If you've ever wanted your little computer people of The Sims 3 to contemplate the dark corners of their lives, the Late Night expansion is your ticket to blood-pumping parties and blood-sucking brotherhoods. The latest add-on to the popular life simulation makes a number of tantalizing additions to the game, though they come with a few caveats. The most important one is that you must leave your cozy burb behind and start anew in the bustling city that comes with the package if you want to explore all The Sims 3: Late Night has to offer. Just like moving in real life, the prospect of leaving behind the spoils of your hard work and starting from scratch is a stressful one, but there are good reasons to be enticed. One of them is the way the expansion's charm captures the essence of a night out on the town. You gain celebrity, form bands, and visit dance clubs and dive bars with friends in tow. The other addition, vampirism, harks back to the old days when each Sims expansion introduced a new and kooky supernatural element to the mix. Late Night isn't as impactful as The Sims 3's previous expansion, and these are notions that the series has considered before (in The Sims 2 Nightlife), but what it lacks in inventiveness, it almost makes up for in pure verve.
Almost every major addition in The Sims 3: Late Night is a social one, with the focus on celebrity status at the top of the list. Many of the sims cavorting about the city of Bridgeport are labeled with up to five stars indicating their celebrity status, though you need to hover your mouse over them to seek this info. (How nice would it have been to see celebrity designation at a glance?) In any case, much like real celebrities, these sims won't just strike up a casual conversation with you; instead, they need to be impressed before you can socialize. You might start the process by asking for an autograph before trying to initiate a conversation aimed at winning them over. Celebrities are picky about their subjects of choice and bore easily, so you must pay attention to their reactions and change to subjects that appeal to them. If they tire of you, they'll dismiss you and walk away, but if you impress them, you can begin to socialize with them--and building relationships with celebrities will, in turn, make you a celebrity yourself.
Being a celebrity comes with certain benefits, and the more stars you earn, the more impactful the benefits become. You might receive a new oven or television out of the blue from a well-wishing corporation dazzled by your newfound fame. The paparazzi will show up and snap photos of you, as well as other celebrities, jabbering in front of the local diner. You will also be offered discounts at various businesses, including the bars, lounges, and clubs scattered about the city. You might appear at a local haunt and order a drink from the mixologist and be offered a 50 percent discount just for being you. Getting more famous means getting into nicer and nicer places, though you can sometimes sneak past bouncers that prevent you from entry, or you can bribe them. (But be careful--just giving them money doesn't mean they'll let you in!) Some of these lounges are also well worth the trouble of getting into, given their swanky party atmosphere. Machines spew bubbles and snow into the air, uppity celebrities in attention-getting fashions schmooze and slink about, and a pianist tinkles the ivories in the corner.
Simulating the buzz of a night out is what Late Night does best, and it gives you some good tools to enhance that buzz. One of them is the grouping mechanic. You can invite other sims to join your group, and suddenly, it's like having your own posse tagging along. If you show up at a club only to discover that it's deader than a doornail, you can drag your pals to a different hot spot, where you might dance together, flirt, play darts, or share a round of drinks or bar food. Or perhaps you might skinny dip in a pool, with that blurry grid covering up your naughty bits in that silly Sims way. You can also entertain yourselves and others with a bit of music, which is another aspect of the series that has received a nice bit of attention. No longer must you be content with strumming on a guitar. Now, you can also play the piano, pluck at a string bass, or hammer on a drum set. Each instrument comes with its own skill levels and can be purchased for use in your own home. More importantly, you can jam with your friends and even form a band. You can name it yourself, though some of the default names are so affectionately self-referential ("Bladder Failure") that you might be tempted to keep them. From here, various bars and clubs will invite your trio or quartet to play gigs for a nice chunk of simoleans.
New abodes, like penthouse apartments, also capture the tone of the big city. The high-rise apartments are small, so this isn't necessarily the best place to raise a large family, and strict building limitations mean that the expansion doesn't offer much build-your-own-dream-home appeal. This focus on limited space is at odds with another of Late Night's additions: live-in butlers. Just as they did in The Sims 2: Apartment Life, butlers take over the role of a maid while also providing other services, such as cooking and (mmm) massages. But they also require their own beds, so you might need to sell off some of your stuff to accommodate one in your tiny studio apartment. Other new features are relatively minor but still elicit that big-city vibe. Elevators and call boxes are both new and can be used in any home you buy or build. Your sims can get around Bridgeport quickly using subway terminals, though these act more as teleportation devices than as authentic public transport. There are also new features in the way of traits (star quality), careers (film director), skills (mixology), and other updates to basic Sims 3 mechanics and objects.
The newfound emphasis on social interaction is delightful, though the changes aren't as significant as those in previous Sims 3 expansions, Ambitions and World Adventures. Late Night is also not as integrated into your existing virtual life as those add-ons were; thus, celebrities won't appear in your idyllic hometown and your old friends won't visit if you up and move to Bridgeport. You either need to copy over your existing sims or start over with new ones if you want to get the most out of the new content, which is a sacrifice not all players will want to make. There's also another factor to consider before you grab a copy: you might have already experienced eerily similar content in the series already. The Nightlife expansion for The Sims 2 already introduced many of the same concepts, with vampirism being one of the most obvious crossovers.
Like in Nightlife, you can become a vampire in Late Night, though it is much easier now than it was before. There are plenty of vampires wandering about Bridgeport, and you can easily identify them by their not-so-subtle names (Elvira Slayer), their telltale red eyes, and the way they can zoom about at high speeds. If you want to become one yourself, all you have to do is become friends with one of these fanged folk and ask him or her to convert you. After a bite on the neck, a blast of ruby-red mist, and a fluttering of bats, the adaptation begins. A few days later, you morph into a full-fledged bloodsucker, at which point some of your interface elements turn purple and your desire for food and drink turns into a passion for plasma. You can gain nourishment from plasma packs stocked in your fridge or from sucking on the neck of some pretty young thing. A vampire sim isn't too happy in direct sunlight, which makes holding a daytime job a bit of a hassle, but on the upside, you gain skill levels very quickly once the sun goes down. You also get fun perks like being able to read the minds of other sims, which is a nice shortcut to learning things that you can only normally glean through social interaction. On the creepier side, you can hunt for victims to snack on or offer to convert your neighbors, and you even gain access to an exclusive club catering to your kind.
All of this new content is delivered with the charisma the franchise has long embraced. The gleeful look on your sim's face as he twangs the strings of his double bass is a hoot. The butler that arrives at your door is utterly prim and proper, whipping up lobster thermidor when he's not propped up in bed with a good book. The way your formerly glamorous sim crouches and twists while hunting for a victim is both campy and slightly disturbing. Unfortunately, the technical issues of The Sims 3 are also a returning factor. Windows 7 owners are still prone to crashes and corrupted game saves, and we ran into a number of small glitches, such as a bed that our sim suddenly refused to use for no apparent reason and had to be replaced. On one hand, it's disappointing that The Sims 3: Late Night isn't as noteworthy as the previous expansions. On the other, it's so much fun to grab your bandmates and go out for a night on the town, grooving and gabbing with the rich and famous, that you might temporarily forget you've seen some of this stuff before.