The Sims 3 (Console) – Review

Title   The Sims 3
Developer  The Sims Studio
Publisher  EA
Platform  Xbox360, PS3, Wii
Genre  Simulation/Life/Casual/Sandbox
Release Date  29th October, 2010

Back in 2000, Will Wright created what would arguably become the greatest god game franchise in the form of The Sims. The relatively simple concept worked: create people, customise them, build their homes, manage their lives, loves, and careers. No gimmicks, no historical, fantastical, or space age settings were needed, just a mirror held up to life, ready for the puckish player to tinker and play, either to help or hinder the beings now at their command.

Fast forward 10 years through two subsequent incarnations and the PC version of The Sims 3 has sold millions of units since its launch in June 2009 (1.4 million in the first week alone). Every Sims incarnation thus far has eventually found its way to the generation of consoles among which it finds itself and the The Sims 3 has dutifully followed suit. The big question is: how can the console version (on the five year old Xbox360) compete with the graphical might of the PC version and how would the precision of the mouse/keyboard combo translate to the 360 controller. The answer, on both counts, is: ‘mixed’, but I’m jumping ahead.

The premise is, of course, identical to the PC version: this is The Sims and the core gameplay has never and will, likely, never change. Create and nurture your Sims in an open-ended game which immerses you in their lives and tasks you with micromanaging every facet; the player deals with their needs, wishes, and whims while helping them attain promotions, earn Simoleans and juggle families. Ultimately, the player can control as much or as little as they like. Sims have free-will and can do as they please if left to their own devices, however, the dirtier you get your hands, the more rewarding the experience, which is rather the whole point.

The beauty of the game and its titular beings is that they can be whatever you want them to be; whoever you want them to be. Choice is as key with the Sims as customisation is, and the ability of the player to make their own path and weave their own stories from the mundanity of everyday life is sacred to the franchise, ensuring its enduring popularity. You can create a family oriented Sim who loves kids, enjoys pottering in the garden, and who puts in shifts at the local hospital. Alternatively, you can spawn an evil mastermind on the fast-track to the top of the criminal career, who is happy to steal, insult, slap, and scrap their way there.

Some folk will veer down the predictably dreary route of creating either digital images of tween-idols and squee-worthy celebs or their friends and family; if this sounds appealing, just don’t get upset when you manage to immolate them in a fire caused by poorly cooked lobster. If there’s one thing that Sims do well, it is setting their home and themselves on fire. Sadists should note, however, that this may well be the only chance they’ll get to torture or otherwise watch Justin Bieber and/or various vampire-idols burn to a crisp in a locked room inferno, so bear that in mind when debating over the new releases this month.

One of the largest draws for The Sims has always been the power of the ‘Create A Sim’ tool, so it was always going to be a concern as to whether the console could match the in-depth level of customisation available on the PC. To my unending surprise, it can. If you don’t want to play as a pre-made Sim, then ‘Create A Sim’ will be your first port of call. Here, you not only tailor your Sim’s looks, but every aspect of their personality. You can select a randomise option, which will likely throw up a bloated bowl-cut in diarrhoea coloured duds, or you can plunge in and use the nearest, randomised choice to your vision as a base upon which to build.

Through a series of options and sliders, you can tug and tweak your Sim’s head, facial features, and body to minute degrees and it is easy to play with all manner of details such as chins, freckles, nose bridges, cheek bones, and ear heights to create your perfect Sim. Of course, there is scope to create a blue haired, pointy eared, red eyed demon with a chin that could cut steel and a beauty spot that eats souls – the choice is yours. That you have so much choice is incredibly satisfying.

The most alluring part of the personality tweaks are the traits – arguably one of The Sims 3’s greatest successes. These are character traits, good and bad, which make up your Sim’s personality and there are many to choose between to fill your five slots. You can create an insane, neurotic, virtuoso who has a green thumb and is afraid of water or a flirty party animal who is a charismatic schmoozer with a hidden kleptomaniac side. There is a lot of scope for fun in mixing and matching and the traits can influence careers and wishes as well as providing a variety of unique interactions, both social and object based.

