My first impression of the newest instalment to The Sims franchise was one of scepticism. There was one question rattling around in my brain: ‘Is this an expansion or a stand-alone game?’. I even went to the lengths of checking on internet, but, sure enough, I could play without the original. This wasn’t quite enough to assuage my worries, however, as I would soon discover.
Upon loading the game, the menu screen presented me with the usual messages about how the game was ‘inserting the chaos matrix’ and (for the Sim City fans out there) how it was ‘Reticulating Splines’, it felt comforting, and familiar – I was ready for yet another Sims experience. But with pets.
This latest instalment includes a few extra additions such as new traits for your Sims (e.g. ‘Dog/Cat Person’ or ‘Allergic To Fur’)
From the box art and menu screens to the gamplay itself, EA are sitting, screaming at you: ‘LOOK! There are pets in this one!’. Even the character creation screen, upon completion, directs you straight in to the ‘create-a-pet’ section automatically. Maybe I don’t want a pet? ‘Tough’ says EA. That’s what you paid for. It goes as far as that, when you buy new furniture for your house, the first category is: (Yes…) Pets. They’re up there, more important than all of your basic human rights. But I suppose that’s what you paid for. The Sims 3: Pets. Pets and bloody Pets.
Back to the game itself. If you have played any Sims game before, you will be familiar with the premise. You create a character or two and guide them through their day-to-day lives, getting a job, earning money, crafting relationships from the ground up etc. Your character (or ‘Sim’)’s needs are measured on small gauges and include everything you’d expect, ranging from hygiene to hunger. They grow up and they die. Repeat. In premise, it’s intensely simple, but as we know from its predecessors, it’s strangely addictive.
This latest instalment includes a few extra additions such as new traits for your Sims (e.g. ‘Dog/Cat Person’ or ‘Allergic To Fur’), but except for the actual four-legged friends, very little has changed. At the core of the game is one thing to remember: It feels strangely like DLC.
By completing certain challenges, such as ‘Dig a hole in your neighbour’s garden’, you gain points and unlock rewards which allow you to adjust your moods, increase your luck or edit your characters.
My character, I thought, was to be a writer. A self-employed, literary genius who works from home. The logic behind this was that, being familiar with The Sims 3, I could use my flexible work hours to focus more time on my Great Dane called ‘Cat The Dog’. One thing that has to be said about Pets is that the range of cats/dogs you can choose from is truly vast. Rather than one or two customisable breeds, the game contains dozens of fully adjustable pets. But only cats and dogs, may I add – I read somewhere a while back that I could get a horse: I was to be disappointed. But if anything from Maine Coons to Labradoodles are your thing, then no doubt they will be faithfully recreated in the game. The pets even get their own traits, needs and desires too. It’s almost as if they’re people. But therein lies one of my major issues with Pets.
The animals are far too independent for my tastes. If my dog needed the toilet in the night, I could click on him, and order him to the toilet outside without even waking my Sim up. He could walk to the park himself, socialise with the other dogs of the neighbourhood, dig, run, and play, all without my help. In fact, short of putting some food in his bowl every other day, I barely needed to pay any attention to him at all. He just existed autonomously around the house. Don’t get me wrong, If I chose to, I could pay as much attention to him as I wanted, teach him tricks, bathe him and play tug of war. But why bother? I was too busy having my Sim write his latest tour-de-force on the PC – which broke almost every day (Not surprising considering he attempted to fix it using only a screwdriver… Why can I not just buy a pen in this game?!).
One new feature of the game are the abstract ‘Karmic’ rewards, as opposed to the solid fulfilment rewards you could purchase in earlier games such as ‘The Elixir of Life’ or ‘The Noodlesoother’. By completing certain challenges, such as ‘Dig a hole in your neighbour’s garden’, you gain points and unlock rewards which allow you to adjust your moods, increase your luck or edit your characters. These, along with the Achievements for the game, vary in difficulty greatly. They range from having your character become ‘BFFs’ with your pet, a feat which (however nauseating) took me about 30 minutes play time, to one which involves transmogrifying a male Sim in to a dog, a female sim in to a cat, and then forcing them in to some twisted interspecies erotica worthy of Kinky Kelly and the Sexy Stud. Whilst I’m sure all would become apparent over time, I still have no idea how I’d even begin to start that one. Most of the achievements which I garnered were by accident, such as having my dog become best friends with a cat, which occurred without me even noticing after my faithful friend wandered off down the street to entertain himself. It is possible, however, to lose your pet, according to the achievement list (as you rake in some GS for finding him again), but I’ve yet to find out how. You also gain a healthy dose of GamerScore when you complete all the challenges in a specific category, which will keep completionists coming back for more, again and again. Not that the Sims needs help with that – it’s one of those games where you sit down for an hour and then realise days have past.
Aside from these sporadic faults, The Sims 3: Pets is an enjoyable game and nothing is lost in this newest version. But as I said earlier, it feels like DLC.
As for the more technical side of the gameplay, the game is a mixed bag. The graphics are smooth, and the audio is what we’ve come to love about the series – The Sims has spawned its own genre of latin elevator music for generations to come. This, combined with the game’s own nonsensical language and TV channels (which are always blaring in my game), creates a reassuring aural wall upon which all gamers between 15-30 will find some comforting nostalgia. My main issue with the game was more the controls. I admit going in to this review with some presumptions, but the fact of the matter is, is I find games such as this much more suited for a mouse. EA have done everything possible to port the game over to the console market, and I have rarely found an occasion in which I can’t figure out how to do what I want, but it just seems clunky. It’s impossible to highlight a single item – you highlight an area and then select the item you wish to interact with from a list – and each aspect of the game, of which there are several, is controlled by a different button on the gamepad. You get used to it after a while, but it never becomes second nature. The Sims 3: Pets genuinely feels like a game which needs to be played on a PC. These pauses in gameplay where you try and figure out which button does what, distracts from the immersive, vicarious world which the game creates – and that immersion is what is fundamental to The Sims. You live and control the life of another. Which, I admit, sounds very depressing on paper.
Aside from these sporadic faults, The Sims 3: Pets is an enjoyable game and nothing is lost in this newest version. But as I said earlier, it feels like DLC. Whilst I would recommend this to any of my friends (or possibly enemies, if I wished to deprive them of any of their free time), I would advise anyone who already owns the original to stay away. Very little has changed here, except for the addition of letting your house-mate walk around on all fours. Your pets can live their own lives, get ‘jobs’ (or opportunities etc.) and have their own desires and needs, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll soon find them an annoyance and have them walk themselves to the park. They merely seem to get in the way if you let them. I was happy to have a dog in my Sims’ house, but I found very little reason to focus on him as much as EA intended me to.
Long story short, if you don’t own the game already, go for it. The Sims is a very addictive, very enjoyable game full of love, laughs and relationships. But for those of you who are just looking to expand your current game, it may not be worth it to pay the full price tag for the sake of a glorified expansion pack.
Thanks to EA for supplying us with a promotional sample in order to provide this review