The Sims 3 Review (Xbox360)

The Sims is one of the few series that achieves its goal of escapism. After all, what’s more detached from reality than reality itself? It has always had a layer of self-aware cynicism that pushes the limits of what its core concept can do. It forces the player to ask, “If I’m playing a virtual life, why aren’t I out ‘playing’ my own life?”. It’s all a bit complex for a game that revels in the mundane features of life.

Now, with the above complexities aside, let’s look at EA’s latest attempt to port their wildly successful PC series to the consoles. On its native platform, The Sims 3 has seen the phenomenal success that one would expect, but translating its sandbox wonder to consoles has always been more difficult. Always hampered by its control scheme, it has traditionally been a watered-down experience – a Sims lite if you will. This time round, it’s a completely different story.

The X-Factor Goes Guerrilla

With so many big titles due out in the run up to Christmas, it’s amazing to think The Sims 3 is stopping me from playing them all. EA have cracked it this time and managed to bring the full Sims 3 experience to the living room. No more clumsy controls or long loading times (something that’s made even shorter if you install the game to your Xbox 360 hard drive) – this is the full Sims experience, complete with console exclusive features that would work well if translated to the PC version.

For those unfamiliar with EA’s iconic simulation title, you create a family of sims (using a mindboggling extensive creation suite) and see them through their short lives. This involves getting them jobs, managing their relationships, exploring the neighbourhood and going to the toilet. It’s the ultimate sandbox and if possible in real life, it’s generally recreatable in The Sims 3.

The joy found in The Sims 3 comes with creating your own stories. Its pre-built neighbourhood is already populated by eccentric individuals, but it’s the ability to take your sims in any direction that you deem fit where the game really stands out. Much like the random nature of real life, The Sims is endless. You can approach it in any way possible.

Want your minions to become evil genius, hell-bent on making others’ lives misery? Sure it’s easily done. Maybe your creative talents have been wasted and you want your sim to become a successful author – just practice writing and your sim gets better over time. Practice guitar, go out for a meal, work in the army, rise to the CEO of a multinational – it’s all possible. The opportunities are infinite and describing them all would take an age.

How The Other Half Lives

The above is all well and good if the game has a fluid control scheme. The PC’s mouse makes controlling the game a breeze, but in the past, the console editions were always a tad finicky. Fortunately, it isn’t the case with The Sims 3 – everything’s been mapped to the controller to make the game as painless as possible. Sure, the cursor is still sluggish compared to its PC counterpart, but following a quick tutorial, everything slots into place. After ten minutes, you’ll almost question the need for a mouse and keyboard in The Sims – it works that well.

The game introduces new concepts gradually to ensure that the player is never overloaded with information when learning the controls. As a veteran with the series, it wasn’t particularly needed, but for those fresh to The Sims, it’s a welcome approach.

Once you how to control everything, you’re let loose on the open world – a gentle push into a sea of potential. Much of the core game is the same – it’s only karma and an objective based challenge system (much like the PC’s wishes system) that separates the two games. As you live your life, your sims will reveal their dreams and desires; these range from buying a snazzy new couch to rising through the ranks of their career path. It’s all reactive – so if you’re working in business, becoming friends with co-workers and getting a raise will be top of their list.

Fulfil the wishes and your sim’s karma metre will gradually fill to a maximum of 100. This then lets you use limited-time buffs (which range from boosting a sim’s needs to maximum to causing havoc in the town) that range across a good to bad scale. Your choice obvious depends on what your intended play style is – it’s entirely up to the player’s choice.

Regarding challenges, as you play the game you’re rewarded for completing actions – for example, buying your first item or your sim writing a hundred books. It basically rewards the player for playing the game and an online tracker shows what your friends are achieving in their own games. It’s a nice move (much like the friends’ records that litter the lobby in FIFA 2011) towards social gaming in single player games (there’s also Twitter implementation for those that like to pump their feeds full of completed objectives).

Paris Hilton Meets Saw

Graphically, it’s only slightly more jagged that the PC version and it’s only noticeable if you’re actively looking for differences. It’s a well finished affair and nothing has been skimped. You can build and buy to your heart’s content and the object customization tools (create your own style / patterns) are included. The in game store is empty, but will presumably be filled with DLC goodies (the free-sharing player creation exchange also makes a return).

EA really have cracked it this time. For anyone without a PC, The Sims 3 is the perfect port and it’s a great introduction to the franchise for anyone who enjoys the comfort of a sofa for their god-playing. The developers need to be commended for their efforts and if you like sandbox games, this is unmissable.

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