If you were wondering, The Sims 2 is a great sequel and a great game in its own right, and it's recommendable to just about anyone. For some, especially the devoted fans that have enjoyed the first game's open-ended gameplay, which was all about controlling the lives of autonomous little computer people, this is all that really needs to be said. But considering that The Sims 2 is the sequel to what is reportedly the most successful computer game ever (and that's not even counting its many expansion packs), the new game almost seems like a victim of its own success. Yes, it introduces plenty of new features that enhance the gameplay that was so popular in the original game, but it doesn't drastically refresh it. It also features plenty of options to play with, but it seems like it could've used even more content. Then again, you could simply say that EA and Maxis are making sure the game has room to grow with future updates--and there's no denying that The Sims 2's additions will give dedicated fans of the series plenty of stuff to do.
In the most basic terms, The Sims 2, like The Sims before it, lets you create one or more "sims"--autonomous characters with distinct personalities and needs. You then create a virtual household of one or more sims (you get to decide whether they're roommates, spouses, or parents) and move them into a house and a neighborhood that is either prebuilt or built from scratch. Your sims interact with each other and with their neighbors, children leave the house for school each day, and employed adults head out for work to earn a living in one of a number of different career paths. However, the sequel has several new options, including an enhanced neighborhood editor that lets you import custom cities from Maxis' own SimCity 4, if you have that game installed. Plus, there are expanded building options that let you build a much bigger house.
But the most significant additions in the new game are probably the enhancements made to the sims and the ways they act. While they still have specific personality types determined by their horoscopes and individual characteristics like neatness, niceness, and playfulness (which you can still adjust to your taste), sims now have some notable major new features (some of which are more important than others), like memories, customized appearances, genetics, aging, and the new aspiration/fear system. Memories are generated by important events that occur in sims' lives, like getting married, having a child, or having a loved one pass away. Memories impact your sims' future behavior (though not to any huge extent), and they can also be used to build out a highly customized neighborhood with its own background story and photo album if you're so inclined, though they don't add much more to the basic game.
The sequel also features enhanced appearance editing tools that let you customize your sims' clothing, hairstyle and hair color, and also let you make many adjustments to their facial features. Oddly, the editor doesn't let you adjust your sims' height or their build (beyond making them "normal" or "fat"), but it, along with the "body shop" utility, should let most players basically re-create whatever characters they want to from their favorite TV shows or movies.
The appearance editors go hand in hand with genetics, which takes the ability to create a family of sims and builds it out further, though what you get out of this new feature depends entirely on what you put into it. Essentially, this new system lets sims pass on genetic information to their children. When creating a new family, you can have the game randomly generate that family's children based on the parent's appearance and personality (and you can further edit the child's appearance and personality however you like, if you prefer). Depending on your preferences, you may find yourself messing around with the genetics system in other ways. You might try to carefully re-create a real-life couple or family to see what kind of genetics they pass on. Or, you might toss some alien DNA into the family tree to see what happens, as The Sims 2 also lets you create aliens from outer space that you can marry off to humans, if that's what floats your boat.
More importantly, sims maintain their family ties (assuming you don't have any dramatic family squabbles), so if you decide to really hunker down and build out an extended clan, you can start with a carefully designed family or group of families, let them get married, and let them have children. You can then watch the children grow up and move out into their own places. And since sims are still autonomous and go about their lives even without supervision, you can expect to later receive visits from doting grandparents (or mooching grandchildren, depending on whose household you decide to control). Again, like memories, these are features that will reveal their rewards with the extra time and effort you choose to spend on them.
