Simulates an entire town of Sims; great home-building tools; complex personalities.
Watching Sims sleep every night; unrewarding lifetime rewards; frustrating pathfinding.
By now, when people think of The Sims franchise, they think of a virtual dollhouse in which you guide little idiot people through the mundane details of their lives rather than living your own.
That reputation is both well-deserved and unjust. Now in its third iteration, you still have to worry about getting your Sims to a bathroom before they wet themselves. On the other hand, it can be so addictive that it often feels like there’s someone watching you on his PC monitor, selecting you, then clicking on your computer and choosing “Keep playing The Sims 3” from your radial menu. If you’re lucky, he’ll let you go to the bathroom.
Fundamentally, The Sims 3 is a very similar game to its predecessors: You juggle the needs and wants of a family of Sims to make them healthy, wealthy, and wise. What has changed is the revolutionary increase in scale. Previous Sims games locked you into a single lot, and if you wanted to take your Sims elsewhere you’d have to sit through an epic-length loading screen. The Sims 3 loads an entire town, which both frees your Sims to stroll down the street or drive across town, and expands the number of characters living in the world at once from a handful to dozens, simulating an entire community. The ability to quickly zoom out and view the whole area alone puts this version head and shoulders above The Sims 1 and 2.
Without making any other earth-shattering changes to gameplay, nearly every aspect of the game has been overhauled and enhanced. Personalities are much more complex than before—each Sim is a combination of five out of more than 60 available traits, making their interactions deeper (but still easy to manipulate). Each Sim has wants, which provide you a constant stream of things to work toward, and there are rewards for accomplishing minor and major tasks. The house building and furnishing toolset has improved with features such as a very clever visual sorting interface, allowing object placement on a finer grid and the ability to create your own color schemes.
Not everything works so well—the inventory system, for example, feels a bit sloppy and unintuitive, and there’s no good tutorial to teach you to use it. Pathfinding gets wonky when two Sims want to use the same object or cross paths. The lifetime rewards you’ve been earning points for by completing each Sim’s wants all this time? With a few exceptions, most are boring and anti-climactic. And there’s still that annoying period of down-time while you watch your Sims sleep every night.
Even so, it’s difficult to imagine a Sims fan not being ecstatic over this game, and its accessibility makes it an excellent introduction to new and non-violent gamers. Heck, the ability to invite over the neighbors, switch into build mode, and wall them into windowless rooms until they expire gives even anti-Sims (and slightly sadistic) hardcore gamers something to love. Allowing you to play virtually any way you want is The Sims 3’s greatest strength—you are virtually guaranteed to find a way to enjoy it.