The Sims invites expansion. In fact, you could say that both the premise and popularity of the game are founded on its ability to extend the simulation of "everyday life" into every possible area. With a format that celebrates our own seemingly ordinary interests, the developers have found no shortage of material, from pets to college to dating to business. It's an arrangement that has generated 17 expansions and over 100 million sales since the series was first launched back in 2000, so it's no surprise that EA is hoping to continue the streak with The Sims 3: World Adventures.
The new expansion puts an international twist on the game and gives players the chance to send their families off to exotic vacation destinations in China, Egypt and France. In addition to exploring the local towns, buying goods and interacting with locals, the new expansion also includes entirely new adventure-based gameplay that combines simple puzzle solving with exploration and collection missions. And of course, there are plenty of small but enjoyable additions that allow players to add even more variety to their Sims and their Sims' homes. It's a great first expansion for the current version of the game, delivering a cohesive but diverse set of new challenges and tossing in a whole bunch of new toys besides.
The big focus here is on the three new towns -- Shang Simla, Al Simhara, and Champs Les Sims. Each has a wealth of homes and shops to explore, new skills to learn, plenty of mission-based challenges and, of course, loads and loads of detail and atmosphere. With enough cash, Sims can merely make a call and be whisked away to any of the three locations. The length of the stay is determined by your Sims visa level, which increases based on your success in meeting the new town's unique challenges. At the start you'll be using a simple base camp, complete with the beds, baths and cupboards you'll need to meet your most basic needs.
The most obvious source of fun and profit in the new towns is the adventure board. Here you'll find postings from locals who need help, either collecting precious metals, influencing other locals, or exploring tombs. In some cases, a local will need help with each of these tasks in a long unfolding narrative. Of all these tasks, exploring the tombs is the most outwardly exciting and, while the pyramids in Egypt are the most satisfying, all three areas have tombs that offer lots of risks and rewards. It won't take many gamers long to figure out the tricks to get from the entrance to whatever treasure is contained within; secret doors, block-pushing puzzles and hidden traps are all relatively easy to spot and require only patience to work around.
Unfortunately, the idea of taking a family vacation isn't terribly attractive in this game, at least to me. Before you've built up your visa, the short visits mean that time is at a premium. During my first outings, I took the whole family (well, except for the toddlers, who can't travel) and I wound up spending too much time jumping back and forth between one Sims exploring tombs, another meeting locals and another learning a new skill. Even with the necessary sleeping and eating time, it just didn't feel that efficient. When you consider that all Sims need to recover before taking a second trip, it just made more sense to send the individual members of the family out in shifts. Not only was it more efficient, but it even allowed me to really focus on a single set of story elements.
My other criticism about the adventure-based gameplay is that it's sometimes a bit too straightforward, particularly when measured against all the other tasks and challenges The Sims has been known for. The tomb sequences obviously benefit from a tighter, designer-driven format, but this makes them feel clearly distinct from the core gameplay that arises out of the Sims' needs and attitudes. The inclusion of food, tents and, yes, even showers that you can carry around in your backpack are proof enough that even the designers knew that exploring tombs doesn't exactly fit with the core Sims gameplay. I certainly don't want to make too much of this difference because, frankly, some players will appreciate and enjoy the contrast.
Luckily, exploring pyramids and burial grounds are just a small part of what World Adventures is all about. There are plenty of shops to visit and lots of new friends to make, and many of those elements are incorporated into the adventures. Having to convince a family to let you into their home to search for a hidden book in their basement, or trying to get three random people to give their honest opinion about a local business, reveal more of the evolutionary gameplay that attract so many players to the series in the first place. At one point, we were asked to play matchmaker for two Sims but wound up falling in love with the girl ourselves and, in the midst of it going oh-so-right, found ourselves confronted by male members of the household and being asked to leave amid a flurry of bright red minus signs.
In addition to coming back with memories, the discoveries you make will also find their way into your Sims' homes. Whether you put a priceless relic you looted from a tomb on your coffee table, set up a fortune cookie machine in your garage, or even invite foreigners over for a cup of nectar, the designers have done a good job ensuring that you're not simply leaving all the adventure behind when you come back to your regular world. You can even add basements to your houses now and create your own little mini-tombs complete with traps, puzzles and complex triggers, which are sure to break the ice at naughty parties.
The toy box has been expanded with numerous new outfits, items, rewards and characteristics that are fully consistent with the spirit of the game. But as nice as the pagoda roofs and sarcophagi are, the more meaningful additions, at least as far as your Sims' identity is concerned, are the new skills. Industrious Sims can learn to profit from the study of photography or nectar making. (The latter is a thinly disguised form of wine that we can only assume was relabeled for the sake of accessibility.) Using the nectar skill is a very involved but very conventional multi-stage process, so it didn't hold my interest for long. Photography on the other hand, was actually an interesting way to see and document things from an individual Sim's perspective.
More athletic or mystical Sims can also learn martial arts, which helps reduce stress, accelerate skill growth and, at some point, even grant a teleportation ability. As you might expect, World Adventures includes a few fantastical elements of this sort but they're not as detrimental to the overall mood of the game as were those in Makin' Magic. As with the format of the tomb adventures, this is largely a matter of taste but even players who prefer a bit more realism in their Sims world are likely to find that the supernatural elements here aren't stretched too far.
Any missteps or seams in terms of the series' peculiar reality are easily redeemed by the game's equally quirky style and humor. The presentation is top-notch and it's a real credit to the designers that they were able to create exaggerated Sim-versions of three different cultures that hit just the right notes. The music, the architecture, the wardrobes, even the layout of the towns, all conspire to create a sense of a real but still highly imaginative place. The only lapse here seems to be in the rather flat and boring nature of most of the individuals. Having never been to France, I can't say for sure whether or not this is merely a case of art imitating life.
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