Publisher: Deep Silver
Release Date: TBA
A quick Google search tells me that in 1820 an individual named Charles Caleb Colton first coined the phrase, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," That name means absolutely nothing to me; however, the full impact of the statement comes into sharp focus when discussing The Singles 2: Triple Trouble. Sequel to last year's infamous relationship simulator The Singles, German development team Rotobee seek to up the ante this time around by weaving a tale of awkward three-way attraction. If one is meant to feel themselves praised when looking upon facsimile, then it stands to reason that the people at Maxis (creators of The Sims) should be feeling positively flush with the ego-stroke that is The Singles 2.
Perhaps I am getting ahead of myself. Let as presume, for the moment, that you know nothing of The Singles, or even of the genre progenitor, The Sims. These games are, at their core, life simulators. You are given small 3D avatars through which to live vicariously, tending to their virtual existence in a micro-managerial way, absorbing their everyday successes or failures as your own.
You feed them, you clothe them, you entertain them, you send them to work to earn money to improve their quality of life to make them happier, and you loop this cycle in perpetuity. To the uninitiated, this sounds like an absurd concept for entertainment. The most common lament is, "Why would I want to recreate what I do for myself on a daily basis!?" Amusingly, this line of thought usually changes once the fruits of the sandbox have been tasted.
The Singles 2 does almost nothing to transcend the confines of the genre set forth by Maxis when they codified The Sims. The end result is an experience identical in almost every way to Will Wright's brainchild. There are two ways to experience this title out of the box, "story mode" and "free play mode." In the story mode, you play one of two characters, Josh the musician or Anna the writer. These two used to be a couple, until Josh severely dropped the ball and bailed on a meeting with record label executives that Anna had arranged. That spelled the end of their relationship, and the two moved apart.
Fast forward a month or two, and Josh finds himself moving in with a Korean student named Kim who had placed an classified ad for a third flatmate. Fate has a fickle way of displaying her sense of humor, and wouldn't you know it, but Kim just happens to live with Anna! This is the basic setup for a plotline that may or may not see Josh and Anna reconciling. Of course, living with an attractive, vivacious Sociology student complicates matters somewhat as well, but if there's one thing "Three's Company" taught us, it's that one guy pretending to be gay while living with two attractive women is plenty of grounds for laughs. Perhaps this lesson is inapplicable here.
Fear not, however – Josh has a friend named Magnet (people seem drawn to him), who owns the local bar and excels at giving bad advice regarding relationships. For example, his first recommendation to Josh is, "Go snoop through your ex's room while she's at work! You can't lose!" Josh is clearly in good hands. One of the few things that The Singles 2 does to separate itself from The Sims is to provide a much more rigidly defined storyline, and there are very specific things that must be achieved in order to progress.
In free play mode, you play three avatars, not just one. You are still restricted to a "guy-girl-girl" environment, but everything else is absolutely up to you. There are no plotlines to follow, other than those you create on your own. You have total freedom to work your way to the payoff in any way you see fit. Of course, by "payoff," I really mean "get laid," which sadly seems central to the identity of The Singles. Although this aspect is much less glorified than earlier press would indicate, it's still part of the game.
There is full frontal female nudity (no male without cheat codes though, the hypocrites), and sex is an inevitable part of the romancing you will do. It is clear that Rotobee are a German company, as there is simply no way a North American development house would ever even dream of coding a title this explicit. While you can have sex in The Singles, it's not the only thing you can do, and it's not the only reason to play the game.
The graphics are top-notch in every way except the models. The detail level scales beautifully; if you zoom right in, you can certainly get right down into the world and see the little things clearly. Colors are rich, textures are warm and realistic, and there is little in the way of framerate lag when you're rich enough to cram your living area with as much high-end furniture and audio/visual electronics as possible. The avatars themselves, however, while animated quite nicely, look like they were made using Poser. Everything looks just a tiny bit out of proportion and out of place, and it's somewhat distracting.
There is nowhere near the same degree of customization options for your characters as fans of this type of game are used to. You are limited to a pre-set number of clothing sets, and if you buy a make-up table, you can change hair, skin, and eye color.
Additionally, there is only perhaps a third as many different items you can choose from in The Singles 2 as you have available in The Sims. There is still enough to allow a great deal of personalization to your habitats, but there's just not enough. My kitchen cupboards are blue. In my perfect world, that would be black. I would also prefer more than a single throw rug and two bearskin rugs to adorn my hardwood flooring, but perhaps that's just me.
The audio shines only because you can tune into a folder of your own music. What is included as a score is sparse and comes across as written by amateurs and produced by professionals. Great mixing and mastering, sub-par performance values. However, any game that allows me to bring in my own mp3 library gets kudos from me, as I have demanding tastes. I offer a tip of the hat to Rotobee for allowing me to suit myself.
In terms of gameplay, there is so little that I haven't already seen that it's difficult to comment further without rehashing some form of, "this is identical to…." The same cycle of basic daily needs requires attention, the same top-down 3D isometric view is used, and the avatars even speak the same gibberish un-language used in The Sims.
I did like the experience scale though; the more sociable your Singles are, the more "xp" they accumulate which can be used towards increased skill in things like Creativity, Repair abilities, Slacking, Romance, and so on. Each of these carries increased proficiency that eases play. For example, the better at slacking you are, the earlier you can leave work and free up more time at home to live the free and easy life. Logic dictates that if you are a slacker at work, odds are you'll do little more than sit around at home and watch TV, but this we can overlook for the greater goal of going to Magnet's bar instead.
So what else can I say about The Singles 2? "It's just like The Sims, only you can have sex." That crudely sums it up, but it's a disservice to Rotobee and their efforts. Contrary to how this franchise has been portrayed, it is anything but an exploitative effort that banks on the sex as its sole selling point. Let me say again; this is a relationship simulator. Sex is a natural aspect of any long term relationship, but not the only aspect. To that end, I can't help but feel that the developers, however bereft of an original idea they may be, have done a superb job of tracing the arc of a love story and making it playable.
Scoring this title has been a difficult effort; The Sims 2 was excellent and thusly, so is The Singles 2. One does not penalize Chrysler merely because Ford came out with the four-wheel, internal-combustion engine automotive first. In many ways, hardcore fans of any given genre will be very warm to the idea that they can get more of exactly what they love. If all things life-simulation appeal to you, then by all means rush out and plunk down your shekels for The Singles 2: Triple Trouble. If you are bothered by excessive and blatant parallels, then give this game a pass. For what it's worth, I enjoyed playing this game a great deal, despite the myriad comparisons it calls to itself.