Like clockwork, any new entry in The Sims is always accompanied by a slew of expansion packs. Some may seem logical while others are completely off the wall, but they all contribute to fleshing out the universe for these virtual beings. Unsurprisingly, the trend in the PC iteration extends to the console versions, with the more significant packs getting stand-alone releases on just about every imaginable console. The interesting choice for stand-alone expansion pack to The Sims 3 for the console space: pets.
It should be stated up front that there are some differences between the PC version of The Sims 3: Pets and the console one. Aside from being a stand-alone game, the setting is different, with the PC's ranch being replaced by a small town. While the console version has a plethora of dog and cat breeds to choose from, horses are only present in the PC version. The console version, however, lets you start out with a kitten or puppy in addition to the adult versions. Finally, data from The Sims 3 cannot be transferred over to Pets. No matter what, you'll start out from the very beginning.
You start the game like you always have in any other version, and that's by creating a Sim. The options are the same as before, but with a few trait additions, such as fur allergies and an affinity toward either dogs or cats. After creating at least one adult Sim, you can go on to create either a dog or cat. You can change everything from breed to color to hair length and voice. You can also give the animal fewer personality traits than you gave your Sim, so you can have an adventurous puppy by your side or a cat that acts like Garfield and loves nothing more than food and sleep. Once you get one Sim and one pet completed, you can choose your new home and be on your way.
The minute you set foot in your new home, the game becomes a close copy of The Sims 3. For the most part, you can leave your Sim and pet alone as they go about their business. You can also goad them into doing any activity you want, such as cooking breakfast, though they're usually bad at it the first time. Each Sim has needs that must be met, such as hunger and bathroom breaks. You can furnish the house any way you want, and you can also have the Sim learn some new skills. Eventually, the Sims will have to get a job due to the need for money and, should the opportunity arise, get married and start a family. In short, this is the same living dollhouse scenario that hooked so many people over a decade ago. It's complete with all of the additions along the way, including the karma system and ability to trade designs and items with other Sims players.
Like the Sims, pets have the same needs and can be treated the same way. You monitor their meters to ensure that they always remain happy, though your hygiene meter is replaced with a destruction one. They can try to maintain relationships with their owners or with other Sims or animals in the neighborhood. Interestingly enough, the pets can get jobs once they reach adulthood. Dogs can be treasure hunters or cops, for example, while cats can be ghost hunters or thieves. In a way, the game makes the pets more active members of the family instead of mere accessories, and the fact that you can play solely as the animal if you wish adds a new perspective to the gameplay.
The pets' lives end up being more complicated than just being happy, landing a job, and not getting in trouble. Once the pets reach adulthood, they begin to have wishes of their own. Some are as mundane as helping their owner find love or fraternizing with the other pets in the neighborhood. Others are much more ambitious, like inventing a robot army or dominating the world. The quests are quite lengthy and not only require learning new skills for your pet but also cooperation with your Sim at times. The only problem is that there are only five quests to undertake, so players who are more goal-oriented will be sad when the last one is completed.
Outside of the seemingly normal activities and quests lies the option to transmogrify your pet into a Sim. While the resulting Sim may look odd, it still goes about life like a normal Sim, albeit with their pet traits in tow. If you wanted, you can have your cat person take a job as a cab driver while constantly on the lookout for food. Your dog could be a mailman who's way too playful for his own good. It is both odd and amusing to see your pets take on more human jobs and activities this way, but it goes with the series mantra of letting players play however they want, no matter how twisted the scenarios.
The Sims 3: Pets suffers in a few areas, especially when it comes to performance. With the town laid out in small sections, traveling from one section to another will always bring on a lengthy load screen. The frame rate never really holds steady, and that results in some animations being skipped over or characters gliding to a spot instead of properly walking or running there. Should you have enough space on the Xbox 360 hard drive, the optional disc installation reduces the load times and number of occurrences of missed animations, but that doesn't excuse the game from not performing optimally under any situation.
The controls manage to cram all of the PC commands into a device with fewer input switches. Just about every menu can be accessed and navigated using every button on the controller, and the analog sticks handle camera and cursor movement while the d-pad handles the time control features. It feels like any of the other attempts at console RTS games in that it can be intimidating at first, but you'll get used to it in time.
The Xbox 360 version has support for the Kinect, specifically for menu navigation. Instead of clicking on a character and going through various menus to queue up their next action, you can shout out commands. If you end up with a full family of Sims and pets, the use of the Kinect becomes quite useful. Otherwise, most players will be able to handle a small family of Sims just fine with the regular controller.
Despite the problems mentioned earlier, The Sims 3: Pets still looks good graphically. The pets, in particular, are styled just like their Sim counterparts but with more fur shading attached. Animations are done well when the game isn't stalling, and the animations are always either cute or humorous, whether the pets are digging through yards or dreaming and rolling around in their beds. There aren't many things that look off, but the amount of zoom isn't that great. You can get a general view of your surroundings, but you aren't allowed to view your Sims or pets up close unless you're editing them to change their appearances.
Just like previous versions of the game, the sound is sparse but well done. The music evokes the scores of family films, so you'll always be treated to something cheery to listen to during load screens and major menus. That's about the only time the music plays, so expect no musical accompaniment when going about your business. Elsewhere, the sound effects are fine, and you can always expect a heavy dose of Simlish being spoken by the Sims and regular meows and barks from their animal counterparts.
The Sims 3: Pets won't change the minds of those who had no interest in the series. Due to the lack of some content and performance issues, it also won't convince PC die-hards that a console version can be on par with a computer. Oddly enough, it also might not convince players of the previous console version to pick up this title since there's no way to transfer Sim content from the original to the pet-themed version. There is some solid gameplay here that adheres to the mechanics and spirit of the franchise rather well, and the focus on making the pet more like a character adds some substance to the virtual dollhouse. The series fans who simply adore animals probably won't hesitate to pick this up, but it'll be the new fans or those who are curious about the franchise that'll benefit the most from this since it is essentially the prior game, only with some tweaks and additions thrown in.
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