IGN Review of The Sims 3 Late Night Expansion Pack
The Sims 3: Late Night is the third expansion for the popular Sims 3 franchise. Despite it being released a scant four months after the last one, Late Night is no slouch in its content, and will further enhance the alternate life experience for series fans. Let us stress "fans" in that last sentence. Like every expansion pack that has ever been released for the franchise, Late Night will not turn a non-fan into a fan. At this point, it's probably safe to assume that Electronic Arts has no plans to make massive overhauls outside of sequels, so people who don't get the franchise or just find it boring will find nothing overly exciting here. However, for the hardcore Sims players who have experienced staying up entirely too late to just tweak that one last wall or play just one more Sim day, there is plenty to enjoy.
Late Night provides new clothing, hairstyle, and decorative options, but of course those are in every expansion. The main draws of Late Night are, strangely, elements from several previous expansions from other versions of the franchise. For example, one of the biggest features is the celebrity system, last seen way back in The Sims 1: Superstar. While running around town and living life, your little people can become celebrities based on their careers or socializing, and they can be rated from one to five stars in their fame. Celebrities view themselves above the sludge that is the rest of the neighborhood, and are challenges to socialize with, as you have to "impress" them before you can do anything more than ask for an autograph.
Playing With Sliders
Playing as a celebrity involves its own system of perks and challenges, unlike Superstar way back in 2003. Being a celebrity earns you free drinks and admission into the many events around town, including some exclusive venues that are blocked by an NPC bouncer who keeps out the riff-raff. However, celebrities tend to be followed around by members of the paparazzi, which could result in Britney Spears-esque embarrassing situations. Should something like that happen, you could spend several Sim days trying to deal with damage control as you become the laughing stock of the neighborhood and, possibly, lose access to the aforementioned free drinks! It's a fun diversion from the more mundane parts of life, and the discounts are great, though it can wind up being a little annoying having a reporter follow you around all the time… probably just like a real celebrity. Overall, it's a great option to have in the game, and having a few celebrities running around adds variety to any neighborhood.
The aforementioned drinks come from the new night club lots spread throughout the neighborhood. The dozen or so clubs all have their own requirements to get into. Some are public and accessible immediately, others require a certain level of celebrity status or other requirement. Each one features a bartender, who can listen as you cry your sorrows in your Woo Hoo on the Beach, or who will step aside and let you mix your own drinks if you know the new Mixologist skills. Bars are a great place to meet new friends and contacts, and they tend to draw more Sims than any other type of community lot, which really enhances the entire social structure of the game, arguably the greatest strength of the franchise.
Some of the new clubs and bars feature stages, allowing you to form your own four-piece band to book gigs across the city and make your fortune by rocking out , opening up yet another money-making avenue for any Sim. Strangely, the whole process of forming a band is simple enough, but getting gigs is completely out of your control. You often have to play the waiting game, which is tedious at best and can bankrupt your Sim as you wait at worst. We don't expect a full-blown system like from Rock Band 2 or anything, but it seems a little too out of your control. Once you get a band going, and they all have decent skills at their instruments, you can hear some good tunes and see crowds forming around, cheering you on. The problem is that it just takes a bit long to get there. Usually in Sims games, positive feedback and gratification are fairly quick. It's almost as if getting a successful band together is an "advanced" career, so to speak, and best only pursued if you're a long-time fan of the series with the patience to match.
If that all seems too normal for you, know that Late Night throws vampires into the mix. The Sims 2 had a tradition where Electronic Arts added a new B-movie monster into each expansion, and Sims 3 seems to be continuing that tradition after we've seen mummies from World Adventures and robots from Ambitions. Vampires come with their own changes to the rules of the game, allowing them to gain skills and physically move faster than human Sims, with the caveat that they cannot be active in sunlight and probably can't really have a "real" career as a result. Vampires can turn others by request or just for the heck of it, and will greatly add variety to any neighborhood you play . Vampires thankfully don't break the game in any way, and their changes to the rules are as fluid and well streamlined into the existing engine.
Also being added with the expansion are apartments, but sadly lacking most of the features we saw back in The Sims 2: Apartments. Rather than drop the cash on a house, you can rent out a small studio apartment from many of the high rise buildings of the new neighborhood. However, every high rise essentially has a single apartment to rent: despite each high rise having many doors and an elevator that implies a dozen floors of room, there is really only a single area for a family to start. That means if you have multiple player-controlled families you want to move in, either they all share the same apartment in the same building, or they will take different apartments in different buildings: either way, they will not be neighbors. Apartments therefore are more likened to an aesthetic choice within the game, rather than a strategic choice. Your neighbors will never complain about you even if you're playing your drum set at four o'clock in the morning, which would be great in reality for those of us who still have drunken Rock Band 2 playing sessions in our apartments, but it removes a fun little gameplay mechanic that we saw in The Sims 2 which no longer applies.
Late Night does bring us a couple other helpful additions that we last saw in The Sims: Superstar as well. Now, you can hire a butler to basically take the place of your maid with the added benefit of cooking family meals, though he lives at your family's home so you need to set him up with his own bed and room. Also, you can hire a bartender for house parties, letting guests drink and relax without adding more work for the host. Both changes are minor in the grand scheme of the game, but are very useful for players who wish to maximize their socializing.
As great as most of these changes to the core gameplay are, Late Night does feature one major handicap: almost everything you do is limited to the new neighborhood type. You see, starting with this expansion, neighborhoods are divided into one of two categories: suburbs or late night neighborhoods. Any neighborhood you created prior to this expansion is flagged a suburb, and suburbs do not default with any vampires, celebrities, clubs, or the new career buildings. This means that any neighborhood or family you created will need some work done to it to take advantage of the new features… or you start completely over from scratch with a new family and save file. This doesn't make a lot of sense: we saw in World Adventures where a suburb could be linked with the world neighborhoods, so it stands to reason that a suburb could also be linked to a late night neighborhood so everyone can interact with everyone else. As it is, however, your families are part of either a traditional suburb or a new late night neighborhood, with no interaction between them.
There are ways around the handicap, of course, though they are beyond the scope of the review. The point however is that it takes more work than necessary to have the new features become a part of your old save files, which we believe is a bit of a misstep to the expansion as a whole. Long-time Sims fans will be annoyed at worst or indifferent at best, so it's not a huge complaint, but one we need to point out nonetheless. Considering how seamless Electronic Arts has been in integrating new features into old save files, this is a baffling design choice no matter how you cut it.
Graphically and audibly, the game makes strides without doing anything too dramatic, as per the usual expansion pack fare. The new club music is very fitting and entertaining, and works well with the few new dance animations. The new objects and lots look nice but are hardly earth-shattering. One thing to note though is the new body sliders. Now it's no longer a matter of fat/skinny and muscular/wimpy: you can adjust sliders to customize your Sims' muscle sizes and muscle definition independently of their body weight. This means you can make a guy who looks like Ghandi, or a sumo wrestler who still has a six-pack, or anything in between. Also, something the Sims 3 community has been clamoring for since release day: there is now a breast slider for women allowing for changes without adding body fat. Between all those sliders and the new "trendy" clothing options, you can easily make virtual versions of Snooki and the Situation, then send them out into Simland to set them on fire (truly a better use for them than polluting our televisions every week).