Review: Electronic Arts The Sims 3
The Sims 3 is one of EA's more ambitious iPhone releases in bringing a popular desktop game franchise to the iPhone and iPod touch platforms. The Sims series has a large fan base and as with their release of SimCity last year, expectations of a The SIms 3 on the iPhone version will be relatively high. With The Sims 3, EA appears to have delivered a solid and very playable version of the game that takes full advantage of the iPhone platform to provide an enjoyable experience for both new players and seasoned veterans of The Sims genre alike.
For players new to the series, The Sims 3 can best be described as a combination of part role-playing/strategy game, part virtual doll house and part Tamagotchi pet. Basically you're given control of a character known as a "Sim" and must take care of meeting their needs, improving their lifestyle, furnishing their house, and creating social interactions with other characters in the game.
The first thing you'll need to do in order to get started in The Sims 3 is create your "Sim." Your Sim is the character or avatar that you will play as within the game, and this goes beyond merely customizing appearances -- you also choose your Sim's persona and personality traits, which determines what your goals will be within the game and what sort of activities will make your Sim happy and motivated. For instance, you can choose to play as an all-around nice guy or a jerk who goes around the neighbourhood annoying everybody they meet.
Once you've created your Sim, you're ready to jump in and begin playing. The Sims 3 offers a helpful introductory tutorial to take you through the basics, but there's still a lot in the game that you'll need to discover on your own, which in many ways is part of the fun. The in-game controls are described as part of this tutorial as well. The Sims 3 uses mostly standard touchscreen gestures for selection and panning around the screen, although a two-finger gesture is actually used to rotate the camera view rather than zooming in; zooming is controlled by a slider which appears on the right-hand side of the screen. Most of the objects you'll find in The Sims 3 have actions associated with them, and you can interact with objects and other Sims by tapping on them and choosing a set of available actions from a list of options which appear.
As explained in the tutorial, the goal of The Sims 3 is basically to improve your character's life while ensuring that their basic needs are met. These basic needs are Hunger, Energy, Bladder, Hygiene, Social and Fun, and are combined to determine the overall mood of your sim. As in real life, most of these deteriorate over time and you take care of them in the manner you'd expect: Make sure your Sim eats, gets enough sleep, goes to the washroom, showers regularly, meets other Sims and enjoys some recreational activities. When you start the game, you're given a small house containing most of the basic items you need for this purpose: A cheap refrigerator for quick snacks, a simple bed and cheap sofa, a toilet and shower, and a cheap TV set. Simply tap on these objects and select the appropriate action to direct your Sim; for example, tapping on the refrigerator allows you to tell your Sim to have a Quick Snack which will slightly satisfy his hunger need. As you advance in the game and earn money through various other activities, you can purchase improved and different items that will more efficiently meet your Sim's needs. For example, a better bed will allow your Sim to feel more well-rested in a shorter amount of time, and a stove will allow your Sim to cook meals rather than just grabbing quick snacks from the refrigerator. Some items will even take care of multiple needs: A shower may get your Sim clean, but a bath will get them clean and restore some of their energy level at the same time.
Of course, as in real life, the other catch is that you'll need to earn enough money to keep your food supply stocked and thereby keep your hunger need met. Even those quick snacks from the 'fridge cost a few bucks each time you eat, so you'll need to find a source of income by engaging in other activities. Meeting your Sim's needs in the most efficient manner possible is important since just like in real life you're on a schedule, and there are rarely enough hours in the day. If you simply sit around the house sleeping and eating all day, you'll eventually run out of money, which in turn means you won't be able to eat, and your Sim will die of hunger. Further, you need to earn money to advance within the game and meet various goals and objectives that are presented to you. The open-ended nature of the game means that none of these goals are mandatory, but the game won't be very much fun if all you're doing is earning minimum wage and going home every night.
There are a few different ways you can earn money, but the most straightforward is generally just to go and find a job. You can job-hunt by using the telephone in your living room to call around, or you can go into town and get a job at one of the local businesses. Different jobs will have different working hours and salary levels. All of the various jobs start at a relatively low pay level but you can get promoted within a job and increase your salary over time. Note that you'll need to ensure that you show up for work on time each day and in a reasonably good mood to avoid getting fired or suffering an industrial accident.
The one need that you'll have to leave home to meet is the Social aspect. This is met by interacting with other sims in the game, and until you get to know some sims, you won't see any of them just dropping by your house for a visit -- you'll have to go out into the community and meet some new people to avoid dying from loneliness. You can leave your house and go into town either by simply going out the front door and walking to the edge of your property, or you can simply bring up the menu and select the "Go to Town" option. You'll find yourself on a larger map of your area of town, with various businesses, other sim's houses, and a lake that you can visit. The business provide sources of potential employment or goods and services for your Sim, while the lake provides some recreational activities and is a good place to meet new sims. Alternatively, you can just walk up to houses in the neighbourhood, knock on their door, and introduce yourself.
The lake also provides one of the first opportunities to improve an in-game skill. The Sims 3 includes four different skill areas that you can work to improve: Cooking, Fishing, Repairing and Gardening. You start out with absolutely no aptitude for any of these skills, and improve them simply through practice. Each of these skills requires the necessary equipment, and Fishing is the first and easiest of them, since all you'll need for this skill is a fishing kit. To start fishing, go to the Hobby Shop in town and purchase a Fishing Kit and then go to the lake, find one of the marked fishing spots, and choose to Go Fishing.
