I think my loathing of Big Brother rubbed off on my will to play such games as The Sims as it took me until late 2001 before I finally decided to give into the hype and give the simulation title a spin. I liked it for a week or so. Then the novelty wore off. I never played the Sims again until I was given the challenge of reviewing The Sims 2: Pets.
The Sims 2: Pets doesn’t differ greatly from past Sims games although the conversion from the PC to the Wii is one of the games strongest points. Previous console iterations of the Sims have relied on minigames style “collect-em-up” gameplay. While stripped down slightly this Wii iteration is a pretty close port of the PC version, lacking some objects available through PC expansions but including the excellent AI synonymous with the PC editions of The Sims.
Even without the extras provided by expansions however, this game is big. The vast amount of unlockable content can be overwhelming and will take a considerable length of time to unlock.
For those that don’t know, The Sims pretty much does what it says on the box: it’s a life simulation game. You create a human character from the ground up – opting what gender, hair colour, nose type, height, etc you want. The system pretty much allows you to customise everything on your character – although some of the hair styles and beards look a little jagged and unrealistic.
You can then opt to build your own house or move into an existing one. Building on the Wii doesn’t feel as sturdy as it could, a problem caused by the slightly unreliable Wii Remote controls. While the Wii Remote controls a cursor in the same way as the mouse does on the PC things just simply don’t feel as steady as they should. While this isn’t a major problem for the most part of the game, when you’re trying to apply wallpaper the inaccuracy of the remote can cause unneeded frustration.
The theme of frustration is present throughout the whole of the games control scheme. You play with the nunchuck attachment and by using the analogue stick you are able to strafe the camera around the environment. Holding the C-button as you move the analogue stick allows you to pan and zoom which works well once you’ve spent time with the game but initially feels a little illogical and detracts your attention away from the action.
With a house in place and Sims to move in – the game starts properly. You can pretty much do what you want in your house and everything has an outcome on your Sims health and personality. As with previous Sims games you will need to give your Sim a job, get him to participate in extra-curricular activities to develop his personality and also build relations with neighbours. The big hook in The Sims 2: Pets is that there are cats and dogs thrown into the mix too.
The pets can be developed in the same way as human Sims as you start a new game and all the customisation elements are present within the animals. There are also an astonishing number of breeds to choose from and with the option of crossbreeding viable the scope for the type of pet you wish to nurture is absolutely massive. It’s a shame that EA didn’t consider including some kind of online mode whereby pets could be traded online as this could have really opened up the possibilities for a real community within the game seriously adding to the longevity.
As it is though, the title gets its replay factor from the sheer depth of the programmed AI. Dependent on the way you develop your Sims personality will also have an effect on the way you look after your pet. For example a Sim who has a strong bond with it’s pet will be able to teach it tricks quicker whereby a poor relationship will result in the animals unwillingness to learn and frustration on your Sims behalf.
You are also able to raise a good or bad pet – rewarding a pet after disobedient behaviour will cause the animal to get naughtier whereby giving it a stern telling off after digging up the garden will result in the animal learning it’s lesson. It takes time to give your animal discipline, as it would in real life and so for those gamers who are persistent in what they play, interesting results can be explored.
The problem with The Sims 2: Pets is that too much stuff is going on. Seriously, if you are in charge of a large family with several pets controlling everything is next to impossible. Ensuring everyone gets to work/school and that your pets aren’t shitting all around the house aswell as building relationships between family members and neighbours will leave you feeling totally disorientated. There are not enough hours in a Sims day to do everything you want and while the nature of the game has you free to do anything – in order to progress you will have to sit through your Sim taking a bath daily, eating three times a day and sleeping for several hours. Some gamers (like myself) simply don’t have the patience for these things when other options may seem more enjoyable. However at the end of the day there is simply not the time to embark on such alternative tasks when you must ensure your Sim completes all the repetitive stuff aswell.
While the depth of the game is usually considered a positive point in other titles, here it leaves the question as to who this game is actually aimed at. Younger players will find the vast number of options overwhelming while older players may find the concept of living a “cyber-life” dull and uninteresting. The developers seem to have failed to find a distinct market for the game and while this does not necessarily make it bad – one struggles to think of a demographic who would buy this game, which surely means bad business for EA.
It’s bad news for gamers too because past all the control issues and gameplay flaws The Sims 2: Pets is a fairly decent game. There is humour in abundance and the AI is simply outstanding. Graphically the game is very presentable, with bright vibrant colours matching the plinky-plonk melodies that keep the action flowing at a decent pace.
Fans of The Sims will probably enjoy this game and the inclusion of pets is a big enough addition from previous version to warrant a purchase. The sheer level of detail and the amount of unlockable content will keep those who embark on the quest totally engrossed but whether you will be able to keep your cool while playing this game is another thing. As a whole, games are meant to be entertaining but I’ll go as far as to saying that I found The Sims 2: Pets a stressful experience constantly being bombarded with things to deal with and never getting to explore the areas of the game I found personally intriguing. While the hectic feel to the game is meant to build the action and create the learning curve I found this limiting the scope of the gameplay and causing for a somewhat exasperating experience.