The Sims series has always teased us with the ability to play God. That's what makes the entire series fun, and as fate would have it, very profitable. But for the longest time the Sims was a strictly PC affair. Until one day it finally hopped over to consoles. Numerous releases and iterations later, the most recent of which was the Urbz: Sims in the City, EA is set to release the latest console-specific chapter in the series, The Sims 2. Originally, The Sims 2 shipped for PC in September 2004 but now, as is tradition, it's headed for console land.
Being a Sims title, The Sims 2 doesn't veer much from the established formula. It's still very much focused on the control and manipulation of virtual beings. We still need to satisfy a bunch of needs for each character. These include the basics such as eating, sleeping and going potty, but also include complex needs such as the desire for relationships and wealth. Plus, there's a sim's career to think about. Not to mention bills, broken appliances and other things we in the real world face every day. And while taking care of a Sim's needs would be enough, each game has also packed hundreds of items to outfit, remodel and decorate a Sim's virtual home.
Having said all that, the Sims 2 for consoles tweaks the old formula enough to offer an experience that feels different and fresh. Back on the PC, the Sims 2 introduced a slew of gameplay additions that made it superior to the original. Each Sim actually remembered social interactions, for starters, plus it also introduced aging, death and the ability for a Sim to produce offspring. Not all of these new additions make into the console versions. To help make the experience more console-friendly, aging, death and child rearing have been taken out of the mix.
But that doesn't mean console folk don't get anything in return. In lieu of aging, death and child rearing, the console version of the Sims 2 boasts a new story mode and a host of exclusive items and features that weren't in the PC version. And after playing through the game, we can say there's definitely room for both versions of the Sims 2. On consoles, the Sims 2 offers a deep, lengthy and very rewarding experience for fans or those just getting into it. Of course, it's an experience rooted in classic Sims gameplay, so those that didn't like it before may still be a little off put by it. Still, the Sims 2 tries to get everyone to love it. One of the new features that attempts to pull in these elusive players is a dual control scheme. We can choose the classic option, which lets us use the analog stick like a mouse and "click" where we'd like our Sims to go and what we'd like them to interact with. Or we can go with direct control and use the thumbstick to move our sims just like in a third-person action title. There are benefits to both options (more later), and a huge part of the strategy behind the game is balancing these two options. The system actually works great and it's a load of fun balancing multiple sims by constantly swapping control methods.
The Sims 2 splits between two main game modes, Story and Freeplay. Those new to the series will probably want to choose Story, since it offers far more direction and guidance than freeplay. We started Story mode by using a robust, well-designed and very entertaining character creation system. We got to choose from dozens of hairstyles, clothing and accessory options, and we morphed our arms, torso, face and legs to suit our personal preference. We had the option to create everything from a classy, trashy, trendy, cute or freaky style Sim, and pretty much everything in between. Also, by using a console-specific genetics system, we could randomly generate a sim by defining a set of parents and grandparents. Creating a character is definitely one of the better aspects of the Sims 2. The interface is slick, friendly and very flexible.
After settling on a look, we went on to decide our sim's personality and aspirations. Personality options include things like shyness, laziness and playfulness, while aspirations define a sim's long term goals such as knowledge, creativity and wealth. By choosing a combination of personality traits and aspirations, we wind up with our sim's personal "wants" and "fears," both of which dictate what we'll spend our time doing in Story mode. The goal in Story mode is to earn enough aspiration points to unlock a series of console-specific locations by making sims happy. A sim gets happy by having their wants catered to while having their fears avoided. Wants can be as simple as wanting to buy a computer and getting promotion and can be as strange as discovering a comet and selling a good painting. As for a sim's fears, well, they're usually things like being threatened, getting fired or being teased.
The more wants we take care of, the more aspiration points we score. And the more aspiration points we get, the more locations we can visit and the more items and clothing options we'll score. So even though it's called "Story" mode, there's no real narrative in terms of plot twists and the like, but there's a definite feeling of progression as more and more locations are discovered and items become available for purchase. And for every new location earned by scoring enough aspiration points, there are more sims to control and take care of. So, it's possible to end up with a handful of sims all craving the same level of attention as the first. And trust us, things get tough. But the experience is also engaging and deeply rewarding. For those who just want to live out their sim fantasies looming overhead, they can start a game in Freeplay mode. The first option in freeplay mode is where to live. We get four options, including a place in Strangetown (urban), two places in Pleasantview (suburbs) and one in Melbourne (International). We could choose to either evict the current tenants of each location or simply take over an existing family. Those that want a little extra freedom will want to make their own families. The process is exactly the same as in Story mode, only the process allows for the creation of more than one sim. After making a family, it's then time to either move them to one of the four locations. Each location has a home already built, but we could bulldoze the place and build one from scratch if we wanted. Options for building a house include walls, floors, doors, windows, fireplaces and landscaping. And the system here is just as robust and fun to tinker with as in last games.
One of the new aspects in The Sims 2 specific to consoles is a new communication interface. Instead of following the basic socialization patter of "talk, tickle, tease, kiss" from earlier sims titles, the new system actually works on a bunch of visual clues. Whenever a conversation starts the camera zooms in and blurs everything the but the sims who are talking. Depending on the mood of a sim, they'll either stand close or far, smile or frown, or offer a number of other telling clues with their bodies. Plus, there's a new color scheme in place too. If sims like each other, the screen gets a soft yellow tint. On the other hand, if they're romantically involved, it turns a soft pink and so on. The effect is actually pretty neat and lends the already-stylish series an additional layer of cool.
Like we mentioned earlier, success in either mode of Sims 2 (Freeplay or Story) hinges on balancing basic needs with complex desires and fears. And just like in real life, it can get pretty damn hectic. Most of time we'll want to paint or read a book to achieve our desires, yet we'll lose sleep, miss work or forget to pay the bills in the process, thus damaging our basic needs. Sims 2 for consoles boasts a slew of new objects to purchase like a medical station, for example, to help curb a sim's needs aspirations. And yes, there's still the usual lot of appliances, art pieces and entertainment items as well. Still, taking care of sims grows increasingly complex for every sim added to the "family." But juggling everything is what makes the series so fun and it's no different in the Sims 2.
Plus, there's a bunch of new stuff to help keep every sim under control. There's a new cooking system, for example. Instead of just opening a refrigerator to feed a Sim, now there's the need to secure ingredients and combine them to make dishes. Depending on the ingredients, these dishes can have wildly different effects. Certain dishes act as aphrodisiacs, for example, while others will simply make someone sick. There seem to be five categories of food effects, including: aphrodisiac, nausea, revulsion, skill boost and energy boost.
Actually finding the right ingredients (spread across different locations) to make these dishes forms a bulk of the experience this time, and once again brings up the creativity aspiration. We can harvest food from a variety of sources to find ingredients. For instance, we pulled several different kinds of seafood out of a living room fish tank. We could even get fruit and other ingredients from trees. Of course, there's still the option to feed sims generic food, if there's no desire to combine ingredients and learn recipes, but what's the fun in that? Well, it does save time, which is pretty damn important in the game, so nevermind.
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