Reviewed: November 11, 2010
Released: October 26, 2010
The Sims has pretty much always been the king of the bizarro-interactive-dollhouse genre. In fact, it pretty much started the genre, and made it nearly impossible to refer to any similar game without referencing it. The series has always been the best when it comes to making tiny people and ruling their lives with an iron fist, so when The Sims 3 made the jump to consoles, I was excited to see how it translated.|
First things first, the core of the gameplay is still there. You create a family, choosing their appearance, clothes, and personality traits, and move them into a house. From then on, you play the part of the interior decorator/deity, adding onto the house, buying objects for them to use, and managing their daily lives with as much or as little interference as you like as you take care of their daily needs and attempt to fulfill the wishes the game generates based on what the Sims currently want.
Individual Sims can be incredibly varied, with their default actions guided by their personality traits, which both guide their AI and allow various actions. Good Sims can mail money to charities for a mood boost, insane Sims can talk to themselves to satisfy their social needs, and vegetarian Sims will refuse to eat meals that don't meet their dietary requirements. The character of the Sims is where the game gets most of its charm, and The Sims 3 on console certainly doesn't skimp there.
With its emphasis on short-term goals and being entertained by the lives of your stable of computer-people, The Sims has never been particularly game-y. While the lifetime goals gave some direction, The Sims was really all about creating, whether it was stories, architecture, or even new items and clothing to trade with other players. The Sims 3 on consoles aims to change this by adding a new system to the game.
By accomplishing achievement-style goals, such as one of your Sims having their first kiss, getting fifteen friends, or watching a Sim watch TV for ten in-game hours, you unlock points which can be spent on reward packs, ranging from new clothing and furniture to new in-game actions. For a game that's traditionally been about non-guided play, it's a great way to throw a bone for more goal-oriented players without intruding on the typical gameplay of the series.
Throwing another wrinkle into the tapestry is the karma system. Players gain karma by fulfilling goals and by letting the clock roll over to a new day. It can be spent for various bonuses, such as faster learning or better moods, or for penalties and negative events, such as fires or earthquakes, hearkening back to the SimCity series' ability for a mayor to create disasters to shake things up.
Still, it's not all SimWine and SimRoses. In its translation from PC to console, the interface took a pretty severe beating with the user-unfriendliness stick. What was once a relatively simple and elegant mouse interface has been replaced with a lurching behemoth of nested menus and context-sensitive commands that are complex enough that even Live Mode, the core of the gameplay, needs reminder icons to do relatively simple things like switching Sims or checking what's affecting their mood. It could certainly be worse, and the reminders are helpful, but it's startlingly intricate for a series that succeeded on PC in large part because of how easy it was to pick up and play
While building and placing objects is a little less accurate than it would ideally be, that's to be expected from a console controller trying to do fine adjustments. More puzzling is the omission of several features which the PS3 should be more than capable of doing if any junky old computer running The Sims 3 can. The town is no longer on a single map that Sims can travel across without loading, which severely undermines the feel of the town as a place, and severely limits player options. It's possible to send a Sim with a guitar to busk in the park to make up the cost of a dinner party you're throwing in your house across town, but it'll be a lot more tedious and certainly not nearly as easy as it used to be. Perhaps the biggest issue is that saving is no longer as obvious in Live Mode, and there's no autosave, which I learned the hard way when I lost my first family after a marathon play session.
On an aesthetic level, the game looks and sounds beautiful, with the fun, soothing music that The Sims has always had, and slightly cartoonish visuals that highlight the emotions and actions of your Sims, though the jubilee of nested menus takes a lot away from it. A larger issue is that the Sims Exchange, the game's method for exchanging creations, has worked its talons into the game from a very fundamental level. Exchange items populate the clothing and furniture lists alongside items included on the disk, and if you're playing without the code that allows you to access the exchange, or without internet access, you won't be able to use the items that appear. While a mild annoyance when playing from a new copy of the game with Internet access, this could quickly become frustrating for a player who wasn't experiencing the game in ideal circumstances.
Though it should be somewhat obvious, it also has to be said that The Sims 3 on consoles doesn't have the sheer amount of content from the PC version's expansion packs. For any players that want to take vacations, have more options for working from home, or experience a glut of celebrities and vampires, the console version won't satisfy those needs out of the box.
Despite some interesting additions to the game's formula and the series' lasting charm, the console version of The Sims 3 takes about as many steps back as it does forward. For PC veterans of the series, there's not much reason to take the dive, unless you want to experiment with karma and the in-game achievements. For the curious who can't or won't play the PC version, however, The Sims 3 maintains enough of the series' high points to be worth a look.