The Sims 3 Review: Delayed Gratification

After a more than three month delay—and more than four years on from the release of The Sims 2—The Sims 3 is finally here. So let's get down to reviewing it.

There are two types of Sims player: the Second-Life types who enjoy crafting and sharing stuff online and the God-types who look for new and interesting ways to terrorize their virtual dollies. The Sims 3 has room enough for both types in its expansive gameplay and online-feature set that lets you create and share everything from couch patterns to machinima.

The once-narrow world of the Sims has been expanded to a persistent environment where Sims can freely walk from one lot to the next, the town around them progressing instead of freezing ‘til your Sim arrives on the scene. This makes the life cycle of the Sims more fluid; as your Sims grows old, so too do all the Sims around him or her. But to counter-balance the relentless flow of time, the developers have added a sixth stage of life, young adult, to the normal cycle to prolong gameplay without forcing you to buy a college-themed expansion pack.

Long six-phase life story short, The Sims 3 is packed with new and different stuff to spice up Sims gameplay we've been used to for over a decade – but here's how it stacks up as a standalone game.

Loved
The Traits System: The second-largest tweak to gameplay after the persistent world feature is the traits system. Sims can carry up to five traits in their adult life that affect their involuntary and menu-based social interactions – stuff like Couch Potato or Flirt that allow them to "Hang Out" or "Ask if Single." Different combos of traits can result in weird Sims that like to go through their neighbors gardens or have a mild psychotic episode while cooking spaghetti. Even better, baby Sims start out with two traits at birth determined by how well Mom's pregnancy went—the better it went, the more likely the user will get to pick them—and develop more based on how rough their childhood is. So if you get a sporadically ill-treated baby, you can wind up with a very strange Sim.

Young Adult Phase: It's nice to have a little extra time to climb the career ladder. Unlike the Sims 2 College Life expansion, there's no limitation to being a young adult. Being a Young Adult in Sims 3 just means more options: climb that career ladder or get married and knocked up as soon as you stopped being a teenager.

Half-tile & Diagonal Placement: Anybody whoever struggled to create perfect symmetry in the Sims or the Sims 2 will jump for joy the first time they place an item in between tiles instead of aligning them perfectly with the grid. Similarly, those obsessed with slanted things will appreciate being able to build diagonal walls that you can actually align objects with.

Who Needs Friends? In Sims past, an expanded social circle was crucial to climbing the career ladder. You needed at least 10 friends to score some promotions and that required roughly 10 phone calls a day plus 10 friend-dates every other day to build up relationships. Sims 3 cuts down on all of this tedium by not requiring a friend count for job promotions. There are, however, advantages to having tons of friends: knowing certain Sims triggers Opportunities—mini-quests where Sims might have to do some chore or stay late at work—that can score a Sim extra cash or move them up the career ladder faster. And friendships in Sims 3 are way easier to maintain; if you haven't called someone in a while, they become Distant Friends and will still show up to parties – especially if you have the Legendary Host lifetime reward.

Let There Be Shoes: The Build-a-Sim menu has been beefed up quite a lot with all kinds of color editing options and the ability to coordinate outfits, makeup and hairstyles for various events. But the best part of all is that they've finally added socks and shoes to the wardrobe menu. Fashion aficionados rejoice!

Hated
Feels Like A Real Time Strategy Game: The persistent world was cool when I was going to parks and fishing at the beach. Then I realized that you couldn't go with your Sim inside a lot of places like their workplace or the sports stadium. The user's view remained outside the building while the Sim's icon stayed in the building as they went about their business. The only impact you could have on them at all was to change their work setting to do stuff like Suck Up To Boss, Talk To Co-Workers or Slack Off; or in shops a menu would pop up, allowing you to buy and sell goods. Once I had a family full of children going to school and parents going to work, it really felt like an RTS where I would just set their orders and pull back to the Town View to watch their icons move into position and freeze for six or seven Sim hours. It was kind of boring because I always seemed to spend more time waiting for my Sims than actually playing with them; not even the fast-forward button helped balance the ratio.

Marriage Is More Complicated: A few tweaks to gameplay make the getting hitched process more complex. First, there's actually advancing a romantic relationship. There's no number value attached to Sim relationships anymore – just a bar beneath their face that grows into red or green depending on how positive or negative their interactions are with your Sim. While interacting with a specific Sim, a text bubble informs you how the other Sim feels about the interaction, like "So-and-so thinks Betty Page is being flirty." Without a number value, you can't know how close a romantic relationship is to marriage or sex or anything. You just have to watch the interaction menus and scan for "Propose Going Steady" and then later "Pop The Question" after letting your Sim and the other Sim perform enough Flirty actions to get the text bubble to say "So-and-so thinks Betty Page is irresistible" and only then can you get engaged. Now comes the wedding – like Sims 2, you either have to throw a wedding party and click on the other Sim during it to select "Get Married" (you can also do this without the party). But doing so pops up a really detailed menu where you get to pick who moves in with you and if you accidentally select the other Sim's household's "Make Active Household" button, you'll immediately exit the lot, exit the wedding and wind up in some stranger Sim's house without the married couple. The whole process felt complicated and would definitely have benefited from a tutorial section – just like every other aspect of Sim life seemed to have.

Inconsistent Standard Of Realism: Some things in the Sims 3 are more realistic – such as food going bad in the fridge – while others have become even less realistic. For example, there's no longer a changing table for infants and you can't bathe them when they get filthy; you just select Change Dirty Diaper and the babe gets spun around in the air and magically comes out clean. I could understand that certain lapses in realism just make the game more fun; nobody likes having to do laundry even in a game. However, the standard of realism doesn't always make sense and there's still plenty of tedium in the game besides baby-bathing – like having to wash dishes.

A Little Impersonal: In favor of the movie editing software, the developers have scrapped the big moment cut scenes from The Sims 2. There's no special cinematic when you finally get it on with your lover and no special ceremony when your Sims exchange rings at their wedding unless you want to capture the moment on your computer and then edit it together after the fact. For me – a God-type gamer who doesn't mess with the online stuff much – this made my Sim interactions even more impersonal than ever and I cared even less when I destroyed their lives.

The biggest flaw with the Sims 3 is that it's going to take some getting used to. Like when Sims 2 came out, not every original Sims fan was ready for all the changes and many of them were offended even at little menu tweaks. The initial changes might be tough for the first few hours. It took me about 10 hours to start appreciating the persistent world and I was still pining for pre-rendered cut scenes. But after about hour 12, I was adjusting to the changes and by hour 15, I was getting my God-type Sims fix as easily from Sims 3 as I could from Sims 2.

Other than that and the few gripes listed above, I can't say there's anything about the Sims 3 that stands out as so completely alien and wrong that it will turn off Sim fans. Even better, the menus are all intuitive enough that noobs won't be lost if they choose this installment to get hooked. Whether you're a seasoned Sims fanatic or a newcomer, though, there's got to be something in this massively massive game for you. So – get cracking, get creating and remember to update the drivers on your graphics card because that persistent city requires a lot of rendering.

The Sims 3 was developed and published by EA for PC and Mac on June 2. Retails for $49.99 USD. Played through all six phases of life and one Sim's death. Total number of babies spawned: eight, total number of marriages wrecked: two, total number of jobs held: three, total number of houses built: one and a half, total times visited the mausoleum to have my Sim mauled by a bear: three.

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