Sunday, June 7, 2009

PC - Sims 3

Sims 3 by EA Games

I recently purchased Sims 3 and here is the Gamezelot take on this game. It is definitely not an improvement over the Sims 2. There are still far too many quirky problems that have yet to be resolved in this game from Sims 2. The one major thing they improved is the loading times when moving around the map. But, that's really as far as the improvements go. The game and pacing are cloned from Sims 2.

Yes, it is a human simulator. No, it is not perfect. Let's hop back in time to 'Little Computer People'. This was actually the first (and arguably) the best human simulator that's been devised for the computer. You took care of a single household with its occupants and pets. You had to feed the dog and you had to manage the people in the game. You could play games with them and interact (or not). Fast forward to the Sims (as a copy of Little Computer People). Now, that's not to say that the Sims is a bad simulator, it's just a bit too quirky. And, you'd think by the third time around that EA could have finally fixed all of the major problems with this game. Alas, they haven't.


If you haven't played The Sims, here's the rundown. It's a game where you can build houses and have these houses become occupied by computer controlled people. In the first game, there was little you could do with your 'Sim' (short for your player). They did whatever they did and they had mostly bland personalities. By the Sims 2, the focus was taken away from the building and placed onto the people. So, EA tried to give the people personalities, but that it was only somewhat successful. The problems with the Sims 2 were numerous... from your constantly having to run to the bathroom to pee, to constant things breaking (the toilet, TV, computer, etc) to fires and burglary. Each day it was always something different, but there was always something. So, your sim ended up spending far too much time cleaning up messes that the game simulator made for you and not socializing or going places.

Enter Sims 3 and, unfortunately, you are still cleaning up far too many simulator created messes. Basically, it's one household disaster after another. The person builder is great, but that's really where the game fun mostly stops. Once you get into the game, the game is overly verbose with tutorials even though you can turn this off from the options menu. That's fine if you've never played a Sims before. It's completely annoying when you already know what to do.

As you progress, you begin running into many of the same problems that plagued The Sims 2. You also quickly realize that very little has been added in the way of substantial new features. At least, that's what I thought that a new game was supposed to be. The things that remained are still annoying. For example, while your character does not need to go to the bathroom as often, other things have now taken the place of that stupid and quirky issue. The main problem is that there is not enough time in 'Live Mode'. For example, in order to get money to buy things, your sim needs a job. Once your sim lands that job, the job kills most of the day so your sim can't do hardly anything but work. Once your sim is off of work, your sim is so tired he/she can't even go grocery shopping. You have to send them straight home to nap or play video games. Even then, the energy runs out very rapidly.

Passage of time is also too fast in 'live mode' and too slow in 'turbo mode'. So, for example, your sim needs to wake up at 6am for his job at 7am. Here's the perfect example with 'Live Mode' time. Your sim usually needs to take a shower, use the toilet and eat breakfast (and possibly even do more than this). Unfortunately, you can't do that many things in a 1 sim hour. It's just not possible. This issue plagued Sims 2 and I was expecting it to have been resolved in Sims 3. In real life, it would certainly be possible to complete all three of these things. But, in The Sims 3, it doesn't work. So, you end up having to cut the sleep time (yes, your sim has to sleep to regain energy) in order to get more stuff done. The problem with that is that by cutting sleep short, your sim doesn't get 'well rested'. Your sim runs out of energy very rapidly during the day. So, there are all of these stupid quirky things. Basically, in order to solve one problem, you create others.

Worse, in preparation for work, your sim usually ends up breaking something like the toilet, shower or sink. Or, in preparing food for breakfast, the surfaces get grimy or dirty dishes pile up. In this game, perfect cleanliness is a must or the 'mood meter' takes a firm nosedive. At least in the Sims 2, you could choose if your character was a clean freak or not. In the Sims 3, your character is now always a clean freak. He complains when he stinks, when others stink or when dirty dishes stink. When a sim complains, that reduces 15-30 mood points.

Mood Meter

The mood meter is the barometer by which your sim is happy or unhappy. When green, the sim is perfectly happy. When red, the sim needs something (food, sleep, etc). Your sim doesn't stay happy for very long, so expect to have him/her constantly do something to please them. The sims will do for themselves, but usually not that well.


