Game On: The Sims 3 for Mac

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I was not terribly impressed with The Sims 3 for iPhone, but as I said in my review, it did whet my appetite for the Mac desktop version of the game. So much so that I went out yesterday afternoon to pick it up. Best Buy was all out of the collector’s edition, but I wasn’t committed to the idea of carrying around a Plumbob USB drive anyway, so I picked up the regular copy for $49.95 and got to playing god.

And play it I did. I played for nine straight hours yesterday, and another few today, eating in a hurried frenzy only when my Sim was sleeping. All for you…a truly selfless act. Here’s what I found as a result of my living-by-proxy marathon.

Graphics

The Sims 3 definitely looks better than its predecessors. Objects and sims are more detailed, textures are smoother, and animations are better looking. The real difference with regards to graphics, however, doesn’t have to do with any landmark improvements in the basics (there aren’t any astounding changes), but rather with the way the world as a whole is set up.

Screenshot-3

Nice, interactive vistas

The Sims experience has always been primarily compartmentalized, with your house being one location, and social settings and the houses of others being entirely different, closed-off modules. In The Sims 3, the walls between modules are largely taken down. If you zoom out, and pan, you can see and interact with your neighbors’ houses, parks, and community buildings, and even the ocean.

Clicking on objects that you can see results in actions being made available, without ever having to exit out to a town map. The town map is still available, though, in case you want more simple navigation across greater distances.

Visually, the open world makes The Sims 3 look and feel much more like the life simulator it’s meant to be, and it’s one of the biggest reasons to upgrade from The Sims 2, in my opinion.

My test machine was an iMac with 4GBs of RAM running an ATI Radeon 2600HD graphics card. The game should run fine any any computer using the new NVIDIA cards, too.

Sound

Simish is back in full force, and it sounds just as silly as ever. They seem to say “zune” a lot more frequently than most other words, so either that’s the sim version of “the” or Microsoft’s done some very keen product placement.

Sweatin' to the oldies

Sweatin' to the oldies

Music is well done again in The Sims 3, with a decent variety of tracks available for your stereo systems, and some genuinely pleasant sounds coming from your sim’s guitar if you build up their Music ability.

Other ambient sounds are all fine, although it does seem at times like the game is far too quiet considering everything that’s going on. I suppose finding a nice balance between too noisy and too quietly for a life simulator like this would be quite the challenge, and it’s the type of game that you like to have something else on while playing anyway.

Gameplay

Let’s take a look at a few different aspects of gameplay within the new Sims.

Work

As in real life, I generally prefer to keep my options open and succeed as a Sims freelancer by selling paintings, working as a writer, and, new in Sims 3, selling the fish that I catch. The last one is not one that I actually do in real life, in case you were wondering. No good fishing spots in Toronto, is the problem.

For the sake of this review, I decided to pursue a career in rock stardom to see what sticking to the more conventional professional pursuits available in the game was like.

As in previous games, in order to earn promotions in your chosen field, you have to build up your skills and keep your mood elevated. Depending on what you do, you also might have to strive to get along well with your co-workers, and in The Sims 3, you actually know which fellow sim is your boss, and you can butter them up.

I found career building not quite as challenging as in previous versions, which is good because other aspects of the game are now much more rich and deserving of attention. Also, I tend to forget that your sims now have a limited lifespan (since Sims 2), so the pacing is actually entirely appropriate. Currently, I’m a pop star, but I’m approaching retirement age, so I’m not sure I’ll reach the top of my career ladder.

This is where I rock sold out crowds

This is where I rock sold out crowds

Work is much more interesting than in past games because you can influence your performance by changing how you are working. A context menu attached to the task in the upper right-hand corner of the screen lets you choose between a variety of different ways of working, including working hard and slacking off, which affect your mood and job performance. This is a huge improvement over the hours of doing nothing in previous versions.

Play

There’s so much for your sims to do in their spare time in this game that it hardly feels like they have any. As mentioned above, you can go fishing, and check out various other activities in town. You can also grow your own food by gardening, and paint as in prior installments.

Frankly, I didn’t find time to do much in town, though the options are numerous. In-town activities also include random events like sales, concerts (both performing and attending), and chess competitions. I actually ended up trying to find mood modifying cheats so that I could enjoy them all, but no such luck.

Life in General

Overall, the experience is just far more rich and detailed than in previous versions. They’ve taken out some things that were annoying, and added some that are much more fun, so it doesn’t feel too cluttered. That said, I think trying to further detail day-to-day affairs would really hamper my enjoyment of the franchise. As it is, it feels like too much to do, too little time, which is exactly the opposite of the iPhone version.

Me playing a computer game in the computer game I'm playing

Me playing a computer game in the computer game I'm playing

Verdict

If you like the previous Sims games, you definitely won’t be disappointed with Sims 3. Some things have been taken out, but better things have been added, resulting in a much more enjoyable experience overall. This is a must-have for Mac gamers.

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