When EA launched The Urbz: Sims in the City, they had hopes for it to become the next big Sim franchise for them. It’s just too bad that game sucks out loud. They were so optimistic that they allegedly began work on The Urbz 2 five months before completion of the first game. Sales still managed to exceed 2 million units, but that was a pale shadow of both The Sims on console, and its follow-up The Sims Bustin’ Out.
Meanwhile, on PC, The Sims 2 was released and completely revamped the life simulator in ways so significant that they arguably haven’t been matched in the series since. Sims were no longer static dolls that wouldn’t complain as long as they weren’t pissing themselves on the kitchen floor. They had aspirations that dictated everything from who they wanted to interact with to what they wanted to eat. They also aged, which meant that you were creating dynasties, racing the biological clock to accomplish as much as possible, and, more importantly, children weren’t horrible wastes of time.
The Sims 2 was a tremendous evolution for the series, and it immediately took off in sales. With the Urbz project faltering, EA took the work that was being done on the Urbz 2 and redirected it to a console port of The Sims 2. So, how did EA take all the complex mechanics of the PC game and translate them to the aging console market? Yeah, they didn’t…
YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE
One piece of background that is important to keep in mind about the console versions of The Sims series is that they drop the standard eternal sandbox/dollhouse framework and instead have you proceed through a series of goals to reach an actual endpoint. Along the way, you shift locations; in The Sims, this was a linear process, while in Bustin’ Out, you traded in and out of locations straight through to the end.
Sims 2 is a mix of both. It’s technically a linear experience, but at any time, you can go back to one of the areas you cleared to finish up any of the side goals. Finishing the side objectives allows you to unlock secret locations that feature their own sets of goals.
That’s not a bad framework, actually, and when read as a feature, I’d probably find it favourable. However, The Sims 2 is severely deficient in a lot of places, not least of which is the goals that you actually need to accomplish. It’s tied into the aspiration system, which gives you a set of goals based on your sim’s personality, but certain sims (yours included) are given “gold” and “platinum” (I really don’t know the difference) aspirations that you complete to proceed. 95% or more of these are the most mundane and boring objectives I could think of using.
They’re goals like “buy a rug” or “build a wall”, which you can just buy and sell immediately, and it still counts as an accomplishment. There are also the predictable goals like, “improve a skill” and “reach a certain level of your career,” but there’s less variety than in the previous console titles, which might throw something like, “Find out who stole a fern.” This is the crux of gameplay; it’s the framework upon which everything around it is supposed to be built, and it is so boring and mundane that it’s more of a hassle.
PARTY OF ONE
This is made more annoying by the fact that not only has The Sims 2 kept up the trend of forcing you to take command of secondary sims, but it has almost doubled down on it and you’re sometimes forced to control four or five at a time. You can leave most of them to automation, but it’s ridiculous that this is even necessary. Most of the side characters are neither interesting nor well-defined, so why would you even care what they’re doing?
This runs contrary to The Sims 2‘s most notable feature, which is direct control of the sim. Rather than acting as a hand of god, directing the actions of the digital people, you can get right inside their head and control where they move and what they do directly. It’s not perfect, but it works well enough that it was my preferred way to play. If it doesn’t jive with you, there is the option to switch back to the classic way of playing.
On the technical front, there’s also the restriction on how many sims can be on a lot at a time, and when the game decides to absolutely pack the lot with residents, it puts a cap on how many visitors can be on site at a time. That’s not a problem until you try to throw a party. On some lots, there are so many residents that, when a party is thrown, exactly one sim shows up. Okay, so you avoid throwing parties on those lots, but sometimes you’re required to throw a party and have a particular sim show up. You can’t pick who is invited directly, so now you have a random sim coming to your front door. With only one sim showing up at a time, it can take many attempts before the person you want finally arrives.
THE SIMS 1.5
While we’re talking technical, I want to point out that The Sims 2 is not The Sims 2. What I mean to say is: it’s not a technical advancement over Urbz or Bustin’ Out. It’s plainly the same engine that the console games have always run on. This is visible in the way that walls work and how all the buildings have only one story. A lot of the assets have been redone, but that may be more due to Urbz having gone a different route with its artstyle and the need to revert back to a more basic one. This also has the side-effect of there not being a very large assortment of objects or clothing styles.
I really have to stress that this isn’t The Sims 2, and it’s pretty disingenuous for EA to label it as such. Aging and life stages have been ripped out entirely, and the aspiration system has been scaled down considerably. You can pick a life-long aspiration, which will affect what hopes and dreams your sim has, but they never amount to more than “level up X skill” or “cook food for X sim.” That’s actually the only feature I can think of that was transferred from the landmark PC version, they didn’t even manage to include the improved multi-tasking and pathfinding systems. That’s just a little sad.
It’s not that the previous console Sim games are particularly exciting, but The Sims 2 is easily the most mundane. It’s a little wackier than the first title, featuring aliens and an undersea biodome, but even they wind up being a bit drab. You’d think the alien family would at least have some fun goals, but they don’t amount to much more than making friends with the neighbours and getting promoted. I mean, that’s the perfect example right there: the most imaginative thing the developer could think of involving aliens is conforming to sim society. Chew on that for a moment.
It’s serviceable, but monstrously disappointed. Direct control has been something that I’ve wanted for the series since the first console title moved things into 3D, but the game can’t focus and still shackles you to a bunch of uninteresting side-characters that you have to swap between. The objectives themselves are simply boring, and the interesting locations are just guilded cages. It’s just so aggressively unimaginative, and comes across as a clear step back from Bustin’ Out.
If you’re just looking for a console version of The Sims 2, look elsewhere. This isn’t even close to the PC title, and the fact that EA would even insinuate that is absolute bullshit.
This review was conducted on a GameCube using an original disk copy of the game. It was paid for by the author.