The Sims 2 Hands-On

We get a chance to explore Strangetown as we check out a work-in-progress PSP version of The Sims 2.

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Currently scheduled for release early in December, the PSP version of The Sims 2 is somewhat unusual in that it lets you take direct control of your customized sim in much the same way that you'd expect to control a character in a conventional third-person action adventure game. You won't be double-jumping between platforms or using stealth moves to kill enemies, of course, but you will have the freedom to roam around Strangetown at your leisure and interact with anyone that you meet there. We recently had an opportunity to play through the early stages of The Sims 2 in the company of one of the game's producers, and we are pleased to report that we had a lot of fun with it.

The first thing that you'll get to do when you play The Sims 2 on the PSP is create a sim for yourself. The editing tools available are pretty comprehensive and they let you customize everything from his or her nose shape to the outfit that you'll be wearing at the start of the game. Since the game is set in Strangetown (where fans of the series might recall that the delectable Bella Goth was abducted by aliens), you'll even be able to create a sim who looks like he or she is the offspring of at least one parent from another planet. Once you've created and named your sim (and some of the "neighbor" characters in the game if you wish), the storyline will get under way with a cutscene that shows you driving through the desert in a beaten-up car that breaks down just outside of Strangetown. After pushing your car to a local garage and meeting a mechanic there, the game properly begins with a conversation over which you have a limited amount of control.

Conversations in The Sims 2 take two different forms. There are text-based dialogues (voiced in simlish, of course) in which you'll get to choose your questions and responses from a handful of different options, and then there are "social game" conversations. Social game conversations--which come in chat, flirt, and intimidate flavors--are a way for you to attempt to win over and extract information from other characters, including secrets that can be sold for profit. When you engage another sim in a social game conversation, you'll see speech bubbles containing pictures appear above the other sim's head, and then you have just a few seconds to hit the button that corresponds to that picture. The topics tied to each button change constantly, and if you ever find that the exact same picture isn't available to you, you'll have to pick the one that most closely matches it. If the sim you're talking to is interested in sports, for example, as denoted by a picture of a tennis racquet, you might have to opt for a soccer ball. Other examples that we've come across thus far include using a cruise ship icon to respond to an airplane, and using a spatula to respond to a frying pan.

Think of Mamba Loa's store as a classroom the first time you go there.
Think of Mamba Loa's store as a classroom the first time you go there.

After befriending the mechanic and convincing him to work on your car, you'll be encouraged to visit the curio shop next door and have your sim's personality and aspirations determined by your responses to some pretty intense questioning from the owner. The owner of the store is Mamba Loa, a helpful woman with a penchant for all things occult. She'll encourage you to experiment with your newfound social skills (Bella Goth happens to be in the store and, as luck would have it, is a particularly easy target), give you a few simple tasks to complete, and will even let you use her bathroom if there's a small "need" icon in the upper left corner of the screen signifying that you have the urge to do so. After playing through a number of linear tasks involving the consumption of food, the locating of hidden donuts, the purchasing of a mansion, and the befriending of a police officer, you'll be transported to the "Paradise Place" residential area of Strangetown and given much more freedom to do what you please.

One of the first things that you'll want to do is check out your new mansion, which comes with a live-in maid and not much else. There's a bed and a toilet, but you'll have to buy the rest of your furnishings using the telephone and an easy-to-use menu system. Your first purchases will be influenced by your own priorities. So while we opted for a bathroom sink that we could use to stop ourselves from getting "stinky" every time we used the toilet, you might decide that a stereo or a couch is far more important. Failing to meet your sim's most basic needs--such as hygiene, hunger, thirst, and answering calls of nature--will invariably have catastrophic results, including death. Dying won't bring your adventure to an abrupt end in The Sims 2, though, because you'll have the option to bargain with Death for a decent reincarnation package or even to curry favor with him by spending some time haunting other Strangetown residents as a ghost.

The whack-a-ghoul minigame is one of many that will test your sim's skills.
The whack-a-ghoul minigame is one of many that will test your sim's skills.

Ghosts and ghouls are quite commonplace in Strangetown, and while those haunting your mansion are in need of help, many of them simply need to be bashed over the head with a shovel in one of The Sims 2's numerous minigames. Like all of the most desirable residential neighborhoods, Paradise Place was built on top of a cemetery--part of which still serves its original purpose in the middle of town. The minigames, which you'll unlock after a conversation with a police officer, arms you with the aforementioned shovel and places you in the middle of five graves from which ghosts and ghouls are attempting to escape. Each of the graves corresponds to a different button on the PSP, and your mission, predictably, is to hit the correct buttons as the undead poke their heads out of the earth. Successful completion of the minigames (which will boast multiple difficulty settings), and other objectives in the game, will reward you with simoleon currency and, in many cases, will help to keep your sim sane. Maintaining your sim's sanity by keeping his or her diamond-shaped sanity meter topped up is very important, not only because it makes social games much easier, but also because becoming insane will get your sim institutionalized at a cost of 500 simoleons.

There are plenty of other ways to make money in Strangetown, including doing chores for your wealthy neighbors. The first neighbors that we encountered (after strolling into their home, using their bathroom, and relaxing on their bed for a moment), for example, needed assistance cleaning their bathroom, planting their garden, and cooking some hot dogs. None of the chores involved minigames, unfortunately, but some of them did involve making trips to multiple locations and uncovering clues to one of Strangetown's many mysteries upon completion.

You can use your cell phone perk to contact other sims that you've befriended.
You can use your cell phone perk to contact other sims that you've befriended.

One of the most intriguing gameplay mechanics that you'll get to experiment with is a "perk," which you can earn or purchase for your sim. Perks are essentially objects and skills that will make certain parts of the game easier to complete. The only perk that we had access to during our time with the game was a cell phone with which we could call other sims. But when we were given a sneak peek at some areas from later in the game, we got to see a Taser (used in intimidation sequences), a passive deodorant ability (which will stop sims stinking after dancing minigames), and even a sim using pyrokinesis to set another sim ablaze.

One of the most interesting (and amusing) locales that we got to see during our brief tour of The Sims 2's latter stages was a building belonging to the Kine Society--a secretive order of Strangetown residents who worship all things bovine. The members of the society dress up as cows, dance like cows, and even perform strange rituals to summon forth demons such as the terrifying Beelzebeef. To go into any more detail about what we saw of The Sims 2 on this occasion would be to risk spoiling areas of the game for you. But rest assured that we'll bring you more information as soon as it becomes available.

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