The Sims 3. It's the next game in one of the most popular computer game series in the last 10 years--a series of games that's all about the joys, loves, careers, and embarrassing moments in the lives of little computer people. We've just played the game extensively and have much to report on its new features, improvements, and the way you don't always have to worry about having to send your little sims to the bathroom.
The Sims 3 expands on the extensive customization options of The Sims 2 in many ways. The Create-A-Sim character creation utility has grown and improved, offering five major categories of customization: basics, hair, looks, clothing, and personality. Basics offers six selectable stages of a sim's life span (as opposed to five in The Sims 2): toddler, child, teenager, young adult, adult, and elder. Younger sims will have more-limited choices than older ones when it comes to the game's new personality options, which we'll explain shortly. Basics also offers a full gradient slider with various hues for different skin colors (such as light, dark, and swarthy--or blue, red, and green if you prefer to make characters who look more like aliens or movie monsters) and gradient sliders for your characters' stature, which set both how much body fat they have and how much musculature they have.
Hair lets you select from a variety of preset hairstyles (or hair-plus-accessory styles, such as baseball caps, top hats, and bicycle helmets) with completely adjustable hair color layers for your character's base color, roots, tips, and highlights. The looks panel offers the ability to customize your character's basic head shape (or choose from a preset shape), along with eye shape and color, nose shape, lip shape and color, beauty marks such as moles and freckles, and colored cosmetics for eye shadow, lipstick, and face paint. Every single color choice has both a variety of presets as well as a free-form gradient option that lets you select whatever color, hue, and gamma levels you prefer.
The clothing menu is stocked with a predictably huge array of preset clothes for everyday wear, formal occasions, sleeping, athletic workouts, and swimming, and most of these offer mix-and-match top-and-bottom selections (or one-piece outfits if you prefer)--all customizable by color or using the game's new create-a-style system, which lets you customize a color or color pattern, save it, share it with your friends, and apply it to anything that can have a pattern applied to it, such as your character's clothes, living room sofa, wallpaper, carpet, and car paint job.
The personality menu has been completely revamped for The Sims 3, including not only provisions for your sim's favorite food, color, and music--as well as a customizable "simlish" (gibberish) voice with adjustable pitch--but also the much-talked-about traits system, which completely replaces The Sims 2's arcane and sometimes-confusing "personality sliders that give you a horoscope" system. The Sims 3 instead helps you define each sim's personality with more than 60 "traits," which we've revealed in a previous story. Toddlers start with only two traits, children get three, teenagers get four, and young adults get the game's maximum number of five.
Of the huge variety of traits, many can be extremely advantageous, while others can be extremely disadvantageous, especially when stacked together. There are clearly combinations of traits that were placed in the game for people who prefer to play toward a specific goal. For instance, one of our sims took the following traits: good sense of humor (which makes your sim's jokes funnier and more likely to strengthen a relationship); party animal (which guarantees that all invited guests will show up and also makes them more likely to bring gifts); schmoozer (which makes your sim a more-persuasive talker and grants extra dialogue options like "flatter" and "praise"); charismatic (which makes your sim gain charisma skill faster, have better conversations, and make friends faster); and friendly, which makes your social interactions more impactful overall. This set of traits is a natural for a popularity-based lifetime wish, such as making 15 friends. Of course, if you don't care to be as ambitious, or instead prefer to play the game as more of an observer, you can load up your characters with flaws such as absentminded, technophobe, no sense of humor, and so on, toss the characters together in the same house, and watch the sparks fly.
Your choice of traits determines your sim's lifetime wish, an overarching and long-term quest, which, if completed, will earn you a ton of lifetime wish points that can be used to purchase any of the game's 31 lifetime rewards (which can be either permanent body enhancements to your character or a wondrous gadget that makes life much easier). At the lowest level, costing 5,000 lifetime wish points, these include fast metabolism (which lets you change your appearance); speedy cleaner (which lets you clean house much more quickly); discount diner (which lets you eat free at restaurants); professional slacker (which lets you slack off at your job without getting into trouble); observant (which lets you discover the traits of other sims--which start out unknown--twice as quickly); office hero (which makes you more popular and effective in your career); legendary host (which makes your sims throw better parties); and complimentary entertainment (which gets you into the local theater for free).
