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The Sims 2 PC CD-ROM

Published by EA Games
Developed by Maxis
Released - Out Now
Price : £39.99

What's the biggest sequel of 2004? Is it Doom III? No. Is it Half-Life 2? No. How about Halo 2, Gran Turismo 4 or GTA San Andreas? No, no and no. The biggest sequel of 2004 is actually the follow up to the most popular PC game of all time, The Sims 2. Who could have predicted just how popular the people simulator from Maxis would have been when it was released 4 years ago? So far the The Sims and it's seven expansions have sold well in excess of 30 million copies and sales are still going strong. In fact over the last four years the game and it's expansions have been permanent residents in the software top ten sales and with news that over 1 million copies of The Sims 2 have been sold in the game's first 10 days on sale, we could be looking at even more sales records being set. Let's take a look at the sequel to the most popular PC game of all time.

The biggest problem I have with reviewing a huge game such as The Sims 2 is knowing where to start. I could just say it improves on just about everything that made The Sims so great but that wouldn't do the game justice. Aside from the improvements you also have the ability to make movies of your Sims and create their very own story. The game no longer focuses on your initial Sims and you'll get to see what their offspring make of themselves (more on this in a moment). The game is no longer in 2D and instead has been wonderfully done in full 3D. The process of creating your Sims is now much more in depth and much more satisfying. Maxis have even included an external program called The Sims 2 Body Shop that allows you to completely customise the look of your sims ( in every way possible and at every stage of their life so you can determine what they look like as a baby or an elder if you want to). Creating a single Sim can take well over a hour with all the options at your disposal. You don't have to use The Sims 2 Body Shop if you don't want to though. In fact you can either pick a ready made sim or simply create one quickly in the main game which takes only a few minutes. Character interactions are another area where The Sims 2 far outstrips the original game. You can have your Sims tell dirty jokes with each other or chat for a long time on the phone. You can work out by watching the work out channel on TV if you want to and your Sims now learn as they are doing things so when a Sim cooks they'll gain experience for doing so. The list of improvements just goes on and on and there is far too much to mention here but it's sufficient to say that Maxis have taken the concept of The Sims much, much further this time.

The big inclusion this time around is aging. No longer are your Sims destined to be adults or children forever. You can watch a Sim develop from a newborn baby to a toddler, child, teen, adult and finally an elder Sim. In The Sims the emphasis was on the individual Sim you created and the game just went on forever. The Sims 2 is more focused on the family though. The first Sims you create will eventually die and your focus will shift to their children and their grandchildren and so on. Sims have genes in The Sims 2 and genes of the parents will pass on to the child. Intelligent and skilled parents means greater prospects for their children so even though your initial Sims will die their efforts at improving themselves will not have been wasted. Each Sim has their own aspirations. The possible aspirations are grow up (for children only) romance, family, knowledge, popularity and fortune. The aspiration you choose for your sim (either at the creation stage or when a child becomes a teen) will shape them as a person and will decide what their wants and fears will be. A Sim with a family aspiration will want to get married and have children whereas a romantic (should really be called over-sexed) Sim might want multiple lovers. As each day passes new fears and wants will replace the old ones. You can lock a want (one only) if you want to accomplish it and it will take more than a day. You'll still have to maintain the Sims basic needs of bladder, energy, hygiene, comfort, fun, social and environment but this is not so frustrating as it was in The Sims and is just as well because you'll have to look after your Sim's wants. Fulfilling wants fills your aspiration meter and gives you reward points (that can be used to buy special objects). Keeping the aspiration meter filled is important as it can enhance your Sim's mood as well as determine how long they will survive the elder stage of their life.

Did you enjoy building your Sim's home in The Sims? Well if you did you're going to spend hours and hours just learning how to build all the different building configurations that are possible in The Sims 2. You can now lay down foundations, build basements and loft areas. You can customise the look of your roof as well as build windows that span two floors. Doors and windows can now be placed on diagonal walls (although furniture cannot be placed diagonally). There are a lot of pre-constructed homes though if you don't feel the urge to create your own. You're not stuck with a single neighbourhood either. The game ships with 3 neighbourhoods (which you can modify) but you can also build your own with either a lush terrain or desert terrain. There are several maps to choose from that you can use to build your neighbourhood or if you have Sim City 4 you can build your own neighbourhood maps. After the building you'll want to furnish your home and the range of furnishings at first glance does seem limited particularly if you had several of the expansion packs for the first game. However a lot of items such as beds and refrigerators allow you to pick from different colours and patterns so there is actually more choice than you might think.

