etc – you’ll be compelled to try new things and build skill points in different categories like mechanical, creativity, body, and stuff. And as you build up the skills of your sim it will become better at doing things, anything from making more nourishing meals to fixing broken appliances quicker (and with less chance of horrific electrical shock, too), as your sim excels at these things you will be rewarded with varying levels of remuneration. Most rewards come in the form of new household items to play with and use, but more substantial success will yield far better results like new modes of play, for example.
One of those modes of play is a nifty two-player game wherein two people compete in various time-restriction based objectives like eating the most food in the shortest amount of time, dancing with the most people, talking to the most people, etc. The premise is astoundingly simple but the amount of entertainment that two people can derive from them is surprisingly immense.
Despite my unbridled affinity for The Sims there were a few things that rained on my parade. The first thing that got on my nerves was the incessant buzzing of flies coming from somewhere in my sim-house. From where? I don’t know. I scoured every inch of the place like a lunatic, searching for a trash can that needed to be emptied or a dirty dish that needed to be cleaned but my search for the elusive buzz yielded no results. “Where is that buzz coming from? WHERE ARE THOSE GODT-DANG FLIES!?” “There's that buzzing again, I'm about to lose my mind, up in here.” Aside from the invisible flies, the inability to switch to super-speed at will was another annoyance. Building skills takes a ton of time and having to sit there watching your sim workout for long durations can get old. But these are all very minor qualms on an otherwise perfectly tuned experience.
Visually, The Sims is a sight to behold, if only because the transition from 3D-style sprites to full-on polygons is so seamless and functional. Every object in the game, be it a plate of food or a jumbo plasma-screen TV, is rendered with impressive detail. The Sims won’t be winning any technological awards in the graphics department or anything, but when compared to the PC original, the difference is night and day. The coolest addition to the visual facet of the game is the ability to freely rotate the camera, that may not sound like much but once you get used to the convenience that it brings to the table you’ll swear by it. You won’t find an audio presentation quite like that of The Sims on any other game, it is filled with believable yet vividly fictitious sim-lish (sim-style English) that transitions from ho-hum conversations between two sims to actual songs that can be heard via in-game stereos. These songs, I tell ya, these songs are absolutely brilliant; you can have your sim switch the genre of music between rap, dance, country, jazz and more, the style of these songs reflect their real-life counterparts with eerie similarity. What’s more is that the sound effects in the game - from brewing up a fresh cup of cappuccino to filling a bathtub with water, or typing away at a computer - sound extremely, extremely convincing. Phenomenal, that is the only way to describe The Sims multifaceted aural arrangement.
Well, I thought my sims lovin’ days were over, but just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in. Even after spending countless hours with The Sims on the GameCube (and loving every minute of it, mind you) I can’t help but wonder what the next manifestation of The Sims will be like. The Sims 2 may very well be the death of me. Unless Maxis decides not to make the game. But they will, right?