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The Urbz: Sims in the City PlayStation 2

Published by EA Games
Developed by Maxis
Release Date: Out Now
Price : £39.99

It's been a big year for fans of The Sims. First of all we had the excellent The Sims 2 and now we have the release of a slightly different flavoured console version of The Sims, The Urbz: Sims in the City. It's a more wacky, zany take on The Sims with a variety of subcultures and districts to explore. It's a game where your reputation matters and being in with the 'hottest people' is desirable. It's a different take on The Sims formula to be sure and it's quite unlike anything we've been expecting.

The Urbz contains several key differences from the previous console versions of The Sims. Your first task is to choose your location and style for your Sim. You have a choice of nine ranging from Gasoline Row (Bad Girls and Tough Guys) to The Foundry (with the New Black look). Then you'll create your Sim. What you'll notice here is that the customisation options for creating a Sim are very limited when compared to other The Sims games, although you do get to purchase other customisation features later in the game and each district has it's own clothing and hairstyle fashions. Once you've created your Sim (each save allows up to four Sims to be stored upon it) you'll begin in your new location armed with just a fridge, sofa, shower and a small amount of money. Your first task will be to make money and to do this you'll need to get a job. Aside from working you'll also need to build friendships and 'street cred' which makes The Urbz different from other versions of The Sims.

If you're a long standing fan of The Sims and like the ability to create your own home and spend hours decorating and furnishing it you're going to be in for a disappointment with The Urbz. These aspects of the game have really been toned down with the social aspects being made more important. Your Sim will have to go into a shop to purchase the items, return home, take the items from their inventory and place them in their home. Whilst this is a slightly more realistic way of doing it, it does mean those creative types among you won't be able to spend hours rearranging everything. In fact there isn't really any need to return to your home for the most part as you simply stay in the town where you work and use all the facilities you need there.

Socialising is the way to go in The Urbz and making a good job of it will allow you to build your reputation (or rep as it's called in the game). Having a good rep opens doors to your Sim and will allow them to go to parties, VIP rooms, other districts and ultimately new apartments. Building your rep is done through establishing friendships by conversation and other social interactions. You'll have to be wearing the right clothes for your district too if you want to fit in and gain access to these VIP rooms. Each district has it's own clothing store where you can purchase the desired togs for that district. Socialising has been made easier by colour coding your interaction choices to show you what has a chance of working. This does make playing the game a lot easier than it should be though and takes away the challenge.

In previous The Sims games going to work was something your Sim did and you never got to see. The Urbz changes all of that and you'll actually control your Sim whilst he/she is at work. Each district has it's own jobs and each job usually requires a few tasks to be done until your employer says otherwise. My Sim worked in a bike repair shop in the Gasoline Row district and had to strip bikes down and cook the hot dogs etc. In order to carry out most of the jobs you'll have to press the primary buttons on your controller in a set order which makes it kind of a mini-game. Helping your Sim to carry out their work is novel to begin with but it soon becomes repetitive and you end up wishing that they just disappeared for a short while and returned with the money like in The Sims.

Graphically The Urbz doesn't really improve upon what we've already seen from previous The Sims games on the PlayStation 2. That said the game does have a new visual style and the game seems to been squarely aimed at teenagers, which may be a little off putting to older gamers. Disappointingly the game has some rather ugly performance issues which do mar the experience somewhat. It's all too common for the game to splutter when issuing commands during a conversation and pauses occur far too frequently as the disk is being accessed. Dips in the frame rate are also quite evident. Loading times are also painfully long and they will begin to annoy you after a while. None of these hiccups spoil the game on the whole but you do get the feeling the PlayStation 2 hardware is struggling to run the game adequately and should you have access to a GameCube or Xbox you'd be better advised to opt for these versions instead. The PlayStation 2 version of The Urbz allows you to make use of the EyeToy camera in order to put your face in the game. Surprisingly though you can't use the EyeToy camera to make a Sim of yourself, which is disappointing. All it really does is allow you to put your face on posters, which can be put up once your rep is high enough.

The Sims games have always been fine for deaf gamers and The Urbz continues this trend. Once again the Sims talk their own language (which no one can understand) and icons are used to give you a general idea of what's being said. The icons in The Urbz don't seem to be as informative as in The Sims. All information and messages are given in text and you can check your XAM (eXchange, Access, Messaging) device at any time to check on your messages, inventory and goals etc. The manual that comes with the game is short on information and doesn't explain what the conversational icons mean but it will help you with any basic questions that you might have about the game.

The Urbz: Sims in the City is for the most part OK but unlike The Sims it's an acquired taste and I suspect it's been squarely aimed at teenagers rather than gamers in general. Having played The Sims 2 this really feels like a dumbed down experience. A lot of what made The Sims what it is has either been done away with or trivialised to an extent where it doesn't feel the same. Taking it as a game in it's own right (and not comparing it to The Sims) you'll find it's OK but it can become repetitive. The different districts and styles are, to a certain extent, welcome features but it just doesn't feel as open ended as previous versions of The Sims and for some this will be a turn off.

Overall Game Rating: 6.5/10
The Urbz is a version of The Sims that's aimed squarely at hip and trendy teenagers. Sadly though it's less appealing to those who actually liked the previous console versions of The Sims.

Deaf Gamers comment:
No problems for deaf gamers.