Reviewed: October 30, 2007
Released: October 22, 2007
New to the console collection of Sims 2 games is The Sims 2: Castaway, a fresh take on the well-loved Sims 2 formula. Castaway starts with your created Sim crew shipwrecked on a pristine and apparently uninhabited tropical island. To survive, you’ll have to learn to gather resources, build shelter, and maybe eventually find a way to be rescued – and along the way, you may even discover some of the island’s secrets.
The Sims 2: Castaway is a welcome new variation on what has become tradition Sims fare. While it still bears the hallmarks of classic Sims gameplay – including character (Sim) creation, customization, and fulfillment of life needs – Castaway introduces an interesting twist to the formula: your Sim(s), having been recently shipwrecked on a deserted island, must learn to live off the land and survive, despite having arrived mostly empty-handed.
The game starts players off with Sim creation, allowing you to create one to six Sims as your crew. In other words, you can choose to play the game a la Tom Hanks’ Castaway, or like the Swiss Family Robinson; it’s all up to you. You can customize the Sims’ appearances, personalities, and occupations, the last of which will define which skills your Sims start out with.
Each skill will be helpful in a different way as soon as your Sims are shipwrecked. For instance, Mechanical skills are good for harvesting resources and building structures, whereas Creativity may be necessary in putting together new clothes for your Sims, and Body skills are needed for exploring new areas. Don’t worry if your Sims don’t start out with the skills they need, though; they can be learned through ordinary survival activities, such as hunting, gathering materials, or building simple structures.
In any case, you pick one Sim to start the game with, and that Sim begins the game alone and washed up on a beach. It is then up to you, the player, to help your first Sim gather resources – like bamboo, vines, banana leaves, and other building materials, as well as food – and cobble together some sort of rough life on the island. Later, you may find the rest of your crew (if you created more than one Sim), and this may make eking out a primitive existence a little easier, though it also means taking care of additional Sims.
As in other Sims games, part of Castaway’s challenge is that you’ll have to personally keep an eye out for your Sim’s needs, making sure that your Sim doesn’t, for instance, starve or go insane from loneliness. Luckily, the game starts you off with a sleeping mat and an infinite roll of toilet paper, so your Sim’s basic needs won’t be completely neglected while he or she figures out how to build the structures (such as a fire pit, a bed, or a shelter) needed to better serve these needs. Plus, these needs are introduced slowly, so that the player has time to get used to fulfilling each need before a new one is added to the list.
To help players along, the game provides survival books that your Sim will find on the island, which provide objectives that help make Castaway a game a bit more suitable for the console crowd. These goals will help guide you through some of the bare bones of the game, but they unfortunately often consist of very basic goals, plus some more distant goals that cannot be accomplished without the player figuring out the undisclosed intermediate steps required in between. Depending on the type of gamer you are, you may find this to be either a pleasant challenge or a source of frustration, especially since it’s certainly possible to get stuck in the game for a period of time without the extra guidance of provided goals.
Despite this flaw, Castaway generally plays pretty smoothly. Ordinarily, new plans for building more advanced tools or structures can be acquired by simply having your Sims construct all the tools for which they have plans available, and this will open up new plans, some of which are needed to move forward in the game.
Building and arranging living quarters can be fun, but it can also be a bit of a bear at times. Laying down structures and items is freeform, as it is in the PC Sims 2 games, but depending on the area you choose to build upon, you may be limited by geography, as well as by the plants growing in the region. Unfortunately, you cannot clear plants or rocks to make room for more structures, so what you see is what you get.
In addition to fulfilling your Sims’ needs and building them shelter, there are multiple areas to explore, new plants to identify and gather, and useful artifacts (such as hieroglyphics and treasure map pieces) to collect. Castaway also introduces a level of dynamism to your Sims, as their clothes do gradually get torn up, their skin may become sunburned, and their hair and beards become overgrown with time. It’s definitely a nice touch for a Sims game, especially since these changes in appearance are only cosmetic, and you can always give your Sim a haircut and sew up his or her clothes to go back to a more groomed look.
Castaway isn’t without its flaws, however. For one, moving furniture and structures, for some reason, is accomplished through the Inventory menu, whereas building new furniture and structures happens through the Plans menu. It’s a bit counterintuitive, though it’s manageable once you get used to it. Load times between areas are also on the long side, though at least the developers made sure to include an Island Map that allows you to skip directly to locations you’ve already explored. There are also a few other minor flaws – such as targeting difficulties in some locations, and mislabeled current actions when you switch between Sims – but all in all, Castaway’s gameplay is solid and a lot of fun.
While it obviously can’t be expected for this PS2 title to match the graphics quality of the PC Sims 2 games, Castaway actually does a pretty decent job of porting over the look and feel of the series. The visuals are rougher and grainier than what you might be used to in a PS2 game, especially next to the crisp and modern user interface; the character models are slightly gawky; and details may be hard to make out at times because of the low resolution, but overall, it’s really not a bad-looking game.
The lush and colorful tropical environments are well designed and pleasant to look at, the shifts between night and day (as well as the weather effects) are smoothly transitioned, the animations all flow naturally, and the characters themselves still have that distinctively whimsical Sims look.
The sound quality is about on par with that of other Sims 2 games. The ambient sounds are convincing, the Simlish speech clips are as amusing as ever to listen to, and the soundtrack is a cheerful collection of tropical tunes with peppy drumbeats that help make Castaway’s survival experience seem more like an enjoyable island romp.
At a suggested retail price of $39.99, Castaway does offer a satisfying number of hours of gameplay the first time through, and depending on how much you like playing the Sims games just for the sake of playing them, you may or may not find this title very replayable. Since building creativity may be a bit hampered by the limited space and number of structures allowed in each area, players who enjoy Sims games for the building aspect may be a little disappointed, but it’s not a bad value for Sims fans looking for a PS2 Sims 2 game with a little something different thrown in.
Despite some mostly minor flaws, The Sims 2: Castaway offers a fun Survivor-esque spin on the Sims 2 franchise and provides a pretty entertaining roughing-it experience. If you enjoy the Sims games, welcome the challenge of open-ended gameplay, and don’t mind some of the building limitations, you might also have a blast with Castaway’s unique take on classic Sims 2 gameplay.