Exploring the traits and the possible interactions they generate is a very amusing diversion and one of the places in which the humour of the game shines through. For example, evil Sims can use the computer to ‘Troll on Forum’ and take great delight in receiving outraged or upset replies. A computer whiz on the other hand can ‘Hack’ to bring extra Simoleans into the household purse. Evil Sims can also ‘Steal Candy From A Baby’ – always hilarious and can bond together to mastermind plots. Kleptomaniac Sims can swipe goodies from homes and public places, technophobes can sabotage people’s TVs and electronics, while mean-spirited Sims can ‘Imply That Mother Is A Llama’ while slagging someone off.

In short, the level of customisation is extensive and, to be honest, I wasn’t expecting the game to have retained nearly as many features as its PC elder – even the clothing choices are well represented. Sliders and colour wheels offer the chance to tinker with clothing patterns and colours, and you are offered the option to save custom styles to reuse or share. In fact, the choice of clothing stacks up impressively against the PC version, and I found that I was able to exactly replicate my PC Sims down to their accessories – though, sadly, minus the nudey mods.

And then? You pick a home in the neighbourhood of Moonlight Bay and away you go. Their lives are in your hands and what you make of the game is entirely up to you. Do you want to have your creations ‘live off the fat o’ the lan’? Then grow your own food (or steal it from the local farm) and have a klepto Sim swipe statues and park benches to sell. Otherwise, set them on the career ladder of their choice and start honing their skills. If neither appeals, simply let them mooch around town, socialising, fishing on the beach, and picking up rare gems and space flotsam to display or sell.

The neighbourhood map view: bright and colourful but rather more compact

Moonlight Bay itself is nowhere close to the rich, graphical sprawl afforded to PC gamers, meaning that everything is much more compact. The town view map is actually rather quirky and makes little effort to be photorealistic; instead, it presents itself as a charming, almost scrapbook style thing with colourful, cartoony representations of buildings pasted on. When you get into the town itself however, the limitations of this version begin to show. Whereas The Sims 3 (PC) left behind the limited lots and myriad of loading screens which plagued its predecessor when moving around the neighbourhood, these have, sadly, made a necessary return – albeit in a slightly tweaked way. The game has divided up the town into parcels, reminiscent of Animal Crossing’s acres, which encompass a chunk of surrounding land and several buildings or public areas. While you can move around these areas themselves freely, transitioning between them (even if just jumping back and forth between two Sims on opposite sides of town) means a loading screen. While these are never as temper fraying as The Sims 2, however, it does get distracting, especially if you have numerous Sims scattered to the four corners of Moonlight Bay.

The town hall: seat of power and corruption in Moonlight Bay.

The town itself is well realised, with the career buildings all present and correct but the number of NPC homes and habitable lots are very limited and the largest lots, prized by build fans, are absent. The community buildings, while looking good, are the familiar ‘rabbit holes’. These are a source of irritation among PC users and are so named because your Sim will vanish into one to shop or go about their day job, leaving you waiting outside, pounding the fast-forward time button, and grinding your teeth. Granted, you have a few options as to how your Sims conducts themselves at work: they can hang out with co-workers, suck up to the boss, or even nap in the specimen cupboard, but it means a lot of hanging around, especially if all your Sims are employed at the same time. Sadly, this thumb twiddling is a necessary evil, since many Sims’ Lifetime Wishes are tied into a career choice.

Wishes are separate from your Sims’ daily needs and aren’t as crucial to their well being but they are important to the various challenges which we’ll come to momentarily. Needs are simple and are comprised of basic things such as hunger, bladder, energy, etc. They need to be monitored because neglecting them can have an adverse effect on your Sims’ happiness and even result in death. Intentional or unintentional.

