Meet Tim McDonald. He’s a grumpy writer-type with a love of computers and a decent sense of humour. He lives in a house with Tamer Asfahani – an charismatic schmoozer with a love of computers and a highly inappropriate manner  – and Andy Alderson, a kleptomaniac musician with a love of computers.

But not in real life. As you’ve probably guessed by the title at the top of the page, we’re talking about The Sims 3. What better way to test the game to its limits than by recreating the IncGamers editorial team, plonking them in a house, and seeing who murders who first?

The character creation suite is likely one of the first things you’ll see upon starting a game, and it’s managed to achieve that almost unattainable peak of being incredibly powerful while ridiculously simple to use. You set a character’s gender, name, and age (from toddler to elderly) and then proceed with tweaking and adjusting every little thing about them. If you’re not too picky, you can choose from a set of pre-generated options for face shape, eyes, nose, mouth, and the like. If you are, another button click away brings you to well-labelled sliders for each section that let you adjust the Sim to your heart’s content. Perhaps more incredible is that clothing options aren’t set as much as they were – you’ve got a set of skins, which you can colour to your whim. While you don’t have a painting program in there and can’t scrawl rude words over their trousers, you’ve got an RGB colour selector and a silly number of patterns to choose from. On a whim, I spent two minutes one afternoon recreating Andy’s shirt. He glanced over at my screen, did a double take, look down at his shirt, looked back at the screen, and said something along the lines of “Bloody hell. That’s accurate.”

Personality quirks are next, which tie into the personalities I listed in the first paragraph. Each has a fairly serious impact on the character. Tim has “grumpy,” which means that it’s much easier for his mood to drop. Tamer, with “inappropriate,” has a lot of incredibly random options during conversation, and will quite happily perform them if left to his own devices. Andy the kleptomaniac, on the other hand, often gets wishes (the little desires that started in Sims 2, which can be fulfilled to boost your Sims mood) to steal things. You can also choose lifetime wishes. This is a desire the Sim has that doesn’t change throughout their life, and will usually take their entire life to attain. Andy wanted to become a master guitarist. I wanted to become a journalist. Tamer wanted to become “Leader of the Free World,” which is probably the scariest thing I’ve ever heard. Slightly disappointing is the lack of hairstyles (how am I suppose to accurately recreate Tamer without an afro?) and I imagine these will crop up as paid DLC in the future, but it’s not too big a problem.

So the IncGamers team ended up in an empty lot with a bit of cash to spare. Before I could even start constructing the house, Tim had wandered over to Tamer and berated him for being inappropriate. My Sim is me, clearly.Before long, they had a pad to call their own, and jobs. That evening, Tim wanted something to eat, and so wandered into the kitchen, where he promptly set the stove on fire. Some might claim this unrealistic, but, I nearly set a real-life microwave on fire recently, which I figure is pretty good going. The fire department was duly called. Insurance paid us back a little for the stove, but not nearly enough. Worse still, this had squandered food. It was time to go shopping.{PAGE TITLE=The Sims 3 Page 2}That’s the big thing about The Sims 3 – you don’t have lots, exactly. Every building is still within its own “lot,” but all of the lots are interconnected. No loading times when you want to go somewhere else, no weird time freezes. You can step out of your door, walk down the street, knock on someone’s door, and start chatting. Or, if you’re Andy, steal their tasteless garden decorations. Going shopping doesn’t mean phoning for groceries, it means actually getting a (free) taxi and going to the shops.

This is a bigger thing than you might think. Some personality traits involve people who love being outdoors, or hate it. Wishes will come up to eat at a restaurant, or go to the cinema, or to get out of the house. If your Sim is musically inclined, they may want to go to a park and play guitar publicly. The outside world cannot be ignored.

Time moved on. Before long, we were all working in our respective fields. Andy was a music talent scout who’d gotten good enough with a guitar that he could play for tips, which he frequently did on his time off, but while at work he was spending most of his time, using the new career options, to get to know the band members better. Tim had started to work as a freelance writer, and had gained the ability to interview people and write articles (and, due to his grumpy demeanour, promptly destroyed a relationship he had going by publishing a negative article about a friend of his.) Tamer? Well, Tamer was steadily moving up the ranks of political power.

It’s Tamer who concerns us next, in fact, because he’d been tasked with raising campaign funds. Jobs have a much, much bigger impact on the game world, now. You occasionally receive Opportunities based on your skills, your job, or random occurrences, which provide rewards in exchange for completing a task. It might be something simple like stopping off somewhere on the way home to fix a broken dishwasher, or it might be, say, raising campaign funds.