The next-most-expensive lifetime wish rewards, at 10,000 points, include multitasker (which makes your character better at career work, and at homework if it's a child); bookshop bargainer (which lets you shop at the local bookstore on the cheap); attractive (which makes other sims like you more); opportunistic (which gets you better rewards for completing "opportunities," the random career-related tasks that occasionally pop up); fertility treatment (which makes your sims more likely to conceive children, and more likely to have twins or triplets); steel bladder (which lets your sim survive without going to the potty); and change lifetime wish (which is just what it sounds like).
From then on come more-expensive rewards. At 15,000 points, you can choose vacationer (which lets you take the odd day off of work with no consequences); never dull (which lets you freely repeat the same social interactions over and over again--something The Sims 3 otherwise discourages); haggler (which gets you a good price shopping for anything); fast learner (which noticeably increases the rate at which you learn skills); and dirt defiant (which makes your sim immune to personal hygiene concerns). At 20,000 points, rewards include long-distance friends (which lets you maintain a friendship with another sim even without talking for a long time); midlife crisis (which lets you re-choose your traits); and super green thumb (which makes you a gardening whiz). Further up are even pricier rewards, like hardly hungry (which makes you much less susceptible to hunger) at 25,000; the body sculptor device (which lets you exactly specify your sim's body shape) at 30,000; acclaimed author (which gives you bigger royalty checks for any book your sim has written) at 30,000; and extra creative (which lets you paint even better paintings) at 30,000 as well.
The most expensive rewards in the game include collection helper (which helps you locate items to complete your sim's item collections) at 40,000; food replicator (which instantly prepares duplicate meals) for 50,000; moodlet manager (which can remove most negative "moodlets"--the minor conditionals that can affect your sim's general mood) for 60,000; and, at the very top end, the teleportation pad (which effectively makes transportation fast and free) at a whopping 75,000 points.
Once you've created a character, or a family of characters, you can take your little household and move it into a community lot in the neighborhood of Sunset Valley, the primary neighborhood with which the game will ship (though EA has announced that the game will have an additional neighborhood, Riverview, freely available at launch). You can choose either a prebuilt home (prebuilt homes can be purchased prefurnished, which is a great time-saver if you don't care to build from scratch) or an empty lot to build out.
There are even more options for building houses and buying furniture in The Sims 3, and better sorting options for both. The Sims 3 has tons of tools to build out a new home, including eight classes of flooring (carpet, tile, wood, stone, masonry, linoleum, metal, and miscellaneous floor patterns like mosaic tiles) and eight kinds of walls (paint, wallpaper, tile, paneling, masonry, rock & stone, siding, and miscellaneous patterns). The build interface has been rearranged to group items by context using a graphical menu that's basically a line drawing of a house--mousing your cursor over the roof of the house lets you switch to roofs, while mousing over the trees outside of the house lets you jump to plants and gardening stuff. The build and buy interfaces also now have a powerful new sledgehammer option that lets you erase large groups of items or fixtures in one shot, though you can of course undo your most recent actions as well. Buy mode has also been tweaked to let you sort purchasable items either by the room they would go in or by function. There are also more kid-friendly options this time around, like more play structures and group activities to let you build up larger families.
The Sims 3 seems to have tons of activities buried in its skills, social interactions, and even in all the buildings in town--developing a skill or relationship, or just visiting a neighborhood lot can lead you down many different paths of development. Socializing with your neighbors has been expanded considerably--instead of simply choosing the "chat" social option repeatedly in the vain hope of growing closer, you can choose from social options from a specific context. The new social options are grouped into a larger set of subgroups: friendly, funny, mean, romantic, and "special." The "special" group is a set of unique social interactions based on your sim's traits. Ambitious sims can try to get an inside line about the office by asking about work; natural cook sims can trade recipes; and so on. And for those times when your sims make that special connection, not only can they get married, but they can also take that next step in the story of their lives by planning to have a baby. Pregnancy is a continuous state that female sims can undergo, though for family-minded female sims, the state of pregnancy provides a continuous positive moodlet. If your sim couple has a caring relationship and a relatively stress-free pregnancy, this will lead to additional moodlet and relationship bonuses when your child is born. Having a stressful pregnancy in The Sims 3 won't give you many bonuses, but it will offer slightly fewer incidences of domestic disturbances than real-life stressful pregnancies.
