At this point, there isn't much to say about The Sims that hasn't already been said. Maxis' innovative strategy game, which is all about simulating the lives of little computer people, was released in 2000, and since then, it's become incredibly popular--as well as a breakthrough commercial success. And up until 2002, no less than three expansions had been released for The Sims, and each was a good, solid add-on that might not have solved all the problems of the original game but always added lots of interesting new options to play with. And fans of The Sims did just that--they played the game incessantly, downloaded extra items for their homes, chatted about the game on Internet message boards, and built custom downtown areas with the most recent Hot Date expansion. It's hard to imagine that a game this popular and this widely played--even one as interesting as The Sims--could continue to be played and enjoyed all these years by so many people without getting at least a little stale. But it's 2002, and the fourth expansion for The Sims, Vacation, does breathe enough life back into The Sims to make it interesting again, at least for a while, though it's really at its best when used with other expansion packs.
Vacation lets your sims call a travel agent on the phone and go on one of three vacations: a camping trip, a winter resort trip, or a beach trip. And like the previous expansions, Vacation really makes only a few significant additions to the core game, but these do help keep The Sims interesting. First off are the new vacation areas, which, like Hot Date's downtown areas, let you take your sims outside of their homes. All of Vacation's new areas come custom-built with items such as carnival games, snowboarding half-pipes, and volleyball nets, but just like in Hot Date, you can completely clear out one or all of the preset areas and fill it with whatever new items you like.
Vacation packs lots of new items that can be used for both your resorts and your sims' homes, which should help give fans of building custom areas lots of new options, especially when used with the Hot Date or House Party expansion. That's because many of Vacation's new items are group activities that work well for your own nuclear family of sims. They also work great for dates and parties. Vacation's new group activities include things such as building a snowman, scavenging with a metal detector, and fishing on a short pier.
The other major addition that Vacation makes to the core game is souvenirs--items of varying value that your sims can win through playing carnival games or discover through using the new metal detector. They can also be awarded souvenirs by a resort area's vacation director or can simply purchase them. And just like many of The Sims' other goals, like advancing in a career track or improving their attributes through practice, you can treat winning souvenirs as a goal to work toward or take the easy way out and pick up some cheap ones at a gift shop. Of course, the most difficult souvenirs to acquire are the most worthwhile--they add considerably to your home's "room" value and can provide other bonuses too. Once you've acquired souvenirs, you can set them up on a souvenir rack in your sims' homes and use them as another group activity--that is, standing around and admiring your souvenir rack. This is a good way for your sims to entertain guests and an even better way to keep them occupied if you're throwing a party with the House Party expansion. Souvenirs ultimately provide another kind of goal for players to aspire to, and meticulous fans will want to collect them all.
Even with all its new additions, The Sims: Vacation still looks like...The Sims. Don't expect any kind of graphical improvements upon Vacation. The expansion has the same kind of isometric 2D backgrounds and the same exact jaggy-looking 3D characters as in the original game and every single other expansion, though it does have some new faces and outfits. But as you might expect by now from an expansion pack for The Sims, Vacation has several new animations that are every bit as expressive--and occasionally hilarious--as those you've seen in The Sims. Your sims will leap through the air on the snowboarding ramp, performing handplants and occasionally falling flat on their faces. They'll kneel around their snowman as they build it, and child sims will hop into their fathers' arms to admire their handiwork. And best of all, each of Vacation's resort areas are staffed by a different mascot character--the kind who wears a big furry suit or oversized novelty mask and goes around making exaggerated gestures (like laughing silently or walking in place) and randomly hugging visitors. Even the most jaded players will at least crack a smile when they see the winter resort's Betty Yeti approach some visitors and break into a soft-shoe dance routine.
In addition, even though most of Vacation's new items and areas might not look incredibly realistic, they're at least colorful and interesting to look at. You'll see the same sort of character you've come to expect from The Sims' expressive gibberish language and humorous animations in the brightly colored carnival games and the garish-looking arcade-game cabinets.
Vacation also sounds great. The new expansion adds even more new "simlish"--the gibberish language of The Sims--to your sims' vocabulary, including the gasps and grunts of volleyball-playing sims and the very funny, excited mutterings of sims who take their video games just a little too seriously. The expansion also features some new music in its resort areas and on the main vacation area map--mostly upbeat reggae music with appropriately nonsensical simlish lyrics, though there isn't all that much new music in the expansion otherwise. That's a shame, since The Sims' great music--which usually consists of clever parodies of real-world music--has always been one of the best things about the game.
Unfortunately, just like all the other expansion packs that came before it, Vacation isn't perfect. For one thing, just like every other add-on for The Sims, Vacation doesn't actually solve any of The Sims' basic problems. The game's camera scrolls around the screen as sluggishly as ever, and your sims still have pathfinding problems and get stuck in corners or near other objects.
But fixing the original game has apparently never been the point of any of The Sims' expansion packs. Livin' Large, House Party, and Hot Date have all simply built upon what was in The Sims and added new features and options to play with. You could say that Vacation actually builds upon previous expansions--its new customizable resort areas are a lot like Hot Date's downtown, and its new family activities are a lot like House Party's party games. You don't really have to analyze things that closely, because in the end, Vacation does what a good expansion for The Sims is supposed to do--breathe new life into the original game. If you play and enjoy The Sims, you'll play and enjoy Vacation--and you'll just enjoy it more if you happen to have Hot Date and House Party.