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The Sims 2 review for PC
 
The Sims 2 Computer game cover
Gamermall.com rating:
9.0
Minimum Requirements:
If you have a T&L capable video card with at least 32 MB of video RAM then you need at least:

800 MHz processor or better
256 MB RAM if Windows XP, ME, 98 or 2000
At least 3.5 GB of hard drive space.

If you have a non-T&L capable video card (an Intel Extreme Graphics or a Radeon 7000/VE Series) then you need at least:

2.0 GHz processor or better
256 MB RAM if Windows XP, Windows ME, Windows 98, or Windows 2000
At least 3.5 GB of hard drive space

The Sims was one of those games that you just didn't see coming. It smacked the gaming world upside the head with its quirky nature and long reaching appeal. Obviously, the success of the original was so high that it was a forgone conclusion that The Sims 2 would eventually hit stores after the billions of expansion packs were done selling for the first game. Finally, after four years of waiting, The Sims 2 is coming out. We've had a final for quite a while now and have been playing the crap out of it in order to write this review.

The Sims 2 is a strange game to try and review. There are a lot of different ways to look at it and play it. The only thing that's certain is that this series is one of a kind. I can honestly say that I don't think I "got it" when the original game was released. I enjoyed it for a while but became frustrated at how hard it was to juggle relationships, bathroom breaks, and sleep time in order to get to the top of the corporate food chain. But over the last few weeks, I finally discovered something, partly due to a lot of the improvements made over the first game. The Sims isn't about "winning" or reaching a certain goal. It's about setting up experiences and watching them unfold. It's about personality and creativity and The Sims 2 handles both in a way that can't help but make you stare in wonder at this brilliantly bizarre series.

The most obvious addition is the new engine. It was an easy decision for them to make the game better looking. Not only did it help them keep up with the technology but more importantly helped them create an experience with a lot more personality and flair than The Sims was ever capable of supplying. All of the items found in The Sims 2 are amazingly detailed and vibrantly colorful, but the real charmer is the hugely long list of interactive animations between sims and the environment.

How can you not smile at the different ways the sims dance depending on their personalities? How can you not be pleased when outgoing characters are giving other sims in the room a thumbs up as they walk by? How can you not throw a fit of laughter when a man in a top hat and a cute blonde teenager burp in each other's faces for fun? There are so many wonderful animations of the cute, disgusting, touching, playful, exciting, amazing, and clever things that we see in life right there on the screen for your virtual people to act out. The combination of actions happening in the house can be downright hilarious and bizarre.

The Sims 2 is a brilliant simulation but also a wonderful caricature of life in general. And that's what you have to remember when playing this game. It isn't about completing a lofty goal of saving the world. Not reaching the top rung of the corporate ladder doesn't mean you failed. A dirty house and toilet isn't the end of the world. This game is about experimentation and creativity, whether you're setting up relationships or building a crazy house. You can almost equate it to a very strange canvas. Maxis is selling some amazing tools to create all kinds of things from architecture to full blown stories. It's up to the gamer to take those tools and use them however they see fit.

And that's the most difficult thing to understand. As I said earlier, I didn't really understand when I was playing the first game. I was used to playing games that have specific goals. The Sims 2 declares that having goals is almost a distraction to having fun. Don't get me wrong, if you want to think of the game that way, it's possible. You can move your sims up to the top of the corporate food chain, help your sim-kids and teenagers get into private school, or even complete abstract goals of affording the best TV on the list. But those are side shows to the main events of watching the personalities interact and sharing experiences with the community.

Maxis added several different features to improve on the original and improve on it they do. The first of these is the ability to use either one of three prepared neighborhoods with an interesting background or create your own from scratch using one of several neighborhood terrains. Players can now create different sized lots, place houses, community centers, and environmental items like balloons, rocks, trees, clouds, birds, and so on.

The neighborhood story can be added to, modified, and made creative easily with their new story creation tool. This tool works not only for the neighborhood, but also for each individual house. The game also adds a movie making feature which allows players to explore their inner director. It isn't the easiest to make perfect movies, but with a little practice, there's sure to be some great movies online before too long. You can even use a simple movie editing tool like Windows Movie Maker (which comes with Windows XP) to edit the files into a coherent movie of some sort. The only thing that might be a concern is that taking high quality movies with this tool will slow down lower spec machines. Even on my Athlon 64, with a Gig of Ram and a GeForce 5900 Ultra, the game ran fairly chuggy while taking high quality movies. The movies were certainly passable, but weren't completely smooth because all of that was happening on the same Computer. Still, it's certainly a welcome feature for players that don't have the resources to buy an extra Computer to capture and record video.

