The Sims 2
|Genres:||Simulator / Life Simulator|
|Release Date:||September 14, 2004|
The best-selling PC game of all time is getting a complete makeover, and for those that never played the first Sims game, it may be time for a re-evaluation. Those dismissing it as some sort of “non-game” really miss the point, or at least they don’t realize that there isn’t a point at all, that The Sims is all about process, not strictly goals. It’s the ultimate in “emergent gameplay,” and The Sims 2 is taking it all to some other new level of weirdness.
The Sims 2 requires little introduction, but it’s essentially a ‘life simulator’, or a game where you guide your little Sims through their mundane existence by taking care of their most basic wants and needs, which includes everything from cooking breakfast to finding a job. This may sound dull, but once you get to play it, you’re practically hooked.
A great deal of the fun is time management, and making the right decisions. Is your sim hungry? Send him into the kitchen and have him prepare a meal. But it is awfully late! Maybe he’ll just have a snack, that way he can get a good rest and be in top shape for work tomorrow. Each sim has 8 needs that you must see to – Hunger, Energy, Social, Fun, etc – and the great challenge is keeping all of those needs at their highest level so as to improve overall mood. If your sim is happy, he will perform better at his job, which means more promotions, which means more money to buy more stuff, which means more endorphins. As in The Sims, the central focus is buying new and better stuff.
Maxis has taken a page from Diablo, a game hurtled forward by mini-goals (level up, get a better mace, try out this new spell) and macro-goals (kill Blood Raven, free Deckard Cain). Similarly, The Sims 2 has mini-goals called “wants” and a macro-goal called your “aspiration,” which are linked. If you choose a sim whose aspiration is money, then you buy him nicer stuff to meet his wants. If it’s popularity, then you make more friends. If it’s family, then you help your son with his homework. This casts the cycle of daily living as a means to higher goals like love, fame, and fortune.
It also makes The Sims 2 more of a game and less of a dollhouse. And although these want goals can be contrived and gamey, they let you choose your level of difficulty. It’s easy to buoy a friendship sim in a state of continual nirvana by just repeatedly giving people backrubs and telling them jokes. But for a more conventional challenge, try a fortune sim, which makes for a consumerism-themed building game.
The rewards for satisfying your wants are funky little devices that subvert the game’s mechanics. There’s a money tree, a hat that lets you learn skills twice as fast, an electric gizmo that does an end run around sleep, and even a fountain of youth water cooler. These demonstrate that Maxis isn’t out to frustrate anyone — in fact, the manual even lists a cheat code to turn off aging.
That’s right, aging. The cycle of eating, sleeping, and peeing is no longer never-ending, which gives The Sims 2 a much-needed sense of urgency. Your impending death makes your decisions even more meaningful. With a set number of sim days until you die (for instance, adult sims become elderly in about a month!), it actually matters whether you have a party, get a good night’s sleep before work, or play a computer game until 3AM. The new career system models a workweek with weekends, accrued vacation time, and career specific events and rewards.
Aging also gives the gameplay a gratifying sense of progression. Sims grow up, meet, marry, have children, get old, and die. Then their children grow up, meet, marry, have children, etc. Couples combine to beget new sims, passing on their digital genetic make-up, their inheritance, their personalities, and their interests. The Sims 2 doubles as a sort of dynasty game. Instead of a kingdom, the backdrop is a neighborhood of intermingling sims and the places they go, letting you jump around freely among households. There are even backstories, mysteries, and challenges built into the pre-existing sims that ship with the game. You get a lothario, a pair of party girls, a slacker, a lonely widower, and much more, straight out of the box for you to socialize with or directly control.
This leads to some weird space/time anomalies, such as visiting public places in a time bubble or the way unplayed sims never age. You leave for the mall at 8:30pm, spend three hours there, and then get back home at 8:40pm. You might get old and die while your own mother is perpetually thirty-something. But these are necessary abstractions that don’t break the game any more than taking fifteen minutes to pee. The Sims was never a simulation, but approximation. This is not real life, but just something like it. Only this time it’s built on a foundation of compelling gameplay.
System Requirements: Pentium III 500 MHz, 256 MB RAM, WinXP