The Sims 2 Hands-On - Early Impressions

We've got a final version of The Sims 2 in hand. Join us for our early impressions of the game.

The Sims 2 is one of the most highly anticipated games on any platform, and probably with good reason--the original game experienced incredible success with a huge audience. It probably enjoyed this kind of popularity because of the way it let players create a family of autonomous computer people, then wreak absolute havoc with their lives--an appealing prospect to players of all experience levels, ages, and genders. We've got the final version of The Sims 2 in hand, and although GameSpot's review will be posted at a later date, we can share some early details based on our time with the game so far.

The Sims 2 offers up enhanced neighborhood, family, and housing options.

The Sims 2 opens up with a neighborhood selection screen. Like in the original game, you can choose to move your computerized characters into different neighborhoods; in this case, your choices are Pleasantview, Strangetown, and Veronaville, or you have the option to create a neighborhood from scratch. Pleasantview is the home of many of the characters from the original game, including the Goth family (presided over by the aging patriarch Mortimer Goth, who continues to wonder over the disappearance of his wife Bella). Strangetown bears more than a passing resemblance to the mysterious town of Roswell, New Mexico (the rumored site of UFO landings and extraterrestrial sightings)--there are apparently aliens living there in the midst of fine, upstanding sims. Veronaville is characterized by a family feud inspired by Shakespeare's classic Romeo and Juliet, except with more exposed midriffs, knit caps, and spoken gibberish, since the sims continue to use the expressive (but unintelligible) "simlish" language to communicate.

Like in the original game, you can choose to take control of a pre-created home or to buy up an empty lot to station your family in. The Sims 2 has taken the original game's "create-a-sim" mode to another level with the body shop, an editing tool that lets you design your sims with a tremendous amount of detail before dropping them into the game. Presumably some fans will spend more than a little time designing their perfect sim (maybe even one that resembles someone they know), and others may get wrapped up in the enhanced buy and build modes, both of which are stocked with all-new building and furnishing options.

To get a quick start on the action, we rejoined the Goth and Pleasant families' lives, already in progress. While the Goths lead a rather boring life, the Pleasants--which include the flirtatious husband and father, Daniel; his money-grubbing wife, Mary-Sue; and their two competitive daughters, Angela and Lilith--seem to have a bit of trouble in paradise. Right away, it became evident that having a married couple of sims with differing aspirations was a gateway to trouble.

All sims in The Sims 2 have "aspirations" and "fears," which can make them incredibly happy, fulfilled, and long-lived or can ruin their moods and drive them temporarily insane, respectively. It didn't take long for Daniel and the maid (with only a little extra help in the form of the 72 times we ordered him to flirt with her) to strike up more than a working relationship. Daniel would have gotten away with it too if his wife hadn't been there to catch him in the act, burst into tears, and break up with him--and since the romance-focused Daniel's greatest fear was rejection, this caused him to collapse on the floor into a sobbing heap, before he was kicked out of the house permanently. It didn't seem to do much for his new ex-wife and his older daughter, Lilith, either, as both wandered the house listlessly, alternately crying, picking fights with each other, and eating out of the refrigerator. The fact that the maid kept coming back to visit (and join in on the meals and attempt to get in good with Lilith) didn't sit well with Mary-Sue, who eventually dragged the maid into a catfight to the shock and horror of her daughter.

For a change of pace, we then caught up with the Pleasant family's younger daughter Angela, who had returned home with a friend from school. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), Angela's curious little friend was interested in playing doctor and flirted with her mercilessly. But Angela seemed more interested in playing games on her computer and booted up everyone's favorite video game from EA Big, the smash hit snowboarding game SSX3 for your PS2, Xbox, GameCube, and now your PC, apparently (complete with intro screen and actual game footage playing on the monitor). You can expect to see references and in-jokes like these scattered throughout the game, along with various other hidden secrets. We actually had the opportunity to visit with Maxis vice president Lucy Bradshaw earlier today, who explained that using different objects or gestures in certain combinations may yield "interesting" results that weren't intuitively obvious.

Sorry, little man. What the ladies really want is their favorite snowboarding game, SSX3! Ask for it by name!

Bradshaw also quickly demonstrated several of The Sims 2's other features, including the ability to add MP3 soundtracks to the game. While The Sims 2 features what sounds like an eclectic and highly appropriate soundtrack provided by Mark Mothersbaugh (formerly of the 1980s music group Devo), you can also add whichever music you like. We were treated to a demonstration of what happens when players try to re-create their favorite TV shows, like the cult-classic British comedy Fawlty Towers, complete with the co-owners, the aging Sybil Fawlty and her lecherous husband, Basil Fawlty (originally played by John Cleese), and with the TV show's theme music playing in the background. We were also shown the game's enhanced exchange site--the community Web page from which players who have registered their game can download content for the game. In The Sims 2, this site will actually be integrated into the game so that you can browse for new objects, items, and characters to download without even exiting the game. Maxis plans to make new content available for download on September 14, the day the game launches. Unfortunately, you'll have to wait until that date for GameSpot's full review, but for now, be sure to browse our latest batch of screenshots, and come back for further updates coming up soon.

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