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The Sims

By: Bill Stiteler

 

Genre: Simulation (duh)
Format: CD
Developer: Maxis
Mac Port: Westlake Interactive
Publisher: Aspyr
Minimum Requirements: Mac OS 8.1, 233MHz G3 processor, 64MB RAM, 2MB VRAM, 8X CD-ROM, 350MB free hard drive free space, 800x600 monitor capable of thousands of Colors, QuickTime 4.0 (included)
Network Feature: No
3Dfx Support: Yes
Retail Price: $49.95
Availability: Out Now

 

Close the voting booths and break out the champagne, because it's here. The single scariest game of the year has hit the shelves, and it doesn't have "blood," "dark" or "tournament" in the title. It's The Sims.

What makes this game so frightening? There are no guns or weapons in it. No bio-zombies or deathtraps. Flood and fires are accidental, and death, while possible, is uncommon. No, The Sims--just released for the Mac by Aspyr--will shake you to your very soul because you will have the power to become Aaron Spelling.

And you will.

The Sims, the latest in the line of simulators from Maxis (SimCity, SimAnt, SimEarth and a lot of other games that didn't actually require you to be present to play), is a "people simulator." That is, you get a family of one to eight people, get them a house, and then run their lives. I jokingly called it "SimDad," because I got aggravated if my Sim would stand around doing nothing ("Do you need something to do? 'Cause I got a job for ya!") Think of it as a very advanced Tomigatchi.

You start by designing a family. You pick their appearance from a stock set, choose their basic personality traits (neatness, how outgoing their personalities are, etc.) and then build them a house or move them into a pre-existing one. Now comes the challenge--getting them a life (insert obsessive geek joke here).

Because you see, unlike your family, Sims have needs of their own. They want to be comfortable, have fun, make friends, and go to the bathroom. And while these individual needs aren't hard to accommodate, getting them all done in the time allotted proves to be the game's real challenge. You can sit and watch TV to raise your comfort and fun levels, but who's making dinner? Do you have time to take a shower before your friends come over? Better hurry, because here comes the carpool to take you to work.

Time management is the primary obstacle of The Sims. You have to help your little guys lead a balanced lifestyle, but depending on those traits you set way back at the beginning (remember?) you have to adjust your actions for each Sim. Grouchy Sims have a hard time making the friends they need, and messy Sims will just set dirty plates anywhere...like on the floor. Fruit flies, anyone? Ignore their needs, and they go into a "failure state." Tired Sims pass out. Lonely Sims cry and can't do anything productive. Sims with full bladders reach the obvious conclusion. But after a little practice, you should be able to figure out how to coordinate your cast of characters so that they're leading happy, productive lives.

And then you'll start screwing with them.

I know, you're thinking, "No! I'm different! I don't kick puppies! I don't tie orphans to buzz saws! I don't watch Judge Judy!" I know, I felt the same way. You won't even realize it at first, but power corrupts, you know, and you pretty much have absolute power over your creations. Besides, it's fun, and remarkably easy. Sims are just asking for trouble.

For one thing, Sims want to be liked. In fact, you get career advancement based on how many friends you have. Based on how close you are (stranger, acquaintance, warm, etc.) and your Sim's personality, you get more interaction options. You might tease a close friend and get a chuckle instead of making them cry. You can hug a friend and they won't reject you.

You can flirt.

Here's where the trouble begins. Now, let me just say that for a game that is basically based on voyeurism, the Sims draws a firm line at PG material, or maybe stuff you'd see on prime-time TV. You'll see characters kiss and get backrubs, and you can even change them into swimsuits, but that's about it. when characters go to the bathroom or take a shower, they get blurred out. And if two Sims sleep together, they just sleep together. That having been said, Sims are remarkably promiscuous. I know that there was a rumor that your Sims couldn't be gay, but this isn't true--in fact, they're all pretty much potentially bisexual. Sims can fall in love with just about anyone if you work on their relationship enough, and again, this is where you'll get into trouble. Because not only are they heaving bags of pixilated hormones, they are staggeringly jealous once they fall in love. If you so much as flirt with another Sim while your beloved is in the room, you better clear the room because the shoes and earrings are coming off. It'll start with a slap to let the intruder know who's boss (and Sims, like humans, always blame the newcomer, even if it was his/her girl/boyfriend who initiated). If you're not careful, a SimFight can result.

The answer of course isn't to break off the relationship, but to start sneaking around. Taking the day off from work, or going out into the garden; just so long as you're out of the line of sight. At one point there were two Sims snogging in the bathroom while the other (a police sergeant, no less) was working out on the other side of the wall. But the Sims themselves aren't devious enough to think about this. They'll just keep kissing or hugging in front of their spouses and lovers if the mood strikes them. No, my friend, you have to move that cursed cursor to keep them happy and dirty, and you alone take the blame, even as you quietly giggle. It's really fun in the way that biting a coldsore is fun, or watching "Models, Inc." on FX is fun. You'll be laughing too hard to feel ashamed...or is it the other way around? Use the camera interface to take snapshots and put them in your "family album." Then you can get your friend's opinion...if they're still talking to you afterwards.

Getting to the actual gameplay, the interface is a cinch. No, it's more than a cinch, it's almost transparent. A mouse click tells you what all your interaction options are with people or objects. The graphics are rendered very nicely, but what I really dug were the Sims themselves. Without ragging on other games that have tried to have lifelike interaction for the characters and failed miserably (I just can't make another Phantasmagoria joke, sorry), the Sims really seem alive. Sims who aren't "morning people" will spend half an hour (of game time) staggering out of bed (been there). They resist being tickled, even if they eventually enjoy it. You get little plus or minus signs over their heads which will tell you their reaction to a situation, but you won't have to wait for it; you'll be able to read their body language instantly. The real fun of the Sims is how they react to the situations you create, and everything in the game is focused on letting you enjoy that.

If the game has a goal (other than getting your jollies by torturing their polygonal souls) it's conspicuous consumption. Flat-panel plasma TV will make your Sims happier than a black and white mini-set (do they still make those?), and larger rooms will make their simulated lives easier to bear than a shotgun shack. Accomplishing this requires a job (duh), where you start off on the bottom rung and work your way up to movie star, doctor, or criminal mastermind (really!), all the while buying better things and bigger digs. The Sims may speak gibberish, but they're clearly American.

Yes, other games may let you frag killer aliens, but how many let you break up families? Others allow you to steal the crown jewels, but can you seduce your neighbor? And which is more fiendish, world conquest or not flushing? Play this game for a few hours and find out if you've built a Utopia or Melrose Place. The former may make you feel like a better, more self-actualized human being, but the latter is such deliciously evil fun.

 

Applelinks Rating

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