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PC Preview - 'The Sims Pet Stories'

by Alicia on June 7, 2007 @ 1:58 a.m. PDT

Take care of and train your lovable yet unpredictable pets in this laptop-friendly member of The Sim Stories series.

Genre: Simulation
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: Maxis
Release Date: June 19, 2007

Sims Pet Stories is an interesting experiment on EA’s part, an attempt to take the most casual of gaming franchises and find a way to make it even more casual. Following on the heels of the very similar Sims Life Stories, Sims Pet Stories streamlines the super-popular Sims 2 Pets expansion by adding two new story modes that give players clearly defined goals, while optimizing the interface and graphics for laptop hardware. Sims Pet Stories is going to be the game that can run on the lightest hardware, and cater to even the most inexperienced PC gamers. It wasn’t stated explicitly, but there was the definite feeling that Sims Pet Stories seemed tailored to further entire more female first-time gamers into trying the Sims, by making the games easier to run and more straightforward.

Sims Pet Stories automatically runs in windowed mode, to make it easier for users to play while pausing to check e-mail or carry on IM conversations. Players using a laptop get the benefit of an in-game battery meter that makes it harder to get so wrapped up in the game that your laptop’s battery up and dies, and a sleep mode that activates when your screensaver or laptop’s sleep mode activates. The game also auto-pauses, to let players wander away from it as real life demands intrude on gaming time. Sims Pets Stories can also run on desktops, with its lighter requirements making it able to run smoothly on much lighter hardware than the original Sims 2 Pets requires.

The actual game is another streamlined version of the Sims 2 Pets expansion, comparable in some ways to the console versions of the game. Players can opt to play the game in “classic” sandbox mode, or in one of two structured, original storylines. Sandbox mode is everything a classic Sims title is, a creativity game that lets you design a family of humans, their living space, and their pets, then guide them through their lives in an attempt to make them as happy as possible.

The storylines can both introduce new players to Sims 2 Pets and give veterans a chance to play the game in a different way. One of the stories follows Alice, a young woman who is about to lose her home. Saving her house requires training her pet Dalmatian well enough for her to win a dog show, despite the machinations of competitive rival Diana Gabor. The other follows Stephen, a wealthy chef whose life is badly disrupted when he’s forced to take in a spoiled cat named Diva. Both stories force players to try and train pets within a certain period of time, by breaking the game down into a series of mission-like tasks. Chapters are completed when you’ve fulfilled the tasks the storyline requires, and offer players rewards for completion. Interestingly, both of the story modes let you “branch” from the story at any time by simply ignoring the mission tasks. You can simply play in the stories as if you were playing in sandbox mode at any time, for as long as you like.

Training pets takes a variety of forms. In Alice’s story, she needs to train her dog to do unusual tricks, so it’s important to interact with “agility objects” that effectively level up your pet by teaching them new tricks. The longer you ask the pet to interact with the object, the more likely they are to learn the object’s particular trick. Stephen’s story calls for training Diva into being a cat that doesn’t destroy his apartment and generally act mean-spirited, so interaction comes in the form of trying to correct her behaviors by offering praise, scolding, and other enticements or punishments as appropriate. So the two stories effectively detail the two different methods of pet training the game offers.

Both modes of the game boast 70 dogs and 30 cats to train, slimmed down slightly from the original Sims 2 Pets expansion’s library of 72 dogs and 30 cats. Less popular pet types from the original expansion, like the birds and womrats, appear to have been phased out, along with other oddball features like wild animals and the ability to become a werecreature. Otherwise, all of the original Sims 2 and Sims 2 Pets features are firmly in place. The graphics are slightly simpler, to allow for lower system requirements and less battery drain. Overall, though, Sims Pet Stories is as visually pleasing as any other version of Sims 2, and certainly compares favorably to the various console ports.

The representative from Maxis describes Sims Pet Stories as a “gateway product” to the rest of the very large Sims line of products. It’s an interesting idea, since products filling that role are usually engineered for console hardware rather than PC hardware. The only real flaw in the approach is that someone who gets hooked on Sims Pet Stories could easily find themselves with a machine that wouldn’t run other Sims products smoothly. Likewise, Sims Pet Stories itself doesn’t interface with the rest of the Sims 2 line. Besides, with Sims Pet Stories retaining the gameplay of the original Sims 2 and Sims 2 Pets intact, it’s hard to figure out exactly what other Sims 2 products they might be interested in. Still, for gamers who want Sims 2 Pets on the go, or novices who want to dip a toe into the world of PC gaming, Sims Pet Stories looks like an attractive option.

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