When The Sims launched on PC in 2000, it quickly established itself as a landmark title. It was the first major success for Maxis since SimCity 2000’s 1993 release, selling somewhere in the neighbourhood of 14 million copies and establishing itself as one of the best selling PC games of all time. Having said that, it has aged horrifically, having been superseded not just by its own sequels, but by countless games that have been released in the life simulator genre since. I spent a great deal of time with it in my youth, but recent attempts to get back into the classic titles have lasted a small handful of hours each before the veneer is peeled off and I realize what a shallow, repetitive game The Sims boils down to.
That may sound a bit harsh, but I do have a fondness for The Sims. There are just better ways to experience the series without going back to the original, which is why I was willing to jump back into its console port. Released in 2003 by Edge of Reality, it’s more than just a straight transfer from PC to console. The most striking difference is the full 3D graphics, rather than the original’s 3D characters on 2D backdrops. However, as it turns out, it’s not the most notable difference that makes The Sims on console more worth playing than the original.
For those uninitiated, The Sims is a straight-up, vanilla life simulator. You create your people, or “sims,” as the game calls them, and guide them through their day-to-day lives. You build up their skills, help them reach the top of their career, and decorate and expand their homes. Along the way, you must tend to their needs, make sure they don’t piss themselves, and maybe help them find romance, if you’re into that sort of thing. Being based off the earliest formula of the game, Sims don’t age, but they can die if they go without eating for too long, or if they come into contact with fire. As is standard with the series, it’s really difficult to accidentally kill a sim; you kind of have to be intentionally trying to off them by putting rugs next to a fireplace or walling them off in a room until they die of hunger and misery. My mother once accidentally lost a child when she had him wash his hands before changing a light bulb, so it’s both possible and hilarious, just rare.
That can be a problem from a variety standpoint. Skills are built up by interacting with a specific item (books for cooking, weights for body, mirrors for charisma, etc.), and then just waiting until a bar fills. You don’t actually follow your Sims to their place of work, they just get in their carpool and disappear for a few hours. Children never grow into adults, so they are stuck being unproductive parasites in perpetuity. Sims don’t age, so you have am eternity to build them into super-sims without the challenge of a biological clock ticking inexorably, drawing closer the ever-starving void of oblivion. It’s more entertaining than it sounds, but it does come with the risk of becoming mundane pretty quickly.
The game’s challenge comes from juggling needs while building skills and a social life. Career progression requires you to both increase your sims’ skills past a certain threshold and have a sufficient number of neighbours past the “friend” relationship status. Just like in real life, it can be difficult keeping everyone happy while simultaneously working a 9 to 5. It can help to buy better items that fill your needs faster, but it’s sometimes necessary to straight-up skip workdays, since no one seems to care unless you miss two consecutive days. I wish I could get away with that.
GET A LIFE! ANOTHER ONE!
Right after starting the game for the first time, you’re presented with only one option for gameplay, which is the “Get a Life” mode. Rather than the endless sandbox that is typical of the series, Get a Life has you hopping from home to home, completing objectives in order to proceed. Saying there’s a story behind it would be putting it charitably, but it provides a framework to your Sim’s life beyond simply reaching the end of their chosen career track. That is still one of the primary objectives to the game, but you’re also led through various other life stages as you get there.
You start out living with mother, before she shuffles you out into a place of your own. From there, you’re expected to advance through your career, upgrade your homes, and throw some wicked parties. This whole mode gives The Sims much needed progression. In the classic games, without any sort of aging mechanic or generational advancement, there was absolutely no sense of forward motion, especially after capping out your career. On consoles, not only are you guided through your sim’s life, but you unlock stuff along the way. It’s a much needed feature.
LIFE FINDS A WAY
You’re not given much choice in getting a life, the game has some pretty strict expectations for you, which is where things took a turn for the weird. Towards the last third of the game, just as your Sim’s finally getting their life together, you’re given the goal “score on someone at a party.” So I flirted with this random dude at a party, then selected the social interaction “try and score.” To my shock, my sim immediately dropped to a knee and proposed to him on the spot. I was horrified. Obviously, The Sims’ definition of “scoring” diverges greatly from my own.
