The Sims series is an undeniable icon of PC gaming, selling more than 150 million units and earning a place amongst the best-selling video game franchises of all time. Controlling the lives of virtual people (the “sims”) has become somewhat of a phenomenon and, while hardcore gamers might laugh it off, The Sims has introduced gaming to whole new demographics.
The Sims 3 was released in 2009 as the latest base game of the franchise and the first to be simultaneously released on both Mac and PC. In this review, we’re going to take a look at a game that remains immensely popular on the platform and that’s role in it’s franchise makes it an icon of Mac gaming.
Editor’s note: Yes, The Sims 3 is far from a new game, but its very existence on the Mac shows that mainstream gaming can’t help but work with the Mac today. That’s why we thought it’d be good to include in our Gaming Month articles!
The Sims Concept
The Sims is a life simulation game born from the same mind as SimCity, the game that had you building up a city and making sure it ran efficiently, safely, and within budget. However, instead of running a city, you manage the simulation of a much more micro-level: the sims themselves. As a sandbox game, you set your goals and objectives for the gameplay, all while working towards the sole aim of the game — survival — that’s achieved by performing the more mundane tasks of life (eating, going to the bathroom, etc).
The first iteration of the game, The Sims, was originally designed as an architecture simulator and that aspect of the game lives on in The Sims 3. Outside of Live Mode — the main gameplay mode that consists of the actual controlling of sims in your enviroment — there’s also Build and Buy Mode. These modes are formed of the tools needed for constructing buildings and lots with a sprawling, constantly expanding catalogue of objects and items, from the normal to the completely supernatural.
It doesn’t look attractive at face value: who really wants to spend time in front of their computer simulating the boring parts of their life when they could be shooting zombies or racing through the streets of a well-known city? However, the more zany aspects, enhanced through a series of expansion packs, combined with the notable The Sims charm produces an engaging and addicting experience.
Third Time’s The Charm
The Sims and it’s successor, The Sims 2, were by no means bad games. In fact, their charm captivated many hours of gameplay and continues to live on in the hearts of many. However, The Sims 3 brings some radical improvements to the series and — while taking the risk being condemned for a premature conclusion — is a fantastic update to the series overall.
Firstly, the most notable change is significantly improved graphical quality that still looks great three years on from it’s original release. From The Sims 2 there’s an increased level of detail and an overall ameliorated presentation value. Sims look a little more real and natural without even getting close to the Uncanny Valley, as does all aspects of the environment. The presentation is overall more detailed while still retaining the fundamental series charm.
At a gameplay level, The Sims 3 brings an “open neighbourhood” that allows players to explore a dynamic town without ever encountering a loading screen. Alongside the player’s own game, the town is populated with NPC sims — you can play these sims, but not simultaneously with another household — who live their own lives, moving around the town to give the traditional gameplay a burst of newfound dynamicity.
You really feel like you’re participating in a living world and not one limited by the size of your current lot. So-called “community lots” no longer feel like an afterthought that are really just a pain to visit; instead, it feels so much more natural to hail a taxi, let your camera follow as it drives around town before finally arriving at the library, which provides communal resources that actually benefit a player’s progression.
The “Create-a” tools are fundamental part of The Sims experience, being used to design the sims themselves, the lots that combine to form the game world and, now, the designs of objects in the world.
All of these tools are enhanced with both new and improved features. For example, while you still have the option to merely selecting a preset tool, there’s an insane amount of detail in which you can manipulate aspects of a sim’s bodies, voice and personality, down to the finest details imaginable.
Speaking of personality, The Sims 3 replaces a fairly haphazard personality system that was increasingly messed up by expansion packs of it’s predecessor with a simple traits system that dictates core aspects of a sim’s person. You can make a sim anything from a vegetarian workaholic to a art-hating angler, and these have knock-on effects to gameplay. For example, a vegetarian may throw up or otherwise react negatively if they eat meat while a positive moodlet — moodlets can be negative or positive and form the sim’s mood, which in turn has effects to their activities in the game — will be awarded to someone who Loves the Outdoors while they’re outside. This all contributes to the sense that everything you decide makes a real difference to events in the game.
The Create-a-Style tool is new, and allows the easy recolouring of any object in the game. You can’t quite create new objects, but you can apply different textures and colours to any of the official in-game items. This translates to an unprecedented level of co-ordination and design perfection that will give architecture fans a kick.
Still The Sims
The Sims 3 doesn’t deviate too far from the basic setup of a The Sims games. It does, however, include a lot of the more minimal content added in The Sims 2 expansions that weren’t the flagship, such as the treadmill, fishing, gardening, mobile phones, etc. This is all welcome and provides a larger set of features from the start, without having to wait for EA to get around to adding them as additional features in expansion packs.
The Sims 3 builds on a successful paradigm in gaming with a whole host of new features that caters for even more play styles. All the skills and careers offer even more for players who play to achieve progression in that area while Create-a-Style and other build/buy mode features makes for a better experience for the builders in the community. Yet, the game retains the franchise’s notable charm and attraction.
The Sims 3 is made possible on OS X through a technology called Cider. A sort of emulation package, Cider allows Windows games to be run on OS X which powers quite a few of EA’s games on the Mac.
Playing The Sims 3 reveals some significant performance disparities between the emulated version on OS X and the native version on Windows. From a performance standpoint, The Sims 3 on OS X is satisfactory at best; it’s certainly possible to play the game and have a good time doing so, but there’s noticeable problems. For example, when focusing on a new area of the game world it can take a few minutes for the textures of objects to load in, with just a solid grey colour taking their place. It’s not life-threatening to your game experience, but it’s avoidable.
I’ve switched to playing the game in Windows through Boot Camp because none of this “laggy” loading is evident. The Sims is notable for it’s love of expansion packs and additional paid content, so you’ll probably end up spending hundreds of dollars on the series over time. Because of that, I would honestly recommend buying a copy of Windows and using Boot Camp and Windows to play. In an attempt to be fair to the game, I’m awarding The Sims 3 a 9/10 — it’s a very good game — but the performance concerns really only afford it a 6/10 as a Mac game.
Although it’s a vastly different game in reality, be sure to also give our review of The Sims 3 for iPhone a read!