But what would the stories or movies be without characters and drama? Maxis has added loads more of each on top of the story creation tools. Take the character creation tool. It's about a thousand times better than The Sims original. While players won't be able to adjust height or limb length (without developer cheats) because of requirements to make animations look natural, they will be able to have an unprecedented amount of face customization. There are so many deformation points and options that it'll be hard for players not to play with the tool for hours.

I had several of my friends give the game a whirl over the last couple of weeks to see their reactions and how easy the tool was to use for those that hadn't seen it before and the reaction was quite good. My fiance spent a good hour and a half simply playing with this feature and experimenting, happy the entire time. I can guarantee that I've personally spent at least 8-10 hours doing that myself. The range of faces players will be able to create is extreme. Some of the faces can be downright disturbing and then watching those sims breed with other sims to create half-breed freaks is even more disturbing and fun.

The addition of breeding, genetics, and aging is also a big move from the original. The idea of having genetics in each character created for use in combining them into children born in the game is brilliant. It completely adds to the ability to be immersed in the drama and life of a neighborhood. The neighborhood will expand and grow over time as adult sims hook up and have kids. You can actually see the generations pass as they get older. The only draw back is the aging process, which means sims you like will eventually up and die if you don't cheat or use one of the aspiration rewards called the Elixir of Life that reverses aging by a few days.

The addition of several age brackets means there are a lot more types of kids. Babies, toddlers, children, and teenagers fill out the ranks with adults and old age closing out the rotation. And while there were kids in the original, they weren't implemented as thoroughly. They'll all have to go to school and do homework as you would expect, but parents will also have the option to encourage their behavior in certain ways and help them grow as people. This doesn't mean it all has to be positive either. If one of the parents is a cranky bastard, that trait could be encouraged as well, leaving some seriously funny results. One family I created called the Zoo's (originally because they were all freaks, but later because they captured and caged innocents walking past the house) were such a bad family to the toddler (I usually take a fairly hands off approach to guiding sims) that it grew up to be an incredible brat, throwing tantrums and causing problems. Of course, he wasn't happy when he found himself in a cage either, but them's the breaks.

The last very important addition to the gameplay is the idea of aspirations. When creating sims, and when children become teenagers, lifetime aspirations must be picked. These add on top of personalities to create interesting mixes. For example, a lazy and sloppy sim with a financial aspiration may find it more difficult to make money than an active, outgoing, and neat sim. Basically, these act as guideposts for players and sims. Each aspiration will govern wants. Each sim has four wants at all times and three fears. Completing these wants helps sims reach a level of mood that even needs won't effect their happiness. Points gathered from achieving wants also allows sims to purchase special aspiration rewards that could potentially help sims become better and also provide some great entertainment.

Basically, theses additions help give some direction without forcing players to pay attention to them. Those sims that have met their aspirations when progressing into the next age bracket of their life will have a better time of it than those that haven't.

Now, a lot of players complained about The Sims for AI reasons. Sims in the original would often forget to go to the bathroom or some such thing causing micromanaging issues. Most sims will now take care of all of these needs without much handholding, allowing players to sit back and enjoy the action and spend most of their time helping sims get what they want or get what they fear (if you're that kind of a person).

This is actually one of those games that I don't feel bad about cheating in. It actually allows players to set up their neighborhood the way they choose before diving into the interactions. Sure, every area has some poor people, but the mansion on the hill that you'll like to have some mean, snooty, rich people inhabiting would take a lifetime to fill. Cheats actually allow players to paint a picture before they enter and play, which I like in this case.

On top of all of this, Maxis also made sure to add enough community features to keep what is easily one of the biggest online gaming communities in the world quite happy. The game hasn't been released yet, so there isn't anything to download at the moment, but EA will be hosting servers for players to upload their content. When there are new items and skins for download available, players will be able to easily click on a snowflake icon in game to download any content that might be available. All of this custom content, including full sim designs, will be recognizable by the snowflake symbol in their iconic representation in-game. So if you're adding a looking to add new floor and you see an option with a snowflake next to it, you'll know it's a custom texture.

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