Take one of the most addictive games of all time -- a best-seller that was able to capture the interest and imagination of almost anyone who tried it -- and make a worthy sequel. No mean task by anyoneis standards. The end result would have to include a complete overhaul of the gameis underlying technologies while preserving the elements its absolutely frenetic user base loved about it. In addition it would have to feature enough compelling new elements to avoid the classic "1.1 update" stigma that sometimes accompanies the follow-up to a popular title.
Fortunately, the creators of The Sims 2 were able to do just this. The sequel to one of the best-selling games of all time remains just as fun as its predecessor despite a few rough edges. Developed by Maxis, published by Electronic Arts and ported to the Mac by Aspyr, The Sims 2 continues the play style set forth by the original and its expansion packs: controlling every aspect of a virtual person, or Sim, as they go about their daily lives. This time, however, players can track their Simsi lives from childhood to adolescence to adulthood to death.
Back to Basics:
Like the original, players create a custom character or select a stock character and use a point-and-click interface to make their Sim interact with surrounding objects, their environment or other Sims. The game then has the player control the life and decisions of their Sim (to a varying degree, a Free Will option can be turned on that allows Sims to make their own decisions or defy commands that would lead to their injury or death), with the overall goal being to ensure that the Sim can function, survive and prosper in everyday life.
The Rules of the Game:
Once again, core needs guide the gameplay and determine which tasks must be addressed before the player can focus their Sim the way they want. First, your Sims must be content, their most immediate needs having been satisfied before they can focus on their goals. This element of the game has both increased in its intricacy as well as become more prominent in order to grab the playeris attention regarding their Simsi overall goals and desires. Where in the original version the Needs layout demonstrated what was most desired at any given point (such as improvements in hygiene, social contact or food), The Sims 2 also factors in Aspirations, Wants and Fears, which tend to be deeper-rooted than a Simis immediate physical and social needs.
Aspirations, which are divided into Fortune, Knowledge, Family, Romance and Popularity categories, present unique goals that earn Aspiration points when achieved. Those points can then be used to procure unique items which act as temporary power-ups that grant bonus points toward fulfilling a need. Fulfill your Simis basic needs to the point that theyire generally content and they become more willing to follow your orders. A Sim who is discontent or suffering from an unfulfilled need will suffer such negative consequences as exhaustion, hunger, loss of bladder control, depression or death (the psychiatrist and grim reaper which appear in those last two instances are hilarious to watch, especially when the grim reaper takes a cell phone call before performing the task at hand).
Items play a critical factor in the lives of your Sims and players can pause the game to go from Live mode to Buy mode. Here, they can use saved credits to purchase items for their home such as food, furniture, appliances and upgrades to make their environment more hospitable, since a new item will improve certain stats towards a room and help satisfy a Simis environmental needs. Services such as house cleaning, child care and gardening can also be subscribed to with bills arriving and needing to be paid regularly.
Climbing the Ladder:
While the original Sims introduced professions and the idea of a career path, The Sims 2 takes this a step further and adds some interesting new features and restrictions to the mix. Job descriptions, which are listed in a sub-menu, provide a clearer idea of what the current job entails, what traits to build in your Sim, whatis desired for a promotion and how many vacation days are available should your Sim need some time to relax.
Perhaps the most prominent and best feature of the new job structure is the idea of on-the-fly decisions that take place in a given work day. Where the previous Sims seemed to leave the player with the impression that the work day went by routinely and without incident, the new system will sometimes drop a significant decision to be made in your lap at any given moment. This choice appears as a detailed text box and can yield significant changes for your character, such as bonus points toward character traits, job promotions or being fired outright from their position. The overall effect pulls the player in and involves them more with their character while removing the sense of limbo that sending them off to work used to feel like.
Thereis a valid reason why reality shows tend to garner high ratings: we may have no control over what happens, but itis a fascinating train wreck that you canit look away from, even as it plows through the local orphanage, petting zoo and nitroglycerin plant. Character interactions in The Sims 2 have expanded to incorporate a variety of new aspects and possibilities. The new game engine keeps better track of relationships and where the original generally centered around direct interactions (relationships developing from the people youive directly come in contact with and either improved or degraded the relationship with), The Sims 2 allows for relationships to develop outside of direct interaction with your Sims. Sims you have had direct contact with can and will develop relationships on their own without your knowledge, which can have its own developments. Get too friendly with a Sim you want to know better in the presence of a Sim they may have been developing a relationship with and tempers can flare as the other Sim views this as invading their turf. Relationships can also be developed outside of direct contact via e-mail, phone conversations and Internet chat rooms.
