For the most part, console gamers tend to lean toward the hip side of the gamer spectrum. Not that console gamers boast high maintenance looks (although they can) and form the cornerstone of a particular city's social elite (although they sometimes do,) but on average, they're younger and more inclined to boot up Tony Hawk's Underground
It's an issue of attention spans. Console gamers have less than the typical PC gamer. So where the mega blockbuster The Sims might have sold a zillion copies on the PC, the console rendition didn't fare so well. The Sims needed to get with the program. It needed a few secret handshakes and a wardrobe overhaul, not to mention the right friends and clothes, if it ever hoped to win the flighty affections of console gamers.
In steps EA with the The Urbz: Sims in the City, a jaunt into the seedier side of the Sims universe catering toward younger gamers with the newest cell phones, threads and hair styles. Or those who simply want to play at being hip. And in so doing, have fundamentally changed the way a Sims title plays.
EA walks a fine line here. First, they needed a product that would appeal to console gamers who liked the PC original. Second, they needed a product with enough raw appeal to draw the in scores of console gamers; a title fun enough to come in and say "Hey, stop playing that first person shooter and come check me out."
It's a complicated problem, really. Mess with the formula too much and alienate your core consumer. Leave it the same and fail in the face of countless action games and platformers. What's a hugely successful company to do?
EA decided to veer away from the career based gameplay of the original Sims, where the acquisition of wealth and furniture was the name of the game, and opted for a more streamlined, goal oriented experience. Earlier previews covered the basics, so let's jump right in to what makes the Urbz different. Instead of choosing a career and climbing a corporate ladder (or the ranks of the criminal elite, whatever it was you chose,) you'll now be earning reputation to become the most popular face in town. Instead of coming back home on a nightly basis and decking your humble abode with luxurious fittings, you'll live your life out on the town, crashing wherever possible. In many respects, a character in the The Urbz is what a house was for The Sims.
Your persona will gobble most of your cash (or Simolians in-game), as successfully negotiating the 12 districts in the game is tied to what your character is wearing and how they carry themselves. Your reputation, in other words. In order to earn reputation, an urban Sim needs to do a number of things. First, they need social connections. Luckily, you score a few from the get go. Just as soon as you build a basic character using the The Urbz' character creation system, and after selecting a home district, the game presents you with two socialites by the name of Will and Darius. They act as your guides throughout the game, inviting you to V.I.P clubs and dropping hints on occasion.
You start the game in Darius' apartment with 300 bucks in one pocket and a PDA/cell phone in the other. From there, you will head out to a single district (the rest are locked) and start earning a reputation. Transforming from a friendless unknown into a flashy fashionista is remarkably simple and takes very little time. Walking into a particular district, a budding urbanite will be confronted with a number of options. You can either take a short-term job to make some cash, mingle with other characters to make friends, or go shopping for clothes and stuff for your apartment. Each district presents the same options. Since most gamers will start chatting up a storm, we'll discuss social interaction first.
Talking with fellow characters is a simple as highlighting them with the cursor. If a specific character is in the middle of a crowd, the game brings up a roster of names for you to choose from. Doing so brings up a list of social options, including: Network, Ice Breakers, Act Friendly, Act Mean, Act Romantic and Power Socials. Each category contains numerous sub categories. For example, should you decide you want to engage in a conversation, you may want to start with an Ice Breaker. Choosing Ice Breaker presents you with options including: Joke, Tickle and Brag. In short, you get to choose a variety of ways in which you can strike up a conversation, gossip, pick a fight, etc.
Making friends brings out the best and worst in the Urbz. First, the bad: characters lack any kind of depth, so making friends is only slightly more exciting than collecting rocks. And since each option (Ice Breakers, Network, etc) is painted in a specific color letting you know which option will earn you a favorable response, amassing a horde of faithful followers ends up being a very easy thing to accomplish.
Instead of catering your social input to match specific characters, you'll just do the same thing repeatedly. A bulk of the Urbz boils down to executing the same chain of social commands until you earn enough reputation to achieve your goal.
But the animations look cool. You'll find yourself more entertained by the animations themselves and not by what they represent. Watching a crowd of hip Sims dance in a club or chat in a club is truly one of the most enjoyable things about this game. And since the amount of funny animations you can watch is tied to the amount of reputation you earn, you'll find yourself constantly engaged conversation just to earn new social moves.
Of course, you have a higher chance of scoring social moves if the people you talk to actually like you. Somewhat close to how things are in the real world, you have a much higher chance of earning friends in the Urbz by purchasing expensive clothes. Each district has its own little shop with threads matching those of its populace, so you'll need visit them often. In another irksome design decision, shops carry a very limited selection of clothes, most of which the game requires you to purchase to access the hottest club in a particular district.
Instead of presenting you with a ton of clothing options and letting you decide what to wear (or at least letting you figure out what to wear in a given situation or place) the game once again tells you what to wear if you want to succeed. Want to access this club? Then buy those pants. Want to earn enough reputation to unlock a new district? Buy that outfit. It's all so confining. Once you gain enough popularity, people start dressing like you and not the other way around, but it would have nice to have the freedom to choose your own style of dress and let your actions alone determine your social status. Then again, that would be so ridiculously unrealistic, but whatever.
If you want new clothes, you'll need to make money by taking a part time job. Each job in the Urbz plays like simply mini-game, where success is determined by the speed and accuracy with which you can match on-screen commands with appropriate button tapping. Most of the jobs, whether you're making sushi in Neon East or Modeling in Diamond Heights, plays very similar with very little deviation from rhythmic button pressing. About the only other thing you need do is keep your place of employment clean or keep its machinery working smoothly.
But all this requires is for you to walk over to a garbage can or machine and press a button to clean/fix it. One of the jobs sees you making fireworks and sabotaging your competitor. This is the kind of activity the Urbz could have used more of. It breaks the rhythm of cranking out sushi roll after sushi roll by pressing a series of buttons. In the end, the jobs offer a decent amount of fun, and feel better than just waiting as in The Sims career mode. Still, a little more interaction would have been nice.
One of the cooler aspects of The Urbz comes by way of the 12 different districts. Each boasts its own style of dress, music and job. And each comes with its own set of objectives for you to complete. They all look radically different and encompass all major social spheres. You got the Punks, the Goths, the Snobs, the Ravers, etc. Pretty much everyone's included. Only problem being, all of the Urbz act the same, regardless of where they're from. You'll find a posse of hipsters acting the same way in social situations as the rich snobs.
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