After a period of time, your sim will 'Grow Up'. This is a complete disaster of a feature. I don't necessarily WANT my sim to grow up, or at least as fast as it does. But, you don't know how long you need for your sim until you've actually played the game. Suffice it to say, the default settings for a sim to age is not nearly long enough to complete sim goals. For example, I started my sim as an Adult. Within just a few hours of play, my sim had a birthday and turned into an elderly old man. It's like HUH? Why didn't I get a say in this matter? The game should ask you if you want to your sim to age instead of just outright doing it.

And why to an elderly old man? Where are the other stages between adult and elderly? So now, the game I've just spent several hours playing is pointless. I don't want to continue to play this game as some crotchety old geezer. That's not what I expected or intended for my character. It also negates the point of the game. The game changes your sim from a healthy robust adult around 45-48 years old to a 70 year old geezer. With the growing up feature enabled, you need to start your sim on at least young adult for maximum play time. Otherwise, you need to extend your sims lifespan (or turn off aging).

Life Stages / Aging

Further, the aging system is not well designed. You have baby, toddler, child, teen, young adult, adult and elederly. Between the first six stages, there's an age progression of 5-15 years. Between adult and elderly, you're talking about a 30 year jump to 'retirement age'. EA should have added at least 2 more stages between Adult and Elderly. This is part of the reason EA is failing as a game company. They cut so many corners to produce games, this is what you get.

The Urbz / no story mode

Let's jump back in time again for comparisons. Here is another Sims title where EA decided to take the Sims in a new direction. Instead of the free form gameplay of Sims 2, the Urbz created small stories and completion goals. It was linear progression in that you had to get your sim to do very specific things in order to progress in the game. Comparing this to the Sims 3, there is none of that. I was full well expecting at least some story progression system to have been added. So, as you complete small stories, the rest of the game (city) becomes unlocked so you can move forward. For me, this would have been an improvement over the Sims 2. Yet, it didn't happen.

Sim Needs

The Sims 3 requires you to constantly baby your sim. Like, for example, the sim simply won't pay any bills on his own. You have to make him do it. Sure, you can press buttons in the interface to do this, but the sim should simply do this task on his own without your help. If the bills don't get paid, people come and repo the purchased possessions. Again, I'm like HUH? I paid for the things outright. How is it that I need to any pay bills? This is a pointless stupid activity and just wastes time (and money) for the sim.

Because of the constant hands on to keep the sim in line, you can't really spend much time socializing as there's always something getting in the way (phone ringing, potty break, hungry, needs to have fun, etc). If you want to go any place, expect that that's the only place you be able to visit in a single day.

New Game Design and Sequels

I'm not sure why people tend to feel satisfied with clones of previous games. Sure, there's something to be said for releasing a game that's very similar to a previous title. After all, you want lightning to strike twice as a developer. At the same time, you want to provide the gamer with a unique and different experience from the previous title on which s sequel is based. You don't want them walking away feeling that they were duped into buying a slightly upgraded sequel. Well, unfortunately, that's exactly what Sims 3 is. Everything that's in the Sims 3 could have been added to the Sims 2 as upgrades and expansion packs. The Sims 3 is not a new game more than an expansion of the Sims 2. When you design a sequel, you want to retain many of the better elements from the sequel, but you also want to add new features that make the gameplay unique and new over its older cousin. EA's developers failed at producing a game system that was uniquely different from the Sims 2 in the Sims 3. So, $50 for this title is not really justified. An upgrade or expansion pack to the Sims 2 would have cost far less than the outright purchase of this title. EA is now effectively grasping at straws trying to keep this franchise alive. And this is part of the reason that EA is known for making mediocre titles. Unlike developers like Bethesda, Rockstar, Bungie, Ubisoft and Bioware, EA just doesn't go the extra mile to produce the perfect game.


Here is the sorest point of this entire game (excluding Birthdays which is really just bad design). Unless you strike up a relationship with someone first thing out (so you end up with two sims to play with), during the work day there is absolutely nothing to do but wait. Literally. You can't even build on your home because time progression stops while you do this. Instead, you have to sit through an arduously long work day waiting on the sim instead of actually playing the game. In real minutes, that's about 10-15 minutes of real dead game time per sim work day. You actually do nothing during this period of time inside of the game. You might as well go do something in Real Life during that period (like check email, surf the web or make a sandwich).