There were two ways to go about this. Tamer had the Charismatic and Schmoozer traits, which meant that he could sweet-talk anyone to his way of thinking. Sending him door to door was initially appealing, but after he spent an hour on someone’s doorstep waiting for them to answer – while watching them, through the glass door, play with a baby – that option didn’t appeal so much. A fundraising party it was.Sims each have a mobile phone, now, which can be used to call people at any time. The Throw Party option was duly clicked, and – as with everything else – this has been significantly expanded on for The Sims 3. What sort of party is it? When does it start? Should guests wear casual, formal, or swimsuits? And who are you going to invite?With all of these set, I bought a buffet table, a fire pit for the yard, and a stereo: everything was on track for success. Then Andy broke the shower. To be fair, crappy items that have been around for a while break easily and often, so it’s not entirely his fault, though the fact that within the next game week he also managed to break two computers, the sink, and the toilet makes me wonder if he wasn’t just being a dick, because Tim was the designated repairman.Skills, too, afford unique bonuses and opportunities. Tim was skilled enough that he could Tinker with items, which would either break them or give them a bonus. He could also Upgrade them. More interestingly, after having fixed a lot of electrical goods, he’d unlocked a bonus which meant that anything electrical that he fixed would never break again. This would’ve been incredibly useful, but for some reason, possibly involving the cleaning powers of water compared to electricity, the shower was classed as a plumbing item. While Tamer schmoozed the guests and Andy played guitar to keep them entertained, Tim sat in the bathroom getting more and more pissed off and trying to fix the shower that was leaking all over the floor.{PAGE TITLE=The Sims 3 Page 3}Grumpy is not a good trait to have, obviously. While Sims no longer have an Environment bar, a new system in The Sims 3 gives MMO-like “buffs.” If they eat their favourite food, then they’re happier for a few hours. If the room they’re in is a mess, then they’re unhappy for the next ten minutes. The longer they stay in there, the longer the debuff will apply. On the other hand, if they’re fortunate enough to love the outdoors, then heading outdoors will remove it a lot faster, because they’re both environment types of buff.

Tim was hungry, tired, and sat in a practically flooded room, trying to fix the shower. Andy was next on his mind to be fixed. Tim marched out to where Andy was dancing with a young lady, and unleashed verbal hell, going so far as to imply that Andy’s mother was a llama (no, seriously). Andy suffered a serious mood setback from this – he was Humiliated, and that stuck around for awhile. On the other hand, it made Tim feel better, because he’s the sort of person who gets a bit of malicious glee from making other people feel worse. I’ve caught him using the computers to “Troll on forums” with any responses elicited by this making him feel oh-so-happy for a few days. Andy later did similar, sneaking up on and scaring the maid, but sadly he’s just not that much of a sadist. This is where we leave the IncGamers team, for now: filled with anger and hatred. (For those who care: Tamer’s fundraiser went surprisingly well, netting him around 20,000 Simoleons.)

The Sims 3 is a massive, massive upgrade on previous iterations. The sheer amount of households that you can create, and the variety within (thanks to the Sims personalities) keeps the game feeling fresh for a very, very long time. I’ve spent time playing with a single mother with a career-based dream, but with a lot of wishes relying on getting her child to grow up well, and little money for a babysitter. I created an evil super-genius who wanted to be in ten relationships – and the Evil trait really changes things up. Mundane actions gain evil adjectives, such as “Take an evil bath,” but the wishes frequently involve, say, seeing the burning ghost of a Sim they recently met. Evil Sims want to murder others. I also took the town environment to the limits, creating a Sim whose home lot was essentially a park, forcing them to basically be homeless, although this has been done so much more effectively by better people than I. I pity you if you take a Sim with the insane personality trait, although it’s certainly amusing. Or what about trying to become rich and famous with a clumsy, unlucky loser?

The issue that The Sims 3 has, barring an occasional lack of content (see hairstyles) which a cynic might claim is to make money out of DLC, is that for everything added, things that aren’t there become painfully obvious. There’s a big town, but you can’t enter every building – generally only households. Considering that when The Sims 2 added  outdoor lots you could wander around in shops, it’s a weird omission. You have more options at work, and they have a much bigger impact on gameplay, but you still can’t actually see your Sim working. If they’re a star athlete, you can’t see them win a game. Compared to the personalities, the job options, the open world, the ridiculous amount of things that can be done (Tim, the technical computer whiz with a love of writing, can using a computer to write articles or a novel, hack to gain money, troll on forums, play games, chat online; he can overclock it, tinker with it, upgrade it, join a book club…) it’s small fry. But it still leaves nagging doubts. There are also a few niggles, like how long it takes in real-time to get from night to day when your Sims are asleep, or the crashes I encountered every four or five hours.

But for me, the triumph of the Sims has never been about creating an ideal life, getting Sims to the top of a career tree and making them happy. It’s never been about finding new and creative ways to murder my creations, either. It’s about setting up situations and letting things run loose – seeing what happens, what bizarre occurrences arise, and more importantly, what stories come out of it. With the higher autonomy afforded here, and less time spent babysitting them, there’s never been a better way to experience this.

Paul Younger
Founder and Editor of PC Invasion. Founder of the world's first gaming cafe and Veteran PC gamer of over 22 years.

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