Remember "The Truman Show"? The Orwellian comedy that cocked a snook at today's media-infatuated public, and made Jim Carrey a ton of money in the process? Well, stand up and pay attention, folks, because "The Sims", the new simulation from Maxis, takes that basic concept and ups the ante by allowing you to play God with an entire neighbourhood of digital people, manipulating every aspect of their lives and relationships for your own personal pleasure.
For those of you who've played "Simcity 2000", "The Sims" may appear to be just another rehash - as usual, you begin the game with a fixed amount of money (or Simoleons, in Sim-speak), and you need to spend it carefully to build a house and satisfy your basic requirements. But very early on, "The Sims" proves that this is more than just another sequel - it begins when you have to create a family, by choosing each individual's sex, skin colour and personality traits, and is reinforced when you get into the game proper and begin constructing a home for your family. As you begin to add more families, and as those families begin to build relationships with their neighbours, fall in love with each other, fight and make up, get jobs, have kids and die, it quickly becomes clear that this is not a regular simulation - Maxis has gone to great lengths to make this game different, and the effort shows.
First of all, there's the truly brilliant artificial intelligence, which is responsible for making your Sims interact with each other. Depending on each Sim's personality traits, they will sulk, smile, frown, flirt, hug, and yell at each other, with each relationship, be it platonic or otherwise, affecting the relationship meter and your Sim's overall happiness level.
The AI engine allows each Sim to react to the environment in unique ways, thereby creating a game that is always surprising you with its versatility and creativity. And they're quite expressive too - despite the fact that Sims only speak Simspeak, which sounds like gibberish, the tone and modulation of their voices conveys the sense of what they are feeling extremely well, as do the graphical thought balloons that appear over their heads.
Next is the brand-spanking-new interface - everything, but everything, in "The Sims" is an object that can be manipulated. When your Sim wakes up in the morning, you can instruct him to use the shower, and then our himself a drink from the refrigerator. When he comes home in the evening, you can make him switch on the lights, or put on his dancing shoes for a night out with his girlfriend.
As your Sims make more money, you can buy them newer and more expensive goodies - a bigger bed, a more expensive music system, a larger television - all of which increase his overall happiness level. Among the objects that I found particularly addictive - the telephone, which your Sim can use to call his friends with, and the music player, which allows you to play your very own MP3 files (someone give the guy who came up with this a bonus!)
I also liked the polygonal-based graphics engine and the great sound effects - every action, whether ringing a neighbour's doorbell or taking a shower, comes with an appropriate sound effect and they add a great deal to the character of the game. One caveat: don't expect to run this game without powerful hardware, since the graphics engine needs a lot of horsepower to do its job effectively.
I've never seen a game quite like this, nor enjoyed a simulation quite as much. There's something curiously voyeuristic about playing this game...which is precisely why it's so addictive. The open-ended nature of the gameplay, and the fact that you'll see something different each time you start it up, offers tremendous replay value. Maxis has put a huge amount of thought and work into making "The Sims" a fun game, and I can tell you that they've succeeded admirably. If you're a serious gamer, this is one game you should add to your collection right now!This article was first published on 11 Oct 2000.