When The Sims 3 was released a few months ago, the first thing that went through my mind was, "Do we really need another sequel?" Two months after the release of The Sims 3, EA even released another expansion pack for its predecessor, The Sims 2. The Sims franchise just didn't seem like it needed another full-fledged game added to the series. After playing The Sims 3, though, the changes and upgrades definitely warrant the existence of the game, which manages to improve upon the Sims formula. The end result is a Sims title that revolves more around the town instead of a self-sufficient family (although that is still very much there), and overall, it is a more satisfying gaming experience.
If you've been living under a rock for the last decade, here's the rundown: In The Sims, you can create a family, get them in a house, and control them as they live out their lives. You might make them live, you might make them die, and you might even be crazy enough to create a house of traps for your family and see who's the last survivor. The Sims is a human life simulator, and you are in command. Over the years, the game has slowly expanded from simply requiring that you keep the people alive in a home and employed with a meager career to people who can age, have kids, and even leave home and venture into town.
That is one of the biggest changes that was made to The Sims 3. In the past, trying to leave home and actually go somewhere was almost always a huge pain. Tremendous load times were just the beginning of the problems that you'd encounter when you tried to get your sim to leave the house, and this led to such problems that you'd never want to take your sim outside the home. It became easier for the player to just live the sims' lives at home and work and not do much more beyond that.
With The Sims 3, there's still a tremendous load time when you boot up the game, but the world is now your oyster. There are no load times once you're in game, so you can instantly switch between your house, the community pool and the local nightlife. It makes life a little more realistic and a whole lot more involved now that you aren't limited to seeing the workings of the family under your control. Scrolling around the map, you'll see other sims who live in the town going about with their daily lives. Other sims will work, exercise, grow old, die, move in and out of town, and have kids. Even when you're wandering around at night, you'll see people dressed to impress for clubbing or burglars sneaking around a neighborhood.
With a new open world for your sims to wander about in, the developers have chosen to remove most of the options for doing things like shopping from your own home, which forces the player to use the neighborhood. It's much more satisfying to actually set aside time every few days to take one of my sims out the grocery store instead of telling him to walk over to the phone and "restock" the fridge.
The lives of your sims have been streamlined so that it's much easier to juggle their daily needs and wants. Your sims still need some guidance to stay alive, but the game wouldn't be any fun if they could actually take care of themselves! Bathroom breaks are less frequent, cooking isn't nearly as dangerous as it has been in previous games, and you'll generally feel like you have more time at your disposal for your sim to get everything done.
An important aspect of The Sims has always been your sims' moods. The mood has always been a little bit of a mystery to me, as I wasn't always sure exactly what was making them happy or depressed. Moods are still present in The Sims 3, but you now have something known as "moodlets" to help you govern things. The game lets you know what's affecting your sims and for how long it will damage or boost their moods. These are usually simple things, like being disgusted by living in filth, eating a good meal, or being tired. These help tremendously in trying to maintain your sims' moods at all times.
Periodically over the course of your sims' lives, they will come up with wishes that they want. You have two choices: make them forget about the wish or promise that it'll be granted. You're allowed to have up to four wishes in your queue at once, and they range in difficulty from making 15 friends to something simple like visiting the public pool. Completing these wishes will add points to your lifetime happiness, which can then be used to purchase rewards. This is a fantastic addition to the game and a wonderful replacement of the wants and fears system present in The Sims 2. It allows you to have significantly more control over the desires of your sims, and it lets you shape their lives rather than trying to avoid things that the game has determined your sim will fear.
Building homes largely feels the same as it's always been, with a significant change. You're finally allowed to place things at an angle rather than having to design according to the grid in the Build and Buy mode. Building a home can be difficult, and making an effective home for your sims can be even harder, but it's very satisfying to see your sims live in a home that you have meticulously designed. Houses are a little easier to build than they were in the past, and the options are bigger and better than they have been, so you can design your own patterns for furniture, etc. With enough effort and a good eye for design, you can add a pretty good dose of personality to your sims' newly completed home.
Other than these changes, living your life in the world of The Sims 3 feels largely the same as it always has, so it's still as addictive and fun as before. It's incredible that the life simulator formula hasn't really been changed much in its 10 years on the market; it's been refined here and there until you have a gameplay experience that is fun but feels instantly familiar if you've spent any time with the previous entries in the series.
The graphics have received an upgrade from The Sims 2, with significantly cleaner-looking characters. Characters appear smoother when compared to their somewhat jagged-edged counterparts from earlier titles, which is a fantastic accomplishment considering the absurd level of customization that you can give to your sim. The rest of the game also has pleasing visuals. While it's nothing mind-blowing, it's all very nice to look at, and the game performs fantastically, which is something that can't be said about The Sims 2 shortly after its launch.
Another thing that's barely changed at all is the audio because if it isn't broken, don't fix it. Ten years later, the simple upbeat musical tunes and the adorable Simlish chatter still hold up and are pleasing to hear, even though it's all completely unmemorable. The songs sound familiar and similar and the chatter is largely unchanged, although it seems that there is more music recorded in Simlish this time around.
The Sims 3 is may be largely unchanged from the previous iterations of the game, but that doesn't mean it's bad at all. The expanded scope of the game and the streamlined experience make this the best Sims game to date. It looks good and it plays well, but it won't sway people who hate The Sims. For those who like the series, though, it doesn't get much better than The Sims 3.
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