Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: October 23, 2007
The Sims 2: Castaway is the latest title from the wildly popular Sims franchise to reach the PSP handheld. As the story unfolds, your Sim and friends are out enjoying a day of sailing when they encounter an unexpected squall that ends with your Sim waking up alone on an unknown island. After addressing the more important aspects of survival — such as finding food, clothing and shelter — you will slowly start to improve your situation by trying to locate your missing friends. Although you will have numerous goals and tasks to accomplish, your main objective will be to find a way to be rescued. In the process, you'll learn to construct tools, shelters, clothes and even furniture. You can even learn advanced skills, such as farming and playing music. Unfortunately, Castaway is only a single-player game, so don't expect to find any multiplayer or Wi-Fi options.
The often-busy visuals in Castaway are fairly decent and are reasonably easy on the eyes, although some of the smaller objects (coconuts, bananas, shells) will have you squinting a bit or waiting for the identification bubble to appear. Unlike a lot of other titles, weather is used as more than just a visual effect in Castaway; you will want to build a shelter to protect yourself and your possessions from deterioration. Although not exceptional, the music and in-game sound effects work well to support the player's immersion into the story line. Overall, I found controls to be well-assigned and easy to use, although the camera control was lacking. When moving your Sim from one island region to another, the camera always resets to the default position. Because you have to bounce between island regions fairly often, it's annoying to have to frequently reposition your camera to your favorite spot.
The first task you will have to perform is the creation of your Sim. Castaway has a fairly detailed Sim editor, although as expected, it is not quite as detailed as what you would find on the full-fledged consoles. You have control over the occupation, body type and personality of your Sim. Setting an occupation identifies the improved skills you might have at the outset of the game, which is important because it helps your Sim with building and accomplishing tasks. Skill areas include: body, charisma, cooking, creativity, logic (puzzle solving) and mechanical (building).
As with most other Sims games, you will be required to maintain your character's wants and needs while assuring his overall well-being. Castaway has you monitoring and reacting to eight different and fairly self-explanatory "motives": bladder, comfort, energy, environment, fun, hunger, hygiene and social. The "environment" motive is about making improvements to the Sim's environment so he feels more at home.
The title does a good job of easing you into the care of your Sim, as not all motives need to be satisfied at the beginning; instead, they're systematically unlocked as you progress. Although there can be a great deal of tedium as you have to regularly attend to each of the motives, you'll discover numerous methods of streamlining the process of filling each of the needs. For example, it is possible to train chimps found on the islands to help gather food and other resources. Also, learning to cook meals and adding various ingredients also helps manage the hunger motive much more efficiently than simply eating bananas and coconuts. There are basically three jobs that need to be performed on a regular basis to be successful at playing Castaway.: gather fish and other food, collect building resources and cook food.
After finding additional castaways on the numerous islands, you can create "tribes" and assign specific jobs to others. This is highly desirable because it allows you to focus less on resource collection and more on completing goals. Islands are usually divided up into at least three or four regions, and you'll find that you have to visit each of an island's regions multiple times to find the resources needed to complete objectives and construct tools and objects.
Because this Sims title requires a significant amount of record-keeping (just like the others), organization becomes an important aspect. Castaway does a fairly good job of keeping track of everything while you play, from the numerous building plans that you will obtain to keeping inventory of all of your food and resources. You can also access personal statistics for your Sim and move quickly between island regions through the use of the island map. As enjoyable as the game becomes as you progress, it is not without one particular annoyance: Because of its relative complexity, the title requires frequent access to the UMD. Not only will you be waiting 20 to 30 seconds when you go between island regions, but you'll also find that you have to wait as long as 10 to 20 seconds after issuing a command before your Sim carries it out. This is especially aggravating when you are trying to interact with one of the numerous other Sims or even the chimps because by the time your Sim responds to your command, your target may have gotten tired of waiting and moved on.
Overall, the most challenging part of Castaway is probably keeping track of resources and goals as you progress through the story. There are small intricacies that add a significant amount of charm and will keep you interested in playing. Just don't make the same mistake that I did by placing your fire pit too close to your shelter; it'll quickly go up in flames.
Although skeptical at first, I was slowly won over by the gameplay in The Sims 2: Castaway. The goal-oriented structure helps maintain the momentum of an otherwise open-ended situation. Except for excessive load times and annoying camera resets, I felt the title was fairly well-designed and relatively easy to control, especially on the PSP. Keep in mind that you will need to have a fair amount of patience to enjoy Castaway, not only because of the loading issue, but also because of the repetitive nature of the resource collection and the need to satisfy your Sim's "motives" over and over again. If this type of gaming is of interest to you, I would wholehearted recommend that you give The Sims 2: Castaway a try.
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