One of the key factors in The Sims record breaking sales was that it didn't require a 3D graphics card or a powerful PC in order to run the game. The same cannot be said for The Sims 2 however. The game is now in full 3D and it looks fantastic. The character models, the lighting effects and the animations are superb but all this visual quality takes it's toll on even the strongest of PC's. Running the game on Pentium 4 2.8GHz, Radeon X800 XT, 1GB RAM PC still doesn't provide completely smooth performance when running at the TFT resolution of 1280 x 1024. This is a PC that can play Far Cry at ultra high settings very smoothly so it's a bit of a shock to find that The Sims 2 gets a little choppy when there are a few Sims onscreen in a medium size house. Load up the Pleasant household (with it's three floors and four residents) and it can become a slide show at times especially when vehicles appear on the screen. Still the game does look fantastic and you have a wide range of screen resolutions and detail settings you can lower to make the experience smoother.

The Sims was fine for deaf gamers because it used a lot of icons and visual images to display what the Sims where thinking and talking about. Once again the Sims use their own, strange, language which is complete nonsense (even to hearing gamers) and the gist of their conversations and thoughts can be fathomed by looking at the icons that appear onscreen, so in effect the deaf gamer is not at any disadvantage. In The Sims 2 you'll also receive text messages such as when a child returns from school and a text message is given to tell you how they're progressing. This adds more depth to the events in the game and as the messages are in text only it also means no problems for deaf gamers. You'll also notice that musical items still give off rising musical notes when music is playing and phones give off multiple sound arcs when the phone is ringing. However if you're on a different floor to the phone then you might not be aware that it is ringing. The aspiration meter makes a noise when it reaches different levels and this noise is not shown visually although it's not important and you can see this meter at all times. The game manual is good although it lacks key information on building basements and other advanced game concepts. We went out and purchased the Prima strategy guide for The Sims 2 and I would recommend this as it's contains the advanced concepts that the manual misses out on.

Essentially then The Sims 2 is one heck of an impressive sequel that takes the idea of The Sims so much further that it will appeal to those who eventually tired of the record breaking original game. If you are or were at all interested in the idea of The Sims then this is a must own game, it's as simple as that. It even appeals to those who didn't like the first game (it can't apply to many gamers though judging by the crazy sales figures) as it offers more depth and constantly has goals for you to achieve. One word of warning though. The game is rated as a 7+ title here in the UK. I don't know how it got this low a rating. The Sims Deluxe edition had a 15+ age rating and yet The Sims 2 is far more suggestive in it's sexual themes than The Sims ever was. In the US The Sims 2 has a Teen rating with a 'crude humour, sexual themes and violence warning.' The US rating is far more appropriate. There are some thorny issues in the game such as same-sex relationships and whilst Maxis claim that this has to be directed by the player, I can honestly say that kisses and flirts can happen between members of the same sex without any direction by the player. In fact even the heterosexual activities in the game could be considered a bit too much for children younger than teenagers. I wouldn't be happy with my daughters seeing this (who are all under 10) so I don't know how an age rating of 7+ can be justified. This point aside though (which may or may not be an issue for you and to remain objective it doesn't affect our rating) the only issue I have is that the game could do with a patch or two to increase performance. There are some bugs in here such as Sims getting stuck and items that can't be interacted with but these are small issues that I'm sure will be resolved. Without a doubt though The Sims 2 looks set to break all previous sales records and deservedly so. Bring on the expansions.

Overall Game Rating: 9.1/10
Maxis had an almighty task in trying to surpass The Sims but they've managed to succeed. The four years development time hasn't been wasted and what we have here is a game that's deeper, richer and far more satisfying than The Sims ever was. Sims fans everywhere will be thrilled with The Sims 2 with only the steep system requirements being a fly in the ointment.

Deaf Gamers comment:
No problems at all for deaf gamers. It's just as deaf gamer friendly as The Sims was.