The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
In the nine years since the original Sims released, the franchise has been the subject of various sequels, spin-offs, and expansions. After all of those iterations and evolutions, I am amazed that The Sims 3 holds the same magnetic charm for me as its predecessors. While the basic concept of guiding a virtual person through the trials and triumphs of everyday life remains unchanged, the nuances have reached new highs in this installment. If you think this series is still about eating and sleeping while trying not to pee yourself, you need to see the strides The Sims 3 makes.
The meters representing your sims' basic needs are still present, but they are no longer the main factor driving your decisions. They drain slower and fill faster, which shifts your attention away from constant mood-juggling and allows you to more time to explore more rewarding pursuits. Your moment-to-moment play is driven by a series of clever aspirations that provide a steady stream of opt-in activities, which makes the whole world feel more hospitable and rewarding. Take a few days to write a novel, and you'll find it in the local library for all to read. Head to the gym for a workout, and you'll see an improvement in your physique.
Your goals can be as immediate as getting a kiss from your significant other, and as long-term as maxing out your career track. Practically everything that happens, both good and bad, manifests as a passive modifier to your mood that serves as an excellent incentive to fulfill wishes and avoid mishaps. This emphasis on little things in life gives rise to even more of the surprising moments, hilarious social interactions, and spectacular failures that make The Sims so entertaining.
I can't even list all of the other familiar elements of the series that have seen an increase in depth. Raising a child, getting promoted, and building relationships all have compelling new facets, but the object customization has come the furthest. Almost every surface of the world – from your car to your upholstery – can be modified to display the exact colors and patterns you want. You can even share your designs with other users online, though the usefulness of that feature will depend more on the community than the game itself. However, if you're not interested in getting too involved with designing your sims' styles, the game's pre-loaded options should be more than enough.
The only main feature of the game that leaves me conflicted is the focus on the open neighborhood. Maybe EA just wanted to leave some room for the inevitable expansion packs, but the world outside of your front door feels somewhat incomplete. You can walk or drive anywhere in town, but the destinations don't function much differently than previous installments – you just have travel time instead of load time. Going out isn't even that enticing; sims' wishes give them occasional reasons to leave the house, but you can still cover most of your bases in the comfort of your own living room. Staying home isn't necessarily a bad thing, though, since the game's expansive content ensures that you never get stir crazy.
I won't pretend that The Sims 3 will make a believer out of those who didn't enjoy the previous games. You're still queuing up actions for fake people in a digital dollhouse. Even with that ostensibly simple premise, the development team has crafted a remarkably layered simulation that feels like what The Sims has been trying to be from the beginning.
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My relationship with The Sims has always been sort of like a junior high romance. I get hot about the games for several weeks and we have a lot of giggly fun while spending way too much time together. Then, almost at the drop of a hat, things turn cold and I lose interest. Maybe the Sims is finally ready for a long-term relationship, because this entry has matured. Sims' needs meters have reached a happy balance, because I never felt like I was battling just to keep my sim content. Lifetime goals, like going out on the town or getting your first kiss, give purpose to my daily grind, and lead to emotional bonuses that last for hours. I also loved how I can give my sims general directions at work, which led to promotions and new skills, so even when they weren't on the screen, I didn't feel like my time was wasted. As always this series is hilarious; insane characters flip out randomly, and evil characters can do even the most mundane tasks in malevolent ways (wash hands with evil soap? That's crazy!). The best part of this game might be just watching how all the little creatures in this digital ant farm interact with each other. Few games can pull this off, but The Sims 3 is almost as good when you're not playing.