The Sims 2 Impressions

We have extensive impressions of an early build of Maxis' sequel to the best-selling PC game of all time.

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It won't be easy for Maxis to successfully follow up on the best-selling PC game of all time, The Sims. The company has already produced somewhat disappointing results trying to take The Sims in a new direction with this year's The Sims Online, for example. So it's only natural to view The Sims 2, Maxis' attempt at an honest-to-goodness sequel to the extremely popular 2000 hit, with some healthy skepticism. Can this sequel truly achieve the same level of greatness? Can it prove to be as enduring as the original? We've had an early look at the game, in which we saw some of the changes and improvements The Sims 2 makes to its predecessor. And based on this early look, in answer to the question posed, we can definitively say: yeah, maybe.

First of all, The Sims 2 looks really good--at least that's what we thought based on what we've seen. It features a fully 3D engine with realistic lighting, as well as far more detailed character models for the sims themselves, who now can be seen making realistic facial expressions and moving about in an even more lifelike manner. The game's interface appears nearly identical to that of the original, though a few new "motives" (the statistics of your sims that you need to keep track of) have been added. The "social" motive from The Sims has been broken up into "family" and "friends," and a "mind" motive has been added, representing mental stimulation. The gameplay remains fundamentally similar to its predecessor--you can create and control your very own mundane little people, encouraging them to interact with each other and their homes in various ways. You can also build houses for them from the ground up and then fill those houses with all kinds of things you might find in a real home. And some weirder things, too. The Sims 2 isn't trying to mess with success. From what we've seen, the game is squarely trying to extend the original game toward logical conclusions.

The game clearly isn't just a rehash with a new coat of paint, though. One of the most obvious changes to the gameplay is that the sims will no longer be trapped in time--that is, in the original The Sims game and its expansions, sims never aged. Kind of like the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day. Well, no more. In The Sims 2, sims move through six different stages of development, starting as wee babies, moving on to the toddler years, then becoming children, teens, adults, and, finally, geezers. That's Maxis' word on it, not ours.

Sims will act differently to some extent based on their stage of development. And if they get married and have kids, their children will inherit not just their genetic stock, but also their appearance. Maxis demonstrated the elaborate new face maker technology for the game, which you can use to create a sim to look like just about anyone you can think of. And then Maxis showed us what happens when you combine a couple of them--sure enough, the offspring inherited its parents' features.

Offspring can also inherit their parents' skills. If a sim advances far enough in a career path, he or she will earn a career reward object, letting him or her continue to hone his or her skills. Better yet, the sim's child can also use the career object to gain an edge, even over his or her parents. The idea is that you can pass down trade secrets from generation to generation with these career objects.

The Sims 2 will "still be a game of materialism," according to Maxis. The object is to earn a high lifescore during your sims' life expectancy. This isn't Maxis forcing you to play a certain way--it's Maxis just forcing you to do something. Your lifescore will increase whenever an important event happens in your sim's life. Whether it's getting married or getting fired from your job or watching in horror as grandpa takes a dive into an empty swimming pool doesn't matter. Maxis knows that one of the best things about The Sims is that there's no right way to play, so by adding the concept of lifescore to The Sims 2, the company is merely encouraging players to experiment and have fun.

The game will concentrate on life at home, much like the original. This begs the question of whether Maxis will go on to unleash a slew of expansion packs for The Sims 2, much like what it's done for the original release. Maybe the answer to that question is obvious. At any rate, The Sims 2 doesn't skimp on features or content, much like the original.

Players concerned about all their sims dying off in The Sims 2 shouldn't worry, as the game will optionally permit you to toggle the life cycle feature off. Maxis is convinced that the addition of life cycles enhances to the gameplay, however, and that it encapsulates how this truly is "the next generation of The Sims." Can Maxis really pull off this sequel with such impressive results as its predecessor? We won't find out till next year, since The Sims 2 is still a ways off. We'll have more on the game soon.

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