More realistic restrictions to social relationships also improve on existing gameplay. Your Sims, despite their outgoing social intentions, may find themselves unable to socialize during standard work or social hours. Sims will also block communication with another Sim you may want to contact by refusing access to that Sim (for example, a Sim with a less-than-adoring impression of your character may block access to the roommate you may be calling to chat with). These are the limitations that add a realistic bent to the title and throw minor roadblocks in your way, but also provide cool puzzles to work around.
From a graphics perspective, The Sims 2 is top-notch but also a veritable resource hog. While the game can be played on a graphics card with 32MB of VRAM, detail levels will have to be toned down to a more moderate level in order to regain lost frame rate speeds. Even with this consideration, the new models, graphics and textures represent an incredible boost over the original Sims. New levels of detail allow for terrific curves, more realistic objects and better lighting (albeit the game engine does slow a bit when factoring in the movements of more than five Sims and multiple light sources), while smooth zooms and rotations provide optimal visual angles. One of the best examples of the graphics engine can be found in mirrors, which reflect nearby light, objects and movements almost perfectly, even though this is a background task. The end result is a more believable virtual world that the player finds themselves becoming more interested in and involved with. The Sims 2 also supports window-mode play, which allows you to use other programs on your Mac as the game runs in the background.
The Sims 2is sound system may not change the world or break new ground, but itis consistently strong and works well to reflect the mood of the character, the situation at hand (a shaky racing theme accompanies an emergency like a fire breaking out while a creepy motif will emerge if your Simis home is being haunted or a robbery takes place as your Sim sleeps) and the time of day. Sound doesnit become a centerpiece, but it remains a good contributing element to the look and feel of the game. Thankfully, the volume occupies different channels, so game music can be reduced while the gameis overall volume remains the same.
Roll Your Own:
Customization is key in The Sims 2 and players are able to sculpt their characters and playing environment however they wish. Custom and pre-created neighborhoods allow for players to build their own home from the ground up as well as move into an already existing home, complete with its own storylines and established characteristics for the Sims currently living there. The three neighborhoods (Strangetown, populated by aliens and scientists; Veronaville, populated by large families and Pleasantville. populated by standard-size families) each possess their own characteristics and rules. New units can be created via the relationships the Sims form with each other and after a certain point, provided your Sims get along well enough, your Sims will clamber into the mutual sack to create a nine-month miracle or another mouth to feed (depending on your perspective). Child rearing has been changed for Sims 2 and parents can essentially "train" their child to walk and play, learned traits that remain throughout their lives.
The Body Shop, a character editor which runs as its own program outside of the game, allows users complete configuration of their Simis age, gender, appearance, behaviors and psychological profile. These characters can be saved and imported directly into the game.
Additional new features include an improved photo gallery feature as well as the ability to record and play back movies of your Sims in action. Updated building tools allow players to build and expand their homes as they please without much of a learning or experimentation curve.
Unfortunately, there are a few issues that need to be addressed. Available hardware resources make an amazing amount of difference in The Sims 2, which can take about two minutes, sans bouncing icon in the Dock, to indicate any form of progress, even with a dual 2.0 Ghz G5 and a stock Radeon 9600 video card installed. The launch time was reduced to about 30 seconds under ATIis X800 XT card, which needed a downloadable hotfix patch installed to resolve a refresh rate issue between the card and the current version of The Sims 2. While ATI and Aspyr have pooled their efforts towards the resolution of this issue and have effectively solved the problem, Aspyr would do well to add this to the gameis Web page on its site and list what steps need to be taken for users to resolve this.
Despite a single crash as the game loaded its tutorial program and an occasional "lost mouse" error which prompted the forcible quitting of the program, the game runs smoothly. These bugs are known, being worked on and with more prominent tech support listing of available patches as well as an overall patch to the game or the card driveris, this will be sorted out.
Even with a few bugs to deal witht, The Sims 2 is the sequel Sims fans have been waiting for. Beautiful graphics, capable sound and the same incredibly fun gameplay that draws the player in and makes them interested in whatis happening with their Sim as well as wanting to push their Sims further by boosting their skills and talents. After three weeks of gameplay, I still felt as if Iid barely scratched the surface as to what I could do or ways to play. Decently priced at US$44.99, this is everything fans of the series could want and itis addictive enough to hook anyone with even a mild interest in the title. Everything that made the original fun remains, despite the bugs and hardware requirements. That considered, this game is worth every penny provided you have enough computing horsepower to run it. The Sims 2 might be the one of the stranger games on the market, a virtual doll house to rival all others, but what made it great still holds true and that canit be ignored. For now, itis time to get back to the game, make sure my Sim is able to repair the stove by herself the next time it catches fire and work on finding the perfect mate. Life waits for no one. Neither do its simulators.