First, a warning: those looking for a portable version of the PC title The Sims 2 won't find it here. The Sims 2 on PSP plays differently than the PC original and
the console versions. Luckily, the differences don't make it a bad game at all. On the contrary, these tweaks streamline the experience and spice it up for a mobile audience. And, for those who may be worried, it's still very much a Sims game. Just different.
Most of these changes deal with narrative, namely, that the PSP version actually has one. Instead of just cultivating relationships and taking care of personal needs, you can actually participate in a story. Sure, you still need to worry about keeping your sim happy, but these basic needs almost take a backseat to uncovering mysteries, talking to characters and exploring the gameworld. And you know what, it's damn refreshing. After several Sims titles where personal management took most of your time, it's nice to do something different.
In a way, it almost feels like developers tried to make an adventure game set in the Sims universe, changing everything they could without spoiling the formula fans have come to expect. Now before you start thinking there's a grand, epic journey awaiting you, just know there isn't. The story in Sims 2 is as quirky and lighthearted as the series itself, so don't expect to save the universe in a galactic space battle. You won't find armies of Sims charging down a virtual battlefield or Sims overthrowing a tyrannical government. What you will find is a collection of mini-mysteries packed with more genuine humor and wit than you could possible hope for.
At the start of the game, you're driving down a desert road when your car breaks down. As the gods would have it, you stop right next to a gas station and convenience store. The gas station you leave your car in for repairs disappears soon afterward, taking your ride with it. After talking with the local sheriff, who just happened to be nearby, you hitch a ride into Strangetown, the nearest residence. Here, you're set up with a place to live. And that's about it. It's then up to you to talk with neighbors and start doing the whole "Sim" thing, namely surviving and making friends. In doing so, you end up knee-deep in murder mysteries, cult conspiracies, alien encounters and battles with the undead.
Before getting into that, it serves to note precisely how different this game is from both the PC and console versions. There's no child rearing, aging or death, for starters. You can't start a family or build a house from scratch, and instead of controlling your character with a cursor, you directly control your character like in a third-person action game. The interface has moved from the bottom of the screen to the left, and it shows far less information. The rest of the info (inventory, skills, relationships, goals) can be viewed by pressing start. Lastly, the PSP version is far more goals oriented. With all that stuff taken out, it may sound like there's not much left worth playing. But you'd be wrong. Much of what developers took out they replaced by something altogether different, yet equally entertaining. In the place of family and children, you have a hilarious quest into the seedier side of the Sims universe. You can't build a house, but you can still furnish one with cool, PSP-exclusive items. And instead of characters that age, you get a full cast of Sims with their own personalities and psychological hangs-ups. If that's not enough, you can play a bunch of mini-games imbedded in the game's storyline. There's a whack-a-rat style game where you smack zombies with shovels. There's even a symbol-based dance game. Fortunately, they're all really fun.
You'll play the communication mini-game far more than the other types. Instead of just watching two Sims engage in conversation, you now need to "win" conversations by playing a symbol-matching mini-game. You need to match the symbol floating in a Sim's thought bubble with a three symbols found at the bottom of the page. It's easy at first, but the better the relationship you have with a given Sim (friend, soulmate, etc) the harder it gets. It gets to a point where it just feels cheap, but not for the reason you're probably thinking. It's the constant load times. Since each phase of this mini-game is timed, you'll get screwed several times as the PSP chugs to read information.
In addition to the story and mini-games, you also get a slew of little additions with the PSP iteration of the Sims 2. Take secrets, for example. You learn secrets from other Sims by engaging in specific types of conversation. If you want to learn a personal secret, then you need to flirt. On the other hand, if you want a dark secret, you'll need to intimidate people. You can also find secret tokens scattered about the gameworld. Secrets come in different varieties such as occult, personal, dark, romance and even undead. You use certain secrets to advance the story, but you can also sell secrets to shady Sims who always want to be in the know. Of course, selling secrets will get a Sim mad at you, and the better the secret, the better the price will be. It's a fun, rewarding system and a great addition to the formula.
Some of the bigger changes have to do with communication. You now have a sanity meter, represented by a jewel on the bottom left part of the screen. Depending on how well you're doing, this jewel goes from platinum, to gold, to green, to red. Your sanity level affects how a Sim reacts to you during conversation. The saner you are, the easier it is to win friends or intimidate people. You gain sanity by completing aspirations, which are ever-changing goals depending on your personality. Aspirations are listed as icons on the left of the screen and range from reading, to sleeping, to making new friends. You lose sanity by failing at the communication mini-games or by getting scared by ghosts and zombies. Like secrets, the sanity meter is very cool addition and makes the game a little easier to deal with for gamers that want quick, not-so-complicated game sessions.
Finally, the game features something called perks. You get the first perk, a cell phone, at the start of the game. But you can buy tons more and they're all fun to use. Some help you intimidate people or flirt with people, while others help you increase your skills faster. Most perks carry skill requirements, so you'll need to build up your attributes (mind, body, charisma, etc) to use them, but it's worth it. Perhaps the coolest (and meanest) one lets you burn people to get information from them. Toasty! Unfortunately, virtually every aspect of the game gets screwed due to rampant loading. Want to access game options? Load. Want to start a conversation? Load. Want to access inventory, skills and relationship information? Load. Individual load times don't last more than 5 seconds, but it happens so often that it's completely aggravating anyway.
Visually, the game looks pretty good. There's a nice amount of detail in each environment and the characters themselves retain the charming design the series is known for. You'll notice a few graphical bugs here and there, but it's nothing too serious. And while the game runs at a stable framerate in sparse environments, it can get pretty chuggy in the middle of town where Sims like to congregate. In terms of sound, the game's score and sound effects are as whacky as the rest of the game.
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