Though names like Doom and Half-Life may have dominated the PC space over the last couple of years, there's inarguably no more successful franchise on the platform than The Sims. Last year, EA and developer Maxis successfully evolved the series' quirky everyday-life simulation with The Sims 2, the first true sequel to 2000's runaway-hit original. Now Maxis is seeking to bring the experience to all the major consoles, and after spending a little time with a prerelease build of the game, we're happy to report that the essentials seem to have been preserved, with a few console-specific goodies thrown in for good measure.
If the original Sims introduced players to the concept of tending to a little virtual person's every need, The Sims 2 lets that digital persona get a life. When you generate a new character upon starting a new game, you'll get to assign a specific personality and aspirations to your character during the customization process. Of course, you'll also get to tweak all the physical options: body shape and size, hairstyles and color, clothing, tattoos, and so on. But that stuff is all cosmetic. You'll also get to balance certain personality traits, such as neatness, shyness, and playfulness, which will determine how you interact with other sims.
The really important part, though, is your choice of aspiration--romance, wealth, knowledge, popularity, or creativity--which will determine what sorts of goals and activities your sim will want to pursue. The game will translate your aspiration into a set of "wants," or objectives, that you'll need to meet to advance your character and open up new areas to visit. If you choose the wealth aspiration, for instance, you'll quickly be prompted to find a job, earn a certain amount of cash, and acquire some trendy, expensive belongings. The popularity aspiration, on the other hand, might prompt you to find a new crush, expand your pool of friends, and get a job in the fashion industry.
Once you're in the game, you'll begin in a basic domicile with a couple of roommates. In addition to monitoring your sim's cleanliness, fatigue, social interactions, and need for food, housing, and entertainment, you'll have to keep up with your wants to keep your sim happy and progressing toward a fulfilling, productive existence. As you build a career and earn money, you'll be able to procure all sorts of objects to make your house more interesting, from new decorations and furniture to home entertainment devices and even a massage table. The game will purportedly contain hundreds of new such objects that weren't found in the PC version.
You'll also have access to expanded customization systems for food recipes, letting you concoct new sorts of food out of component ingredients. Raw food types can be obtained from your refrigerator, though you'll also be able to pick up more-exotic stuff by exploring the gameworld. As you raise your cooking skill, new recipes will be unlocked, and you'll be able to prepare your ingredients using a number of handy kitchen appliances. The more advanced recipes will actually modfiy various specific attributes of the sim who eats them. With the right kind of foods, you can affect a sim's energy level, make him or her nauseated, raise his or her skill levels, or even cause him or her to fall in love.
The Sims series began with a clear PC focus, what with its point-and-click interface and slowly paced, simulation-style gameplay. So it's nice to see that Maxis has paid special attention to tailoring The Sims 2 to the console experience, both in control and gameplay terms. The game will feature two control modes: direct and classic. As the name implies, direct control will let you move your sim around with the analog stick, much like in a third-person action game, and you can use any interactive object by walking up to it and hitting the action button. Classic mode is similar to what you'll find in the PC game. You'll navigate the environment and assign tasks with a cursor, and you can use this mode to queue up multiple actions at once to get things done quickly. Speaking of which, the fast-forward function is available simply by holding the right shoulder button, which makes it especially easy to assign some tasks and then get them done quickly.
In a marked departure from the PC game, you'll also be able to play the console version of The Sims 2 in two-player split-screen mode. You can load up any saved sim and select two-player mode, which will prompt your friend to create his or her own sim through the standard character-creation process. Once you jump into the game, you'll each get half of the screen (split vertically) in which to carry on all your regular sim business. The gameplay isn't drastically different in the two-player mode--as each player will still focus on satisfying the wants of his or her respective sim--but you can obviously set up some interesting situations when you've each got control of your own character.
Maxis has done a fine job of bringing The Sims 2 over to the consoles, from a technical standpoint, as the look of the game is identical to that of the PC original, and there's plenty of variety in the purchasable objects, characters, and backgrounds to keep the simming fresh as you develop your own guy or gal's career and homestead. The Sims 2 is slated to hit the PS2, Xbox, and GameCube in November. We'll bring you more on the game in the coming months.