URBZ: Sims in the City

URBZ: Sims in the City

Written by Charlie Sinhaseni on 1/5/2005 for PS2  

Say what you will about Maxis’ The Sims but you have to give the designers credit for consistently delivering content that is new and addictive. Some people have been critical of the company for going to the well one too many times with its expansion packs (eight in total) but few have complained about the actual content of the titles. With its console variant the developers were keen on avoiding the same pitfalls and have decided to take it in an entirely different direction with Urbz: Sims in the City. And while they’ve succeeded in delivering something different to its audience, it has failed to retain the same elements that have made the previous entries so addictive.

Those who have seen the screenshots and read the hype may be fooled into thinking that the URBZ focuses solely on the blackinazation of society. In truth, the urban settings are just one aspect of the game. There are 12 different locations that embody various subcultures of society. Throughout the course of the game you’ll have the opportunity to shred up the scenery with the skaters of Whiptail Park, dance it up with the breakers on Neon Street and act pretentious with the beatniks at the Foundry. Variety is a key here and the game consistently offers it up by providing the gamer with unique locales and the wacky characters to match. Ultimately, the game is all about conquering these locales and moving on to the next.

To do this you’ll need to make a name for yourself. As an URB your main goal in life is to become the most popular player in the scene. To gain respect you will need to interact with your peers and impress them with your talents. For the most part, the gameplay remains unchanged but all of the interactions are now colored coded. All of the ones that are likely to succeed are colored in green; the ones that may moderately succeed are colored in yellow while the ones that will most likely result in a negative reaction are colored in red. Each time you gain a positive reaction you’ll earn more reputation. Gain enough reputation and you can enter exclusive parties and travel to locations that outside of your scene. This is the main mechanism that governs the game and it’s flawed in numerous ways.

While it’s fun to interact with other URBZ, it quickly becomes a chore. Unlike the other Sims games, there’s no reason to have a vested interest in any of the other URBZ. They’re simply there to be used to so that you can gain points off of them and move to the next location. Pretty soon you’ll start picking all of the positive actions and holding down the R2 button to fast forward through them just so that you can unlock the next location. Usually the main attraction of these games comes from watching other Sims interact with each other and seeing what transpires. Here, the main objective is to just move through the characters and plow your way into the next location.

Don’t get us wrong, interacting with other URBZ is still part of the fun, it’s just not as fun as it should be. For a game that revolves around social interaction it’s a shame that there’s so little to do. As you progress through the game the Urbz will teach you new interactions but they are so few of them that you’ll find yourself using the same ones over and over again. You’ll get a chuckle out of the interactions for awhile, but it soon grows old and you’ll find yourself growing tired of them. The developers should have worked harder to tinker the engine so that it encouraged more group activities and less one-on-one situations. After all, the game is all about being the center of attention. How do you make an entrance when only one person can acknowledge you at a time? For this, the game eventually peaks after six hours, the point where you realize you’re in an endless conundrum of repetitious actions and predictable results.It’s a wonder that the designers decided to keep the motives intact. With the home aspect of the game all but gone, someone thought it would be pertinent to include a little mini-home for you in each of the game’s locations. In all of the scenes the game sets you up with a little room, complete with a bed and enough space for a shower, toilet and any other amenities you desire. This effectively rids the need for the home aspect and you can actually play through the entire game without returning to your home at all. If you need to shower you can simply buy one and plonk it down in the middle of the level. Hop in and you’re all set. While you’re at it you can drop down an exercise bike right into the middle of the street, no one seems to care.

The Sims has always looked good but the engine is really starting to show its age. Most of the environments lack refinement and the characters could use some more transitional animations. All of the actions are really jerky and just emanate and dissipate out of nowhere. There’s no real cohesiveness in the movements, just one action after another. The designers tried to spruce things up by utilizing a number of lighting effects but they can’t mask the archaic architecture and weak character models. Hopefully the next iteration of the Sims looks better as this one is a pretty disappointing effort.

All three versions of the game come packaged with a coupon redeemable for four free Black Eyed Peas tracks at the iTunes store. This is a great freebie that further solidifies the Black Eyed Peas role in the game. In addition to appearing in the game, the group lends a few of their songs to the soundtracks. They’ve even taken the time to re-record some of their more popular songs (such as “Let’s Get it Started”) in Sim-glish so that it fits in with the universe.

Although all three versions are technically identical the PS2 version has the edge over the others. Those who have the Eye Toy peripheral will be able to take photos of themselves. As your Urb gains more rep those photos will be displayed around town, showing off your popularity. It should also be noted that Urbz is the first game I’ve ever played that allows you to save and load directly from the PS2 HDD. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come for those of you who shelled out $100 for that 40GB paperweight.

I’ve always been a fan of the Sims but I’m not so sure that I’m a fan of the URBZ. The series was solid to begin with and it seems that the developers tinkered with a formula that didn’t need to be changed. For sure, the social element of the game has received a significant facelift, but the Urbz leaves the home aspect behind and with it, a significant part of the fun. It’s an interesting direction for the franchise, we’re just curious to see if the designers can add to the formula without taking away from it.
With the first two console Sims, Maxis tried to recreate the formula of its PC hit while adding some structure to the game. For the most part the developers succeeded and even managed to better the PC cousin by adding in 3D graphics and a linear storyline. Apparently that wasn’t good enough and someone decided that the franchise needed a drastic change. It’s here now and its name is The Urbz: Sims in the City.

Rating: 7.5 Above Average

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


About Author

Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.

It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.

It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.

When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."

As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.

When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.

Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile

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