The Sims has experienced incredible success and popularity and has also given rise to no fewer than five expansion packs. The latest of these is The Sims: Unleashed, which adds several major features to the original Sims game, including household pets, gardening, and new outdoor lots to explore, build, and furnish, plus new career paths and plenty of new objects with which to decorate your sims' homes and the various lots they can visit. The core game--and its various problems--is definitely starting to show its age, but if you've ever enjoyed The Sims at least a little, you'll probably find Unleashed to be a worthwhile add-on.
The most obvious addition Unleashed makes to the core game of The Sims is household pets. The new game lets you adopt cats, dogs, parrots, turtles, or lizards and train them, feed them, and even enter them into pet shows to win prizes based on how well you've trained them. While pets don't radically change the way you play The Sims, they're implemented extremely well. You don't have as much control over your pets as you have over your sims, so you can't micromanage every aspect of their behavior (you can't tell your pet cat to go to sleep, even if it's tired, for instance), but contrary to what you might expect, you don't have to worry about them too much, either. If your pet puppy is bored, it will chase its tail to amuse itself; if it's hungry, it will sit up and beg at your sims, at which point you can order your sims to fill up their pet's food dish. Pets also add a few new options to social interaction. For instance, if your sims and their neighbors are cat lovers, they can discuss cats and become better friends--but if you don't like your sims' neighbors, you can order your dog to attack them.
Unleashed also adds new gardening features to The Sims. You can buy and place farmland plots in your backyard, buy a scarecrow, and plant crops, and, if you're tired of using the game's standard career paths, you can make your sims farmers by having them buy seeds in the new Old Town gardening shops, then plant the seeds and carefully tend the farmland to grow crops. If your sims get especially good at being farmers, they can not only support themselves, but also bring their crops to market in Old Town and make a modest living for themselves. Or, if you prefer, you can choose a traditional career path, or one of the game's five new paths, though these all generally play out the same way that other careers do--you find an ad for the job, go to work each day, and, based on your sims' abilities, you eventually get promoted up through 10 levels with increased pay and modified hours.
Unleashed adds several new houses and lots to visit in the adjacent Old Town neighborhood, including pet stores, a farmer's market, and shopping centers. As with Hot Date, your sims can visit these areas at any time by calling for transportation out of their houses--where Hot Date had taxi cabs, The Sims: Unleashed has neighborhood trolleys. And just like in the Hot Date and Vacation expansions, you can build, rebuild, and modify each of these new lots to your heart's content with a host of new objects and shops. If you've got all the previous expansions, you'll have eight identical neighborhoods to explore, modify, and tweak, which should give fans of custom-built areas lots more material to play with. The expansion also adds a number of new furnishings for your sims' homes, including play areas, food dishes, and bedding for your pets and a new pantry item for sims who wish to be farmers.
The Sims: Unleashed looks and sounds about as good as you might expect it to. The Sims' graphical engine is definitely showing its age, and your sims themselves look as blocky as ever, though Unleashed's new character animations are just as amusing and expressive as those in the original game, especially when your sims play with their pets. Fortunately, The Sims sounds just as good as ever in Unleashed: The game has new music tracks that are uniformly good; the sims themselves still speak the same sort of expressive gibberish, or "simlish"; and the expansion's lyrics, which are also in simlish, and the new sound effects (for pets and for cooing, doting sims) all sound great.
Unfortunately, like all of the previous expansion packs, Unleashed doesn't so much as bother to try to fix the core game's problems. As has been the case for the past two years, the in-game camera scrolls extremely sluggishly. And as usual, the game's pacing is still erratic. Unless you're content to leave your sims alone and watch them, you'll find yourself constantly pausing, speeding up, and slowing down the game to make sure that you can get your sims to do everything that you want them to and that all their needs are met. That's because just as before, an unhappy sim is generally a useless sim--if you want your sims (and your pets) to do anything interesting other than being miserable or dying outright, you need to constantly baby-sit them to make sure they've been fed, that they're entertained and well rested, and that they have easy access to a nearby bathroom. Constantly baby-sitting your sims in Unleashed can be even more frustrating because the expansion makes no attempt to fix The Sims' poor pathfinding, either. Unless they have wide-open spaces, your sims will still have an inordinate amount of trouble getting from point A to point B; they'll still occasionally stop and turn around in place repeatedly to talk to someone standing right next to them; and they'll still "forget" any orders you've queued up for them if they can't get past the chair that's in front of them. It's true that the Unleashed expansion pack never set out to fix The Sims' core problems--none of the other expansions did either--but after all this time, these minor problems seem at least as annoying as ever.
The worst thing about these problems is that they keep you from doing all the interesting new things you want to be doing in The Sims: Unleashed--playing with or training your pets, building up a garden, or taking your family out for a trip to town. You could say that expansion packs for The Sims have become formulaic--that they all add a great deal of new content without really fixing any of the original game's flaws--but if you're a fan of The Sims, you'll probably end up enjoying Unleashed as much as the previous expansions.