It's clear the developer of The Partners thinks of its game as a cross between the TV show Ally McBeal and the smash-hit PC game The Sims. All this means is that they've taken The Sims, interface and all, and placed it in a lawyer's office. It's not a bad premise--after all, every Sims fan has probably wondered what his or her sims do all day at work. But if The Partners is any indication, their lives at the office are pretty much the same as at home.
The Partners adds a strategic wrapper to The Sims, giving you more-specific goals and even a bit of work to do. But otherwise, it's primarily the same game. You are in charge of an office full of lawyers. You help shape their relationships, and you buy items to make their time at work more productive and more enjoyable. And it's especially important that the workplace be pleasing to your little computer people, because these lawyers never, ever leave the office. To be fair, The Partners makes some slight changes to The Sims formula. For instance, you don't have to worry about sending your lawyers to the bathroom, but you do have to worry about their need for sexual contact.
There are three different scenarios you can play. Each requires you to shape the lawyers' relationships to meet the goals. The scenarios take place in three different law firms, and the overall goals include things like terrorizing coworkers and avoiding flirting. There are more-specific goals as well. A new lawyer might join the firm, and you must help him win his first case in order to stay on board. Winning a case is usually easy--your chance of winning the case is represented by a percentage, and you can raise that percentage by selecting a lawyer assigned to the case, clicking on a desk, and then selecting the "work on cases" option. Harder cases require more work, which means repeating this process over and over again. The cases themselves are occasionally amusing, but the work element of the game is fairly slight.
As in The Sims, you build your relationships by forcing the workers to interact. There are a variety of interactions, and making good choices will make your coworkers become friends or even more than friends. Each lawyer has a need for love that can be addressed by developing an office romance or by using various objects that satisfy that need. For instance, one of your lawyers can attempt to woo a coworker, or he or she can just read a romance novel. You can have your lawyers offer diamond rings to their love interests, buy flowers for them, and use all sorts of other courting techniques (all on the company dime, strangely enough). Lawyers also have a need for sex, and they can likewise look to their coworkers or the magazine racks for satisfaction. This is one of the stranger elements of the game, as occasionally one of your lawyers will crawl under another's desk to "tickle feet."
The objects available help satisfy your workers in different ways. Exercise equipment will help them when they're feeling sporty, while paintings will help them when they need a bit of culture. Your lawyers walk around and look at stuff, and they barely ever work unless you tell them to. The workplace scenario seems entirely tacked on, and there's no real simulation other than earning money for winning cases. You don't have to manage payrolls or hire new people--you just have to get them to tickle each other's feet, or avoid tickling if the scenario demands it.
And this may be the biggest problem with the game. The Sims was interesting and fun primarily because it gave you so much freedom with developing the personalities and relationships between the various characters. The Partners gives you much less freedom. Certain characters will just be mean, and others will flirt constantly with everyone. You will need to keep one lawyer from flirting with another, or help two of them hook up. It's an interesting attempt to create a soap opera with The Sims as a model, but the fact is, The Sims was already a great little soap opera on its own. The Partners does contain a mode that lets you play without constraints, but it seems pretty pointless when there's another, better game almost exactly like it that most people already own.
The Partners also misses the charm of the game that inspired it. The music is decent, consisting of a sort of ongoing sit-com-inspired soundtrack that isn't overbearing. However, the dialogue--the same sort of nonsensical mumbling found in The Sims--is less charming, if only because it sounds like someone grunting into a poorly placed microphone. At least The Partners looks fairly good, especially the skyscraper offices that allow you to scroll past the walls and look down on the streets far below.
It's a sad truth that great success leads to imitation. That imitation can pave a road from Doom to Half-Life, or from Dune II to Starcraft, but there are plenty of Chasms and Conquest Earths along the way. It's a sure bet that there will be countless Sims clones in the next few years. The Partners is one of the first, and it could turn out to be one of the most blatant. That's not to say it's a bad choice for someone who absolutely loves The Sims. There are enough variations to make it mildly different, and, if nothing else, you can pretend you're seeing your sims at their day job. But chances are you'll want to get back to their home life before too long.