In The Sims 2, your characters actually grow old and even die of old age (or other causes, if you're into that kind of thing). Like with the original game, sims can and will die from neglect and extenuating circumstances, and if you're one of those sadistic players that enjoyed making your sims suffer, you'll still be able to do this in the sequel. However, if you're the sort that might really get involved in your sims' lives and history, you may look at aging as a way to build a rich and storied life for your sims. Yes, it can take several hours of play to age a sim from a baby to a senior citizen; however, if you're really looking to create an entire life for your sims, you'll find that as senior citizens your characters will not only look older, but will also look back on a long string of memories and possibly a large family tree filled with weddings and grandchildren before they eventually pass away, to be mourned (or not) by their children. It might also be worth mentioning that even though you can go through different generations of your sims' families, the time period of The Sims 2 never changes, so you won't see any technological or chronological progression. That is, you won't go from horse-drawn carriages to jalopies to modern-day sports cars--all your sims will still be watching plasma screen TVs and playing SSX 3 on their home computers, regardless of how many generations you've gone through.
Then again, you may also look at aging as a challenge, because The Sims 2's most significant gameplay addition, the aspiration/fear system, can actually help your sims stave off old age. The new system gives your sims one of five aspirations from which to choose (in addition to their personalities, memories, and personal relationships), including building a family, earning money, seeking knowledge, experiencing romance, or being popular. These aspirations boil down to four simpler goals that are clearly displayed onscreen, as well as three basic "fears." Each sim has an "aspiration meter" that fills up whenever you complete a goal and empties out whenever your sims' worst fears are realized. These goals can be as immediate as throwing a party where everyone enjoys themselves, or as long term as eventually winning another sim over as a best friend or spouse. These fears can be comparably straightforward or long term, such as being rejected from trying to make a romantic advance or getting fired from work.
If your sims realize enough fears, their aspiration meter empties out into the red and they go temporarily insane until a friendly therapist usually shows up. During this period of time, they're completely unresponsive to any orders you may give them, and their loved ones may also become distraught at the sight of them. However, if your sims successfully complete their goals of (for instance) buying refrigerators and making best friends, they earn "aspiration points" that fill up their meter, which successively becomes green, gold, then platinum--and the longer and more often it hits platinum, the longer your sims remain "normal" young adults. Buying a new fridge might net you only +500 aspiration points, while making a best friend will net you a cool +3,500--you'll need to lose a few thousand in order to go insane, and you'll need to earn several thousand more to fill up your meter, though. In addition, you can actually use aspiration points to buy exceptionally effective furnishings for your house, like a money tree that periodically grows extra cash or an electrical tub that invigorates your sims and fulfills nearly all their needs. In addition, The Sims 2's career system has been slightly enhanced. It still lets your sims follow a career path and get promoted by practicing certain skills, but it now features brief text choices while you're on the job that can make or break your sims' next promotion.
Taken together, the aspiration system and career system provide some much directed, goal-oriented gameplay, surprisingly reminiscent of a challenging role-playing game, of all things. These new features not only add variety to The Sims 2, but also address a common criticism about the first game: how it didn't present any clear goals or objectives beyond dutifully ordering your sims to relieve themselves every time their "bladder" needs got out of hand. But using this new system to successfully create a household of fulfilled sims can be very tough since you must also balance their relationships, their jobs, their income, and their moods at the same time.
At least The Sims 2 is a bit more lenient about your sims' constantly depleting needs (hunger, fatigue, entertainment, and others), so that you do not always have to order them to eat something, play something, or talk to someone. The Sims 2's artificial intelligence is generally better than that of the original game. Your sims are more likely to take appropriate actions on their own and to successfully make their way around obstacles. Though, like in the original game, they occasionally have problems getting to where they're intending to go and still need to be reminded of fulfilling specific needs--just less often. This means you can still create a family of sims with wildly different personalities, then sit back and watch what sort of trouble they get into, which can be entertaining for a while. The game has a screenshot capture key that can be used to grab images for your neighborhood's story, and it also has a video capture option that lets you capture movies. So if you're willing to put in the time and effort, you can try to block out your household, like you would while filming on a TV set, and film away.
