It is hard to deny the success of the Sims franchise. With more than 150 million copies sold all across the world; I am actually a little surprised that the franchise hasn’t been “milked” far more than some would argue that it has been. With that being said, those crazy Sims are back again with an all new version for the PC and home consoles. The Sims 3: Pets is here and looks to add a couple of new elements to an established formula but the results are simply more of the same, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you are a fan.
If you have played the Sims 3, then you pretty much know what to expect with the Sims 3: Pets. This time around players can extend their Sim family by adding a family pet (which you might have deduced from the title of the game). You can now create and customize your own dog or cat to become a separate entity in the virtual world of the Sims. It is important to note that this review focuses squarely on the console versions of the game. There are some differences with the PC release (which isn’t a stand-alone game like the 360 and PS3 versions). In addition to having the ability to create and control horses as pets in the PC game, there are a number of interface options and general alterations that ultimately make it its own experience. We are going to focus on the console version, specifically the Xbox 360 version.
We have already talked quite a bit about the features of the game in our preview
which we posted last week, so we aren’t going to rehash the ground that we have already covered. I told you “what” was in the game, now let’s talk about how good that “what” is. All of the new additions to the game are sure to please lifelong fans of the series, but I am not sure that it is anything that is going to draw in new players.
First off, as I stated in my preview, the creation options revolving around your new dog and cat Sims are incredibly robust. You can lose yourself in the creation mode without even getting to the game portion. The interface is robust yet simple enough to navigate for anyone new to the series. The use of graphic layers and ability to adjust even the smallest details such as the shapes and angles of noses and ears truly gives you the power to create highly detailed and ultimately familiar animal friends in the game.
The visual options aren’t the only strong point of the creation tools as the personality and trait options help to add just as much depth and details as the graphical choices. The wide variety of options really give you the ability to create pets with unique personalities and identities all their own. Sure, you could create a full family of clone-like animals to fill out your household but who wants to do that?
It is also really great that there are a variety of storyline adventures to embark on with your pet. This helps to get your pet involved in the gameplay and to strengthen the relationship between your human and pet Sims. That is what this series is about after all: the interaction between the Sims. It is a shame though that there are only 5 scenarios included in the game as die-hard fans will likely long for more after they have checked each of them off of their list. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more added in the future via DLC as that seems like the next logical extension of this game. You will enjoy your time on the five though in addition to to the general exploration you will do with your pets.
The gameplay style of the game hasn’t changed a bit since the last release. It isn’t all “old ground" as the new karma powers and lifetime wishes do give your human Sims a couple of new paths to follow and offer some variation. These are almost all centered on the interactions with the pets and feel like natural additions to the game, but ultimately you have played this game before. What does give the game a refreshing feeling is the new town in which your Sims live. Sugar Maple Coast is a lively and bustling town and there is plenty to explore and do within its boundaries. There is plenty to see throughout the vast neighborhoods including abandoned mines, cemeteries, haunted houses, cat and dog parks, as well the new boardwalk and museum. It is very easy to get sidetracked from your direct missions and explore the world around you and that is what you are supposed to do so make the most out of it. On a personal note, if you create a cat, make sure that you visit the cemeteries; trust me.
My main issues and concerns that I have with the game lie in the actual control schemes and gameplay interface. The truth of the matter is that this game was built to utilize a mouse and keyboard and regardless of the streamlining and simplification of the control scheme in order to make it work on a console, it really loses its charm in the transition. This world just isn’t meant to be controlled using a controller and you will get that feeling constantly when navigating through the world.
Queuing up commands or actions for your Sims is a chore using the Xbox controller. You have to locate your Sim, hit a button, navigate through a menu, hit a button, navigate through a sub menu, hit a button; and this goes on and on and on. This becomes monotonous and a bit of a chore when you are trying to set up interactions between your various Sims. As I said before, this world was built to use a mouse and the lack of one in the console version really adds a level of complication to the interface that PC fans won’t appreciate. That doesn’t mean that EA hasn’t gone to great lengths to cater the experience to the console setup, especially on the Xbox 360.
This version of the game offers players the ability to interact with the Sims world using voice commands and the Kinect peripheral. Voice commands are a fun and novel idea but in the end they come across as simply being “tacked” on to the experience. As one would expect, you are limited to using a set of predefined commands and it becomes a chore in itself to navigate to list to see what commands you can use at a given time. It’s fun to use but the novelty of it wears off quickly.
There is fun to be had here but if you didn’t enjoy the series prior to this release you aren’t going to start now. As simple as the game sounds, there is a huge learning curve and a lot of ground to cover if you are just getting started with the series. Thankfully, the game does include a lengthy list of tutorials and instructional reference guides to help ease you in to the insanely robust world. Returning fans should feel right at home though. Depending on which camp you fall into, returning or new to the series, your experience is likely to be vastly different. Old fans should feel right at home while newcomers are going to be lost in trying to grasp what all of the fuss is about.