In addition, instead of having a numerical meter that goes up to 100 that gauges the strength of your relationship, the path to friendship comes from getting to know a new sim better, by gradually learning that other sim's personality traits (they start off hidden) and building up a meter that shifts toward the right as your relationship improves to friend, good friend, and potentially girlfriend/boyfriend or spouse. The meter seems to move more slowly the longer you've been talking to the same person, so unlike in the previous games, you can't always stand there and talk to a new person for five minutes and immediately have that sim fall in love with you; you need to instead cultivate relationships over time. Fortunately, there's also a better feedback system for dialogue. As you talk, a feedback window in the upper-left corner of the screen will tell you how your chatting sim is being perceived (friendly, flirty, rude, and so on), which will help guide you on your quest to make friends (or alienate people). Making friends is the key to getting ahead in certain careers, such as the political career (which lets you hold fundraisers to earn campaign funds).
Aside from chatting up other people around you, each sim has an ongoing set of wishes--minor tasks pertaining to their lifetime wish and personality traits--that you can "promise" to your sim--it's a bit like accepting a quest in a role-playing game. These wishes seem to do a great job of leading your sims into performing tasks that are relevant to their interests and move them forward, professionally and personally. A sim with the "genius" trait, which tends to make sims a whiz at the logic skill and at logic-oriented careers, may get wishes such as "increase logic skill by a point" or "join robotics career." Completing these tasks may set you on a new path that will open up new opportunities later on.
Should you prefer to step out, the downtown neighborhood of Sunset Valley will offer you lots of things to do. Just about every outdoor lot downtown, aside from the parks, offers multiple options. For instance, you can head to the local restaurant to either grab a bite to eat or take cooking lessons, and you can visit the local sporting arena to attend a sporting event for fun, or, if your pockets are deep enough, you can purchase a pricey business partnership in the stadium's operations and start getting a cut of the ticket prices.
In addition, many outdoor lots offer shopping areas where your sims can pick up items to add to their inventories, including books to read for fun or skill bonuses, toys and furniture for the home, and scads of cooking ingredients for use with the cooking skill. Several of the more-peripheral skills that were explored in later expansion packs for The Sims 2 and in some of the console games have become full-on paths to character development in The Sims 3, should you care to pursue them. Cooking has been expanded tremendously--there are now two types of cookbooks, skill increasers and recipe books, both of which will be important to the aspiring chef (and/or the meticulous recipe collector). Likewise, gardening has been expanded to having multiple skill levels that will let you grow a greater variety of crops. Fishing has also been expanded to having multiple skill levels that will let you catch a wider variety of rarer fish to collect (or cook) from the multiple fishing holes that are located in the more-remote areas of Sunset Valley.
All told, The Sims 3 seems to offer a tremendous variety of different things for you to get wrapped up in, whether that be advancing along a career path, increasing a skill set, completing a collection, making friends, having romantic relationships, or working toward lifetime goals--and that's assuming you decide to play the game with more of a role-playing focus to try to develop a single character. The Sims 3's expanded character personality system and building tools will let you build households populated with much more crazily opposed inhabitants, and if all you're interested in is seeing wacky misunderstandings that result in people dying in fires, put sims with opposing traits in the same house, such as a sim with the "good" trait and a sim with the "evil" trait, and watch what happens--and that's to say nothing of the other content you'll be able to create and share with others, such as your own edited characters, houses, and furniture, as well as your own videos using the in-game movie mashup tool. The Sims 3 seems like it will offer no limit of interesting things to do and explore when the game ships in June.