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The Sims 3

The Sims

The Sims 3 is everything casual games strive to be. Whether you’re a fan of the wildly popular virtual life simulation series or not, there’s never been a better time to jump in than now. There’s something for everyone here, all presented in the attractive signature style that made the series so popular in the first place. The Sims isn’t a series that necessarily caters to any one type of gamer specifically. Instead, it makes a far more ambitious appeal to society as a whole, offering an unrivaled experience where people can replicate their mundane everyday tasks in a sort of ongoing social experiment.

Yet it’s easy to discount the franchise’s broad appeal when EA releases these games for consoles. Too many corners are cut. There’s always a disparity in both the visuals and the performance. The Sims is a menu-heavy series by nature, when developers have attempted to change that up, the appeal’s been lost, and when they haven’t, it’s been cumbersome at best. The console version of The Sims 3 may be the closest EA have come to getting the balance right, but all of the previous points still hold true.

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New to the console release are Karma powers. These powers can create a sizeable shift in the action and prevent some of the monotony that goes along with constantly tending to the needs of your character. There are positive powers casting neat benefits such as temporarily fulfilling all of your Sims needs, removing any obtained negative “moodlets” from all in-house Sims, bringing your Sim family members back from the dead, and a few others. Then there’s the negative powers, which provide ample opportunities to ruin a character’s day by lowering all of their needs, setting their house on fire, or shaking things up with an earthquake. These can only be used through acquiring the set number of Karma points earned through fulfilling wishes, and several need to be purchased through challenge points before being activated. While these new powers are neat to mess around with, hopping your Sim up on good vibes doesn’t come without consequences.

The biggest issue with The Sims 3 is that it clearly isn’t meant for a controller. While a good portion of the content has made it into the console version, it quickly becomes apparent that there’s no good way of designing the experience of the PC version into the confines of a controller. There just aren’t enough buttons to handle all of the commands reasonably. There are also some irritating moments where the cursor requires the precision of a mouse. Building a house from the ground up, for example, is needlessly tedious. As you’re laying down foundation, there’s noticeable delay as you move the cursor over an area, and the game revealing the covered area. Trying to build diagonally, or worse yet, placing roofs over your buildings only further exaggerates the problem.

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I had several experiences where my character would get stuck while carrying out their actions. The first few times, it was easy enough to find workarounds to get my Sims moving. Then there was one instance where I used a karma power on a Sim while he was teaching his kid to talk, and both Sims became stuck on the floor, with the Karma sounds looping endlessly. There wasn’t any good way out of this.

When it comes down to it, The Sims 3 doesn’t offer a whole lot as a game, but the nature of the game serves its purpose as a sandbox for virtual life simulation. There are tons of customization options for both your Sim and the household they inhabit. The characters and houses you create can also be shared with the public through the “EA Exchange” on Xbox Live. Sorting through all the content available is made easy, as the most popular content is presented upfront. Most of the other content people have put up isn’t necessarily worth sorting through and there’s not a whole lot of it, but that doesn’t excuse the lengthy loading delays between flipping through the menus. Of course, if you’re looking for an in-depth customization system, the PC version of The Sims 3 has garnered a sizable Mod community since it’s release, and it remains the better option.

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Pushing a Sim forward in the path most relevant to their interests is still a totally satisfying process, although often times maintaining their wants and needs is more work than it’s worth on your end. The console version takes place in a single town called Moonlight Bay. Unlike the PC version, the town is presented as a 2D map, sectioned off into areas filled with homes, potential work sites, other Sims, and public areas such as parks, beaches, and fishing holes. The entire town isn’t seamless, but each sectioned off area is. Whenever your Sim moves between areas, you’re notified and asked whether or not you’d like to follow them, which becomes annoying in the daily grind of sending them to and from work.

Initially I wanted to play through the game as a single character. Before moving into my house alone, the game kindly notified me this wasn’t a good idea and that it would be more fun to move in with other Sims. That only encouraged me to go solo. It was far easier to maintain a single Sims needs and boosting their points in every stat category – from farming to writing – felt gratifying from the start. Then my Sim started working in the political field and the first problem presented itself. Apart from choosing how hard my Sim would work in a given day and occasionally making obvious yes/no decisions (will your Sim accept an illegal bribe?), waiting for them to return home became boring as hell. Of course, there’s an option to fast-forward through the day, but it still takes to long. The same issue came up when my Sim fell asleep, and at times the speed of the fast-forward function varied inconsistently.

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In order to solve this problem and keep things moving, I trapped a couple of women I had invited over, until one agreed to marry me and the other subsequently moved in, fulfilling a dramatic love triangle for my lonely character. Then there were the babies. I got the adults on rotating work/sleep schedules, and it became immediately clear this was the way the game was intended to be played. But in a game that provides the best life simulation on the market, it’s surprising they still haven’t figured out how to allow you to interact with co-workers during the workday and lead a more specific, personal experience that’s all about your character.

The Sims 3 still feels like the sharpest casual-oriented time sink on the market. Hours slip away as you micro-manage every facet of your virtual counterpart’s life. It’s an absurdly addictive experience that maintains this draw on consoles. As a whole, the game’s fairly solid. Simulation games on consoles are few and far between, and when released, they’re never able to provide the hook that The Sims franchise is known for. Even then, if you’ve already invested in the PC version, there’s really no reason to bother with this mostly competent (albeit still inferior) port.

6 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in July 2007. Get in touch on Twitter @Calvin_Kemph.

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