One thing I’ve found with respect to The Sims over the years is that it’s really, really hard to explain why the game is fun to someone who doesn’t get it. “Right, and then you make them shower! And you send them to work! And don’t forget that they have to clean the toilet!” So why would you want a miniature version of some guy doing the stuff that you don’t even want to do? The Sims might cater to the control freak, the god complex, the sadist, the desire for vicarious achievement… but what about everyone else? After all, there must be some kind of “x factor” that’s made it the most successful video game franchise of all time. In truth, I don’t really think this third installment makes the explanation any easier, which brings me to my overall assessment: If you’re already a Sims fan, you’ll love the game, but if you don’t get it, you probably still won’t get it.
The first thing you need to know about Sims 3 is that there’s a fundamental difference that makes it a new beast as opposed to an extension of Sims 2 (that’s what the slew of pricey expansion packs over the past five years have been for!) – your sim is no longer just the king of his castle, he’s the king of his whole kingdom. Remember how amazing it was when Sims 2 expansions allowed you to actually step out of your house for the first time and go to community lots? If so, you probably remember those long loading screens as well. That’s because each location was really just another version of being confined in your castle; either you’re playing your house or you’re playing the coffee shop, but not both. In Sims 3 there’s no loading screen because the entire town is seamless; when you step out of your house and go across the street to your neighbor’s house, your house is still there. This is a pretty integral difference in the overall game engine; basically, the entire town is now your house.
What this means for gameplay is that suddenly it makes a whole lot more sense. In fact, it fixes the major logical frustration with Sims 2, which was that the world simply didn’t go on when you weren’t in it. For example, when one sim went to that coffee house, the sims left behind at home just stopped; so when the sim came home, it was the exact same time as when he left. Also, no one outside the home would age. So when your sim is a child, the friend that he brings home from elementary school would still be a child once your sim has grown into adulthood. And if your sim has kids that move out of the house, they won’t age, so generations later, you might find that a sim’s great great grandkids are older than him…
What Sims 3 provides is a persistent world; everyone in the town lives on while you’re not looking. They get jobs, get married, have children, die… However, while many players will see this as a perk, others might find it inconvenient. Players with a more “control freak” style prefer to orchestrate every detail of their sims’ lives; so in the previous versions of the Sims, they could switch from house to house, playing each family for similar periods of time so that everyone would grow up at the same rate. And whereas in Sims 3 you can switch to play different households, the other ones will go on in your absence. So if you switch from your main family to play with the kids that just grew up and moved out, you might find that their parents died in your absence. There is a “story progression” toggle that is supposed to turn off the persistent world, but it doesn’t work correctly (EA has said that they will fix it in a patch coming out soon) so I’m not entirely sure how that could affect gameplay.
And of course there are a ton of smaller changes. One of the most noticeable is the body types of the sims. In the previous versions, sims came in three shapes: skinny, average, or fat. Now there’s an entire spectrum, and your sim can gain or lose weight based on food or exercise (though miraculously it seems like one jog around the block can drop you down several sizes – if only!). The phases of life are the same, including “young adult” which was previously only available for sims while in college; you can also change the life spans of sims – go for the normal 90 days or an “epic” 1000.
Another change that has gotten some media attention is that gay marriage is now legal in the sims’ world. Whereas in Sims 2 a same-sex couple could only have been “joined,” they are now afforded the exact same marriage scenario as an heterosexual couple – which includes being referred to as “husbands” and “wives” in the family tree. And of course, same-sex couples can still adopt children.
One thing that the men in a same-sex couple can not do now is have children of their own – which was accomplished in Sims 2 via alien abduction (spend too much time at your telescope and you might get sucked into space and come back pregnant, only to give birth to a tiny, green-skinned baby). There are no aliens in Sims 3, nor werewolves, zombies, or vampires. There are, however, ghosts – which are considerably more interactive than in Sims 2. In fact, if a sim gets a little too friendly with a ghost, there may be a ghostly surprise nine months later.
The biggest change with respect to the sims themselves is that now instead of having one-note personalities based on aspirations (where “knowledge” sims just wanted to read all the time and “romance” sims wanted to jump in the sack), sims can have well-rounded personalities based on choosing up to five different traits. So you can have a family-oriented, bookworm, clumsy, computer wiz, frugal sim, or an evil, flirty, workaholic, inappropriate, kleptomaniac sim (there are 63 in all). And they get “lifetime wishes” based on their combination of traits, ranging from things like “chess legend” to “heart breaker” to “presenting the perfect private aquarium.” What this all adds up to is some pretty impressive AI with respect to autonomy. With Sims 2 you had to babysit your sims pretty closely because though they could usually refrain from soiling themselves, they would never get jobs or do anything particularly creative on their own. But in Sims 3, your bookworm, green thumb sim will wander over to the library on her own to read a book about gardening, and your flirty, workaholic sim might just bring her boss home from work for a nightcap.
Also, the graphics are absolutely gorgeous. What Sims 2 offered over Sims 1 in terms of character design, Sims 3 has done over Sims 2 for landscape. Especially considering that you can now look out your sim’s window and see a perfect view of the ocean – including that crazy neighbor who likes to sunbathe in her evening gown. And so far I haven’t seen too many complaints about systems not being able to handle it; my PC is almost five years old and the game runs just fine.
All in all, my guess is that if you’re already a Sims fan you’ll love this game… and if you’re not, you may want to consider playing around with it anyway. Just be aware that if you do finally “get it,” it can be a bit of a time sink!