This, in game design terms, is a complete and utter disaster. You NEVER want your game to come to a complete standstill forcing the gamer to do absolutely nothing. Worse, when your sim is it work, you can't even see the sim. You get to watch the sim's icon parked inside of a building. You can't watch the sim work, you only hear sounds while he/she does it. Again, one more failure from EA. If this game had been complete, they would have added the ability to actually control your sim while at work and make him walk around and do things. Instead, you're limited to a drop down menu that lets you change how hard your sim works. Even that is somewhat pointless. A fully in depth game (which is expected from a new version) would have allowed you to control your sim's behavior 100% of the time both at home and at work. Again, this is EA cutting corners.

EA's missed opportunities

I could probably write a book on all of the poor design choices in the Sims 3. Suffice it to say that what is covered in this review only scratches the surface of the issues. If you choose to wade through the myriad of issues, be warned that there is more than what I'm discussing here (including mediocre graphics). However, if you like the minutiae of making your sim do every little thing and the dead time waiting for your sim at work (and about 10 minutes real time waiting), waiting even longer watching them sleep or spending most of the home time cleaning and fixing, then you might like the Sims 3. I was hoping that EA would have taken this minutiae out of Sims 3 to replace it with something more story based like the Urbz, but it didn't happen.


What multiplayer? Exactly. In this day and age with services like Xbox Live and PS3's online gaming, where is the multiplayer in Sims 3? Again, EA completely botched this. There is no multiplayer mode at all in Sims 3. Adding that feature would have been a huge enhancement. In fact, it would have been awesome to share sims back and forth between online players. Perhaps in Sims 4, EA can finally get all of this right.


I would have preferred far less minutiae and for more things like socializing, sim control 100% of the time, story goals (like the Urbz) and working on relationships and life goals. Having to spend time sending your sim to the office every day is useless and a waste of time (especially because you waste about 10-15 real dead minutes waiting for this activity to complete). In fact, I would prefer just to completely skip that work time altogether. If you're not going to allow 100% control over the sim, then show the sim leaving for work and show him coming back with the amount of hours missing (in two small cutscenes) and then place the cash in the bank. I don't need to watch the sim sitting in a building losing energy for 10 real minutes.

That level of micro management may have been good in The Sims 2, but I'm well past that. For me, the point to this game isn't to micro manage every little detail, it's to play a game (which includes building up the house, having the sim do things, having the sim learn things and having the sim socialize). That's the point in the sims. The minutiae of fixing broken sinks, fixing and scrubbing toilets I can really do without. It was fun in the Sims 2 (for a while), but in the Sims 3 it should be gone.

Finally, the two biggest game design flaws are the birthdays and work. The jumps between each of your sims' life stages leave a lot to be desired and should be more consistent. If you play with the default settings, you need to start your sim out as a kid in order to be able to actually attain your life goal. If you start your sim as an adult, you don't have enough time... and there is no warning of this if you begin your game with your sim as an adult. If you want to start your sim as an adult, you need to change the aging options of the game to actually complete the game. Work time is complete gamer dead time. Dead time in a game is as bad as a game can get. You ALWAYS want the gamer engaged in the game and doing something moving the game forward. Work time, unfortunately, makes the game come to a complete stop where the gamer literally has nothing to do during this time (assuming only one Sim). To avoid the dead time, you need to start a family as the first thing you do in Sims 3 so you have at least two sims to control. In fact, the game should have started you with two sims to avoid the dead time issue.

  • Sound: 8/10 (reminds me of Desperate Housewives)
  • Graphics: 6/10 (useable, but not great)
  • Gameplay: 5/10 (too much minutiae)
  • Story: 1/10 (no story)
  • Bugginess: No issues
  • Controls: 8.5/10 (reasonable, but not the problem)
  • Bang-to-buck: 2/10 (not worth the price)
  • Play Value: $15 (buy the Sims 2 instead)
  • Overall: 3/10 (too many disasters and distractions, too much deadtime, time speed incorrect, bad gaming design not an improvement over Sims 2)
Note, you can alter some of these issues by altering the options in the menu. What you can't alter is the lack of improvement over Sims 2, the complete dead time that is work, the repetitive and constant babying of your sim, the repetitive nature of this game and the lack of actual gaming goals or a story that move this game forward. The game gets a 3/10 rating because it is a sequel and is not enough of an improvement over the Sims 2 and, thus, doesn't warrant the full price tag of a new game.