The Sims 3 is something of a contradiction. It’s huge, but there’s always the nagging feeling of the game feeling small. For the one massive change it implements into the core, deliriously addicting design, the game scales back in content in nearly every part. It’s distracting and The Sims 3 really, really feels like it was built around expansions this time around. For the massive leap The Sims 3 takes, it takes a dozen or so smaller ones backwards.
It all starts with the create-a-sim. There’s plenty of ways to create the sim you want to make. It should be familiar to anyone who has played The Sims 2, but the greatest and largest change to the creation process is the trait system. Traits are personality types you can tack onto your sims. There’s plenty to choose from and the amount of combinations feel endless, so if you’re dead set on cranking out a demented man-child who can’t control his bowels, then, well, you can do that. It doesn’t mean you should, but you can.
Traits do a lot to inject your sims with a greater dose of personality, especially if you set their autonomy levels high. They will live their lives according to the traits you’ve granted them and traits even spawn lifetime goals, giving The Sims 3 a greater sense of focus and some sense of completion for your sims. This can all be ignored, but if you’ve been looking for something other than keeping track of your sim’s bladder, then you might want to take a look at what The Sims 3 has to offer.
And after that, it’s off into the neighborhood. It’s here when The Sims 3 feels like an absolutely justified sequel, initially. Gone are the zoned households, gone are the loading screens – your sims and dozens of pre-made creations populate the city. Everything is perpetual and it feels like remnants of the canceled SimsVille have made its way into The Sims 3’s openworld design.
It’s a thrill, and again, only initially. Zooming out, seeing the entire neighborhood always in motion – it’s exciting. So, eventually and very suddenly, some stark realizations make themselves evident. The biggest issue lies in the buildings not containing anything. Take your sim to the theater and he’ll disappear for a set amount of time before coming back out. Want to scope out potential broads at the bookstore? Well, you get a menu to buy some books, but after you’ve finalized your purchase, that’s about as far as you’ll go. It makes the neighborhood feel eerily barren, even with all the sims walking around. The game loves to tease about this, too. You can hear the hustle and bustle of activity, but you’ll never be able to see what’s actually going on inside. It’s all implied.
This severely underdeveloped aspect of the game basically turns the The Sims 3 into just another Sims game. Once the stark reality of the game’s persistent world becomes apparent, it’s The Sims 2 with one interesting addition and less content to build the abode you want to build. The improvements, like the finally-oh-god-finally ability to set objects diagonally expands build opportunities immensely. Then, another harsh reality: There are not a lot of objects in the stock game compared to the ones before and some exclusions, like the lack of a hot tub, is mystifying. It’s not a critical structure, but its omission is one of a confounding many.
After the inevitable bout of complaining and nagging that you might undergo, it’s clear where all the content went. The Sims Store is a heavily integrated component for the The Sims 3 and it’s here where you buy, with real cash, all the content that should’ve been in the stock game. Cabinets, tables, clothes, hair styles, goddamn hair, can be had for a small fee.
From a business standpoint, this makes sense. There will be an audience for this, but with a name as massive and unstoppable as The Sims, this game is destined to sell at least an infinity number of copies, easily. The entire store feels wrong, especially when you look back at the previous two games, when content was given out at a cool price of free.
Much like the rest of The Sims 3, the graphics haven’t changed much. The technology definitely has in some very apparent ways, like the inclusion of more complex shadows the total lack of load screens, but most of it looks very much like The Sims 2. At the very least, The Sims 3 will run on a wide variety of systems. The sims are still extremely emotive, animate well and the graphics are generally vibrant.
The audio also strikes a familiar tune, but some of the improvements come in the inclusion of some classical instruments. Much of The Sims 2’s music sounded like it was built out of baby farts, but there’s a bigger orchestral presence in The Sims 3. It conjures up memories of the purely classical tracks of The Sims 1, but this is a significant improvement, and with the amount of time spent building stuff, it’s very much welcomed. The sound effects continue the tradition of excellence The Sims has always been good about. All household appliances sound exactly like they should and the simlish continues to be endearing. All around, The Sims 3 has great audio.
So, the ultimate question lies in whether you’ve every played a sims game before. If you haven’t, then The Sims 3 serves as an excellent primer. Then again, The Sims 2 stock full of great expansion pack content. Then again, The Sims 3 has immense potential as upcoming expansions start rolling into high gear. And that’s what you’re really buying: A game of potential. The Sims 3 is screaming for massive expansions that will persist throughout your sims’ lives. It’s the kind of thing that no other Sim game will ever be able to provide and if that’s enough of a reason, then go nuts, buy a promise.