To actually fish, you're taken to a mini-game that makes pretty good use of the iPhone and iPod touch accelerometer: You tilt your device left or right to angle for the fish and then jerk the device upward to actually hook the fish once you've got a bite. As you catch more fish, your fishing skills improve accordingly, making it easier to catch the smaller fish and providing you with the ability to catch bigger fish such as tuna or salmon.
Fishing can also be an easy way to make money early in the game. The Quick Mart not only sells food, but will buy any fish and vegetables you may have, with particularly lucrative prices for larger fish like tuna. In fact, you could almost forego getting a job and just work as a self-employed fisherman in this manner for the early stages of the game. As you progress through the game, you can eventually work on your other skills by purchasing the necessary items. For cooking, you'll need to purchase a stove, some recipes from the Corsican Bistro and the necessary food items for those recipes from the Quick Mart. For repairing, you'll need a repair kit from the Hobby Shop and you'll need to wait for one of your appliances to break down. For gardening, you'll need to upgrade your house when the option becomes available in order to get a garden space, and then you'll need to purchase seeds, a watering can and some fertilizer from the Hobby Shop. Gardening is handled through the normal game interface, while cooking and repairing each have their own mini-games.
As mentioned earlier, you'll also need to ensure that your social needs are met by building relationships with other sims. You begin the game as a stranger to everybody, and can meet sims by visiting the lake or dropping by their homes. Your relationship with sims will progress through levels such as acquaintance, friend, good friend and budding romance, depending upon your interactions with them. As with your own sim, other sims will have different interests and personalities, and how well you hit it off with them will depend upon how compatible those personalities are. Interactions with other sims can range from simply conversational to friendly or hostile or even romantic, and other sims will respond to your interactions according to their own interests and personalities: Come on too strong and you may actually creep out the other sim, or insist on talking about subjects that don't interest the other sim and you'll bore them. Also keep in mind that some sims are just jerks and you may never move much beyond the acquaintance level with them, or may even find your relationship descending into hostility. On the other hand, if another sim finds you particularly charming or interesting, you may be able to begin a romantic relationship, engage in "WooHoo" or even ask them to move in with you. As in real life, relationships in The Sims 3 are complex and take time to develop.
You can also earn additional money by completing certain tasks that other sims may ask of you from time to time. These may range from the mundane such as fetching a grocery item to taking an action against another sim.
Throughout the game, you will also have various wishes that appear somewhat randomly. When a wish shows up, you can choose to set it as a goal for your sim to accomplish, or simply leave it as a wish and let it expire. You can have up to four goals at any given time, and as you complete them those goal slots become available for additional wishes that come up. Completing goals or wishes gives your sim a morale boost and improves their overall mood. WIshes range from relatively simple tasks such as "Buy Something" or "Grow Corn" to more complex goals such as obtaining a promotion at work or beginning a romantic relationship.
As you progress in the game and earn more money, you will also want to improve your living conditions. This will help you more efficiently meet your needs as well as improving your social options. Initially, your home renovation options are limited to moving your furniture around, buying and selling furnishings or doing a bit of minor redecorating. As you progress in the game, however you can eventually upgrade to a larger house. Unlike the desktop version of The Sims 3, the iPhone version doesn't provide any way to specifically customize your house layout beyond where you place your furniture. A home upgrade simply provides you with a bigger, pre-fabricated house layout.
From the beginning, The Sims series was well-known for its wide variety of expansion packs which offered additional features to the base game. The latest version of The Sims 3 for the iPhone provides a similar expansion capability through in-game purchases, allowing you to purchase additional clothing for your sim or furnishings and wall and floor coverings for your home. Free add-ons are even offered through in-game purchasing from time to time.
The in-game music is typical of The Sims series in general, but the game also provides the ability to choose your own iPod playlist from the main menu or from any of the stereo systems you encounter in the game to replace the built-in music, a nice touch for those who may find the default music to be either pedestrian or downright annoying. This works very well on the iPhone 3GS and second and third-generation iPod touch models, but users of older iPhone and iPod touch devices may find the game performance to be a bit more sluggish when playing iPod music due to the slower processor, and using an iPod playlist for background music results in a noticeable difference in performance on these devices.
Overall, the Sims 3 for the iPhone and iPod touch is an excellent adaptation of the series for the iPhone and iPod touch. It would be virtually impossible to fit all of the features of the desktop version onto the iPhone, however EA has done a great job scaling the game down to the platform without removing any of its playability or enjoyment -- in many ways the game still feels as sophisticated as the full desktop version. Further, the game makes nice, intuitive use of the iPhone touch screen interface and accelerometer and provides a good in-game tutorial system to get new players started off. Fans of The Sims series will find this version both interesting and challenging as long as they recognize it for what it is: An appropriately scaled-down revision of the full PC/Mac version. For players new to The SIms genre, this game is a great introduction to the series, and will still provide hours of challenging and fun game play. This is definitely one of these games that can be addictive and difficult to put down once you get into it, but like any good iPhone game it also has the advantage of being playable in bits and pieces whenever you have the time.