Hi, I’m Chris. I’m a Macworld editor. And a real person. For the last week, I’ve been controlling Chris the Sim in the interactive person-simulator The Sims 3. The Sims 3 is the latest edition of the wildly popular person simulator from the creators of SimCity and Spore. The addictive, immersive, quirky and open-ended gameplay make this the best edition of The Sims to date. Pushing escapism to new heights, it’s an instant classic for anyone who as a kid played “house” or wanted to jump into someone else’s shoes for a little while. The game doesn’t just allow for creativity, but imagination—something that is rare and laudatory in any form of entertainment.
New to the universe of The Sims, I started by testing out the new character creator. You can start your Sim in different lifestages: toddler, child, teen, young adult, adult, or elder. You have initial options that will let you to set minute details of your Sim’s appearance like mouth size, clothing, and body weight.
You then can move onto one of the intriguing aspects of the game: your Sim’s personality traits. In the older life stages, each Sim starts with five personality traits. Some are mutually exclusive (you can’t be good and evil, for example), but all affect how your character interacts with the Sim world. Some are obviously useful (genius, artistic, good kisser) while others create stranger life goals (evil, never nude, antisocial).
That’s when I created Chris the Sim. By entering certain personality traits, I was offered the choice of a select few life goals, amongst them “Become a famous author.” Not surprisingly, the best way to do this was to join the writing career. So Chris the Sim became a freelancer and then a professional blogger and finally an editor for a magazine.
Playing The Sims 3 can create some oddly reflective if not outright meta moments. My Sim counterpart needed to finish a story over the weekend, and I watched as he quickly ate some cereal and sat typing on his computer while wearing nothing but his underpants. All the while, I was wearing my underpants, eating some cereal, sitting at my computer, and watching him do this—for a story I needed to finish.
Compared to Chris the Macworld editor, Chris the Sim lives a charmed life. He finished a novel in two days and was well on his way to a promotion at work. He also had a serious girlfriend that required only nonsense talk to woo. She didn’t laugh at him when he asked her for some “woohoo” (that’s the Sim version of sex) and got woohoo way too damn often.
While it was fun to play with Chris the Sim and watch him progress through his life to adulthood and beyond, it was just as easy to create characters based on other people or create absurd characters I made up. The artificial intelligence is fantastic as well. Unlike previous versions of The Sims, a Sim can fend for his or herself when you’re not directly controlling them and will interact with fellow Sims based on their personalities. Also, the world is seamless in this version, with no loading times between house and neighborhood.
Will Wright, the man behind The Sims, is a smart guy, but even I’ll admit that I was impressed by how true to life The Sims 3 is. You can fully customise a person’s—err, I mean, a Sim’s—life, from housing to a career to relationships, everything down to the wallpaper and everything up to life goals. You can throw parties, go fishing, paint, write, read, play chess, cook, drive, jog, workout, swim—there are simply too many different things to list. Jobs are varied, from being a part time bookseller to being a doctor. The second character I played started out as a toddler and became a well-dressed woman who happened to be a master criminal. She and her girlfriend threw a well-attended party before she went back to work as a hired thug.
In addition to life goals that can be accomplished through interpersonal relationships, leveling up skills, and your career, every day a Sim’s life requires upkeep. The easy to understand panels help let you know both by icon and by text what your Sim desires at the time. Food, sleep, relaxation, etc. are all there. These affect a Sim’s mood, which in turn affects their overall happiness, effectiveness, and ability to be controlled by the player.
While it makes sense (and can even be fun) to prepare your Sim a meal everyday, you’ll get frustrated that, like you, your Sim needs a solid amount of sleep each day. While they sleep (or work) you can fast forward time. The needs of a Sim are realistic, to a point (you can unlock a steel bladder eventually) but you’ll find the gameflow is broken up by everyday tasks a great deal. In fact, that’s one of the biggest problems I had with the game: you only have so many hours in a given day and there’s so much to do. It’s a shame that most of your day will be taken up with paying bills, retrieving newspapers, eating, peeing, and sleeping. What’s the point of a creating a limitless sandbox-style world when you’re tethered so strictly by bodily functions?
Lifetime Rewards help address these needs, but you’ll have to work hard to unlock the most useful of them, like the “Hardly hungry” reward. The best way to unlock the rewards is to be vigilant in addressing your Sim’s wishes that appear as icons on the bottom panel. Everything from “Learn athletic skill” to “kiss Angela” can net reward points fast. Additionally, “Opportunities” provide players with the ability to earn more reward points in a short span of time by completing certain tasks for certain people or organisations.
The toddler and children stages are arguably the least entertaining, but are recommendable because they ground you in a bustling Sims household. During these stages, you’ll not only control the young Sim, but also the rest of the household, if you’d like. Young Sims offer less complex playing experiences, but provide variety and nuance to a household. It’s also a real thrill to watch them grow and mature.
A word about graphics: On my 2.66GHz Macbook Pro, I found the visuals to be absolutely stunning. From the water effects to the swaying trees to the expressions on the character’s faces, the level of detail is rendered admirably. I experienced some moments of slowdown during character’s movement and the occasional pathfinding bug, but overall the game ran smoothly.
Macworld’s buying advice. It’s easy to understate how vast and deep The Sims 3 is. I played the game for a week and didn’t even touch the elder stage of a Sim’s life and only toyed with the customisable pattern interface briefly. You can essentially customise everything about your character’s look. That’s to say nothing of the ability to download and share content with your fellow Sims 3 players via the game’s Web site. The quirky life rewards make the game much easier (the steel bladder ensures you don’t have to pee anymore, and the observant trait lets you figure out other character’s traits faster) or just more fun (the “midlife crisis” resets your player’s traits) but will take you hours to unlock.
Consider me a reluctant fan, but this is one game that is worth the hype and worth the wait.
[Chris Holt is an assistant editor for Macworld.]
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