After completing that home’s last goal, I was instantly whisked away to a bigger home to enjoy married life. On the second day at the new house, my sim was away at work and her husband was quietly studying cooking at the dining room table, when suddenly, a baby in a cradle spontaneously appeared next to him without warning, and I was prompted to name it. My sim’s youth had been ripped away from her so forcefully you could practically hear the tearing.
Annoyed, I banished my husband to the spare room to care for the baby on his own, because I hadn’t asked for any of this, and I’ll be damned if my sim was going to take any responsibility. After a few days of maternal neglect, the baby blossomed into a freakishly ugly child. It looked like an octogenarian posing as a 10 year old. Then a couple days after that mutation, a second mystery child was vomited up by the void. This one would later morph into yet another abomination sporting a horrific mullet.
As it turns out, this was just setting things up for the thrilling climax, in which my Sim sent both her wickedly ugly children off to prep school and then ditched her accidental husband to go retire on a yacht. A hero we can all aspire to.
I GUESS WHAT I’M SAYING IS…
The story mode isn’t really all that it could be. You’re not actually given the opportunity to mold your sim’s life as you want. You’ll get married. You’ll get married and like it. Don’t want kids? Well, too bad.
The goals all fit rigidly within the limited framework that the original Sims formula allows. So every location requires you to advance in your career, and at the very most creative, you have to repair appliances or clean up a mess. Even with the simple goals, they still somehow manage to become somewhat vexing, as a few require you to throw a party to complete, and organizing a gathering of sims is probably a more monumental feat than herding cats. It’s hard to “score” with someone when they’re milling about, fighting for the bathroom.
This is also more of an personal issue I have with the game, but I really don’t appreciate the homes where you’re forcibly given control of a second character. It’s not helpful; these side characters are no one. I don’t care if they succeed at their career, or if they pee themselves, they’re not my sim. Why am I given responsibility for them? You can turn on autonomy, so the secondary sims will take care of their own needs, but they’ll never sleep when you need them to. Full fast-forward is locked unless both sims in the house are either at work or sleeping, and unless you force those conditions, you may be watching your sim snore in bed for longer than you’d like. For that matter, being able to toggle full speed would be nice for those many moments you spend watching your sim flip pages in a book while their skill bar fills.
SAND ON YOUR HANDS
Yes, you can still play the Sims in sandbox mode, if you’d like. In this mode, things play out more or less like the Sims on PC, but with some caveats. The engine that Edge of Reality uses doesn’t allow for a second floor to your home. Likewise, the variety of objects that are available seems strikingly limited, though it has been a long time since I played the original Sims without any expansion packs, so I can’t say for sure if it’s deficient in comparison. Though, really, there’s a lot of stuff in the PC expansion packs that would have been nice to have here. The Sims is already a limiting experience; moreso when you can’t walk into town or go on vacation.
The Sims on console is still mostly worthwhile, but that’s mostly due to its blemished but serviceable story mode. It also provides a multi-player mode, which is pretty novel for the series. There’s both competitive and cooperative ways to play, with the latter being more fun. It still runs up against the game’s core simplicity, but it’s still an extremely welcome addition that adds value to the console version. It’s additions like these that provide me with reason to fire up the console versions sooner than I would the PC classics, but at the same time, there are now many better ways to experience The Sims without going as far back as the turn of the millennium. In fact, the console followup, The Sims Bustin’ Out was released in the same year, and that’s more interesting in a lot of ways. But that’s a story for another time.
As for The Sims on console, it’s probably only worth it if you’ve got a pre-existing fondness for the game, or if you prefer the time when sims couldn’t age or multi-task. Otherwise, it’s best to look elsewhere. It’s a good effort, but most of that effort was spent just translating the game to console. Smoothing out the wrinkles would have to wait.
Note: If it wasn’t made perfectly clear, this review only applies to the console version of The Sims. While Similar to the Windows/Mac editions, there are too many differences to apply this critique to both.
This review is based off the GameCube version, using the original disk and hardware. It was paid for by the author.