Maxis' unusual strategy game The Sims, which lets you control the lives of little computer people, rocketed to the top of the sales charts when it was released in 2000, and its subsequent expansion packs have done the same. And just like the others, the latest expansion, The Sims: Superstar, doesn't change the basics of the original game, or fix any of the inherent issues (it actually adds a few stability problems), but it does add enough new content to make it worthwhile. And Superstar has the added distinction of being the first truly challenging expansion pack for The Sims.
As its title suggests, The Sims: Superstar capitalizes on the new trend of fame-related TV shows, most obviously American Idol. The expansion lets you take your sims out of the house and off to work in a brand-new career track: the path to fame, as a fashion model, an actor, or a musician. Though these new jobs represent the first time The Sims players have ever been able to follow their sims to work, they also collectively represent the toughest challenge the series has ever offered.
In order to successfully become a superstar, your sims will need to fulfill a surprisingly stringent series of requirements, including improving personal skills (such as body, charisma, and creativity), increasing their new fame skill, and increasing their star power by making lots of famous friends. As your sims gain more fame, they'll have to deal with scandalous tabloid reports (which cost a great deal of money to buy up before they hit the presses), as well as the possibility of being stalked by an obsessed fan if they don't maintain a good relationship with the public. Fulfilling all these requirements can be exceptionally time-consuming, especially since, as always, you'll also have to carefully monitor your sims' current moods and needs (or "motives"). As always, if you let your sims become too hungry, tired, or lonely, they'll become depressed and uncooperative, which can make the already difficult task of increasing your sims' fame even tougher.
This difficulty is offset somewhat by some of Superstar's new features and objects. For starters, Superstar lets you hire a butler at a rate of a whopping 500 simoleons per day. The butler can not only keep visitors away from the house and cook sumptuous meals on demand, but he can also independently hire maids and repairmen as needed to clean and service the house. Superstar also lets you purchase extremely pricey recreational items, such as a personal scuba tank and a free-fall chamber that can be used to help fill your sims' fun motive quickly. However, when you're running your sims in and out of recording studios, photo shoots, and fashion runways, you'll still be hard-pressed to maintain your social connections and advance your career, since your sims' motives will constantly be running out in the new studio town area, where they pursue their careers. It's too bad, because at the very top levels of your sims' careers, you'll be able to star in appropriately over-the-top fashion shows, movies, and music videos.
Superstar also adds a number of new objects for use in decorating your sims' houses and open lots. Like some of the previous expansion packs, Superstar lets you modify or completely clear out the new lot area, studio town, and add whichever items, shops, and amenities you wish. The expansion also features a number of new gestures and dialogue options--your sims can beg other celebrities for their autographs, stage publicity stunts for paparazzi, and perform in movies, soap operas, recording studios, or karaoke bars.
Each of these new gestures and performances is accompanied by all-new phrases in "simlish," The Sims' expressive gibberish language, and all-new animation. Though the expansion's graphics look rather dated, it's hard not to like the game's clever new character animations; for instance, your sims will vault through the air while staging sword fights, or ham it up on camera while shooting a music video. And Superstar is probably the best-sounding expansion pack for The Sims, since it features all-new music (such as appropriately thumping techno tracks for fashion shoots) and a variety of voice samples for singing. In fact, as your sims improve in fame and creativity, they'll become better and better at singing--these multiple skill levels come through loud and clear each time you perform a gibberish country ballad or a catchy commercial jingle.
It almost seems pointless by now to mention that The Sims: Superstar, like all the other expansion packs, doesn't bother to address the annoying problems that have plagued The Sims ever since 2000. The game's scrolling camera is as sluggish as ever, the pathfinding is still unreliable. And as usual, your sims will still occasionally "forget" the instructions you give them. This can be especially frustrating when another celebrity sim tries to speak to you to increase your fame while you're in the middle of something else. In these instances, the celebrities will seemingly "forget" to speak with you the instant your sim becomes available. And unfortunately, Superstar shipped with a few bizarre crash problems. At least some of them can be fixed by adjusting your AGP graphics settings or running the game in a window, though hopefully Maxis will release a patch for the expansion. Still, like the other expansion packs, Superstar was never intended to fix any of the original game's flaws. Instead, it adds lots of interesting and challenging new stuff that should keep any fan of The Sims busy for some time.