The Sims 2 also adds enhanced tools to let you create custom-built houses and neighborhoods. Though buy mode, which lets you buy furnishings for your homes, is largely the same as that of the original game, build mode is different in that it lets you build a fabulous four-story home connected by various types of stairways and surrounded by a patio and a deck. The neighborhood editor lets you add houses and empty lots, as well as city parks or shopping centers, which you can build out with phone booths, market stalls, restaurants, and other items, to your custom districts. These and other features work similarly to how they did in the original game. Perhaps disappointingly, and aside from the unusual prevalence of clothing and household furnishings inspired by Korean culture, the sequel offers about the same amount of content to build things out as the original game did (without its expansion packs).
The Sims 2 isn't simply a retread of the first game minus the expansions--since it features both the at-home parties of the House Party expansion pack and the out-of-house lots of the Hot Date expansion pack--but it's pretty clear that the door has been left open for future content updates. In the meantime, you can also use the in-game custom content browser to download new files directly from the official Web site (including items that Maxis has made, as well as stuff that other fans have built using the editing tools). Hopefully The Sims 2 will enjoy the same kind of thriving, content-creating community support as the original game did.
We hadn't mentioned this yet, but The Sims 2 also looks great. The sequel is powered by an all-new 3D graphics engine so it looks much better than the original game did. And thanks to the game's expanded character customization options, your bespectacled, knit cap-wearing, cargo shorts-clad sims can look more distinctive than ever, though they still have that plain but clean cartoon-style look to them that recalls the characters from the Sims console games. And like you'd expect, they're animated with lively, often humorous gestures. However, The Sims 2 seems to have about the same amount of interactive gestures, or perhaps slightly more, than that of the original game (minus the expansion packs). For those devoted fans that are used to playing with pets and turning their siblings into frogs with a wave of a magic wand, this may seem disappointing, but perhaps we'll see more gestures in a future update. Unfortunately, the game seems to slow down a bit on mid-range and even on fairly high-end systems with all the settings turned up, especially when there are a lot of sims onscreen and there's a lot going on (which is often when the game is at its best). And like with the original game and all of its expansions, The Sims 2's camera even scrolls sluggishly--perhaps this is some sort of clever inside joke, but it's unfortunate that this still hasn't been fixed.
The Sims 2's sound is also great, though it's about what you'd expect from a Sims product. The high-quality soundtrack by composer Mark Mothersbaugh (of Devo fame) seems to fit extremely well with the game as well as with the previous games in The Sims series. It has the same upbeat, slightly ditzy feel that serves as a great ironic counterpart for when your kitchen is on fire and your sims are either panicking or burning to death as the Grim Reaper looks on, clipboard and cell phone at the ready. In fact, it could have come right out of another Sims product. While the audio doesn't break much new ground, it's completely appropriate and enjoyable for what it is.
Also, there's an all-new set of spoken "simlish," the expressive gibberish language that sims speak, and while there's more of it than there was in The Sims, there are only a few specific voices for each age group. And since, as mentioned, the new game has a decent, but not overly impressive number of different gestures and conversation options, it likewise has a decent variety of spoken simlish, and all of it is appropriate. As with the original game, The Sims 2 has all-new audio for peripheral characters and fixtures, like shopkeepers, radio stations, and TV shows; these are, like the comparable simlish in previous products, enthusiastic, believable, and occasionally quite funny. The Sims 2 attempts to preserve the same sort of slightly off-kilter humor the original game had, and with the exception of some bland object descriptions in the build and buy modes, it's mostly successful in that regard.
Considering that The Sims 2 offers both the original gameplay of the first game along with the new aspiration system, larger house building, and better character customization options, it contains a good-sized chunk of interesting things to do. However, you may still find yourself wishing there was even more to The Sims 2, especially if you've played through the original game and its expansions. Hopefully future updates and community contributions will fill things out. While it seems that The Sims 2's most significant additions will be most compelling and beneficial to those that were already great fans of the previous game, it's still a pretty accessible game that now offers more focused gameplay, if you want it. In short, The Sims 2 successfully took just about everything that was great about the first game and brought it up a notch, and while you might wish that the sequel had gone a notch or two higher overall, it's still a great game in and of itself.