You've probably already heard of The Sims--it's the life-simulator strategy game that lets you create a household of miniature people, or "sims," then conduct their virtual lives, including feeding them, sending them to work, and having them meet and interact with other computer-controlled sims from the neighborhood. The Sims: Hot Date is the third expansion pack for The Sims and is easily the most interesting of the three. It's also the best expansion pack for The Sims yet. That's because Hot Date doesn't just do what the previous expansions did--that is, add more household items and a few new ways to use them. It also features the new downtown area, which lets you finally take your sims out of the house and into the exciting and turbulent world of dating.
The previous two expansion packs for The Sims, Livin' Large and House Party, both added lots of new household items for you to buy for your sims' homes, which helped keep their domestic lives interesting. And as you might expect, Hot Date also adds plenty of new items that you can furnish your home with, and as in the previous games, you buy each of these using the game's easy-to-use shopping and building interface. Also as in the previous games, each of the new additions you can make to your virtual home is accompanied by an extremely funny description. What's more, Hot Date actually lets you use some items--ones that your sims either buy or make by hand--as gifts to give to other sims.
But Hot Date isn't just about items; it also features a number of real improvements to The Sims' already-interesting social system. As in the original game, sims communicate with each other in "simlish," an expressive but almost completely unintelligible gibberish language, but Hot Date features new simlish phrases and new character voices. More importantly, Hot Date features an expanded set of social options; instead of just greeting a new sim, you can choose to wave at it from a distance or walk up to it and shake hands. Instead of just giving your neighbor a hug, you can choose whether or not you want your hug to be a friendly gesture or a more romantic embrace. Making this sort of decision is especially important for your sim if it's on a date, since choosing an inappropriate thing to say or do can make your sim's date get up and walk out.
To help your sims be more compatible with their dream dates, Hot Date features an entirely new attribute for your sims: interests. Your sims can read magazines to increase their knowledge in areas like money, the weather, technology, and the '60s; the more your sim knows about a topic that its date is interested in, the better they'll get along. If your sim gets along well enough with its date, the two can get married, and your sim's fiancé (or fiancée) will move into your house and become a regular sim under your control. But getting far enough into a relationship to get married takes time, and Hot Date includes a new two-part relationship meter to help indicate how well your courtship is coming along: a "current" relationship meter and a long-term meter. You'll need to keep your date happy in both the short and long term to get that far. If you've played House Party, you'll know that it was difficult to fit a relationship with a neighbor into a schedule that already included a career and a sim's own basic needs of eating, resting, and entertainment. Managing all of those things together with a steady dating schedule would have been impossible to do if it weren't for Hot Date's new downtown feature.
The new downtown area is Hot Date's most significant new addition to The Sims and is probably the most significant addition that's ever been made to the game. Sims can now use their telephones to call a taxi that takes them to downtown SimCity, which is composed of lots that can be shopping centers, recreation areas, restaurants, or nightclubs. While your sim is on a date, you can control your sim, but you can't actually give orders to its date; you've got to make your sim be as nice, considerate, and charming as possible and hope that the date goes well. Fortunately, downtown features lots of brand-new, downtown-only items, like food vendors, clothing stores, picnic areas, and duck ponds that your couples can use to keep themselves busy, and a few new items, like the restaurant booth seat, that'll let them get to know each other better. And all the time you spend downtown takes place independent of time at home; in other words, your sims will get hungry, tired, and bored as usual during the time they spend downtown, but once they get home, the clock will actually reset to the time when they left. This makes having both a relationship and a job (which still typically takes about six hours out of a sim's day) not only possible, but a lot easier than before.
And even if you aren't interested in dating or shopping, you can actually build your own custom lot downtown, in much the same way you build and design a sim's house. Hot Date already comes with a mostly full downtown that's packed with different places to bring your date, but it does have a single empty lot that you can turn into almost anything. You can also bulldoze any existing lot and either start another new one from scratch or download a custom lot from the game's official Web site. Considering that the game lets you build multiple neighborhoods, it seems a bit limiting to have access to only one downtown area, but since most of the downtown lots are so big, filling each one up tends to be more time-consuming than building a normal house. Between building your own custom shopping malls and bars and downloading custom-built lots, you'll probably find that Hot Date's single downtown area provides you with enough areas to build and customize, at least for some time.
Despite its additions, Hot Date doesn't do much to improve on The Sims' fundamental but admittedly minor flaws. Sims still have pathfinding problems and can have trouble navigating crowded areas. They'll also still sometimes stop and pause between actions for no good reason and "forget" all the orders you've queued up for them. In addition, Hot Date doesn't improve on The Sims' sluggish camera; in fact, most fans of the game have given up on scrolling the screen up or down or to the side, since the camera moves so slowly. You can still center your view on a particular sim or right-click on an area to scroll quickly to it, though if you do this, you may still end up accidentally giving a sim an order. And, as before, you'll find that to exercise any kind of real control over your sims' activities, you'll have to play in a decidedly unrealistic manner: abruptly pausing the game to queue up commands, then speeding up the game to skip through mundane activities like eating and bathing.
But if you're a fan of The Sims, you'll probably be able to overlook these problems, just as you'll probably know what to expect from Hot Date in terms of its sound and graphics. Hot Date uses the same sort of isometric 2D graphics for its scenery and the same 3D models to represent sims. Though Hot Date features a few new animations and several new faces and outfits, sims still look more or less exactly the same as they did in the original game, which was released nearly two years ago. Hot Date doesn't really look any better than The Sims did--that's not to say that it looks bad, but it hasn't changed much at all, either. However, Hot Date's sound is a different story--the expansion not only features new simlish phrases, but it also features an excellent jazzy, all-new musical score for the downtown area. The downtown area also has a brand-new cast of sims, like cashiers and janitors, which have new simlish voices as well. All of the new voices are appropriate, and some, like the voice of the ice cream store clerk (who bears a suspicious resemblance to the pimple-faced teenager from The Simpsons), are quite funny.
The Sims: Hot Date does an extremely good job of making The Sims a more interesting game. Like the previous two expansion packs, Livin' Large and House Party, it adds a lot of new items and furnishings for your sims' houses and actually complements each of the two other expansions well, even though neither is required to play Hot Date. Hot Date's real additions are its expanded social options and its new downtown area, both of which make an already-interesting game even more fun to play.