Lifetime Wishes represent a large and distant (optional) goal of sorts, chosen by you from a selection related to your Sim’s traits, while small, everyday wishes can be stacked up for later. Fulfilling them earns lifetime happiness points which can be cashed in for rewards (which have debateable usefulness depending on how you prefer to play), as well as contributing towards two of the game’s new features: Challenges and Karma. While Karma is a fun addition which allows you to cast an occasional piece of good or bad fortune in various guises (such as raising a Sim from the dead, maxing their needs, or devastating their home with a firestorm), Challenges offer a level of interest which helps make the game far more sticky than it may otherwise have been.

Investigating the Challenge menu reveals an eye-popping amount of in-game challenges to complete, ranging from easy to blisteringly time consuming. These are similar to those found in, say, Borderlands, but rather than killing X amount of Y or Z, they are rather more sedate. Challenges encompass most aspects of the game, from collecting insects to stealing objects, and ensure that even the most dedicated player will have to invest a great deal of time to knock them all down and come away with a prize. They offer a series of goals of sorts, whereas usually the player has only what they impose or suggest for themselves as they meander through the game.

Of course, as with everything, bar filling the most crucial Sim needs, Challenges are optional but, they not only offer reward points to cash in for unlockable objects and outfits, but help the player to fully explore everything that the game has to offer. And that is lot.  Aside from the pared down neighbourhood, everything is here: collectable gems, insects, and meteorites; 11 careers; a huge choice of books, recipes and diversions; fish to catch and plants to grow. That so much has been crammed into this release is impressive.

The music is as good as ever, with the familiar score kicking in over the menus, while the ambient sounds, effects, and amusing ‘Simlish’ fit in without hitch. There are, however, drawbacks. Graphically, the game obviously can’t compete with its PC kin and though it is well represented in this area, it isn’t great. While there are some beautiful buildings, locations, and textures here, with so much going on, it is understandable that the graphics aren’t sharper than an obsidian tipped Clive Anderson and some minor screen tearing also makes itself known. When it comes to the menus and panels however, they are crisp, colourful, and bright and make navigating the array of features easy, so while not mind blowing, it is good enough.

As far as navigation goes, the controls are obviously an important issue with this sort of game which naturally meshes best with a mouse. For the most part, they are surprisingly good; the buttons are reasonably intuitive and most elements of the game can be accessed within a few buttons presses. Problems lie, however, in the precision.

Karma can bestow good or bad fortune on your Sims

Object selection with a controller can be tricky and, at worst, random but thankfully, as if acknowledging this, the game gives a choice of possible targets. Selecting small, moving objects is a pretty excruciating task though, and ordering your Sim to catch insects and butterflies requires pure hit and miss pummelling and cancelling to actually get the job done. In fact, many times, I just gave up. Ultimately, as with games such as C&C, there will be control casualties in a move such as this, and while they are surprisingly few in an otherwise robust and intuitive scheme, they are enough to elicit a shriek of frustration at times.  Other gripes include the tedious affair of managing multiple inventory commands such as getting gems cut, since they have to be done one at a time – there is no ‘select all’ or batch processing way of handling them. This means that if you’re a keen collector, you’ll be in and out of inventories until your patience gives way.

Is it enjoyable? Yes, but that rather depends: The Sims 3 is perhaps more subjective than most games since you get out what you put into it, but it gives the player ample means, motive, and opportunity for a rewarding experience. The interface and menus are crisp and slick and within moments of loading the game, the familiar, jaunty music will have veteran Sims fans feeling very much at home. For the uninitiated, there are numerous tutorials, guiding the player through all aspects of the game, making it a smooth entry point for newcomers who have yet to sample the Sims, or for whom, their PCs have refused to run it.

The graveyard is the perfect place to daub tombstones with rude epitaphs

For veteran gamers, while it comprehensively mirrors much of Sims 3 with some welcome new elements thrown in, it may be a touch compact and frustrating. Load screens, slightly rougher graphics, a divided town, fewer lots, and some annoying control niggles can be off putting, even when weighed against the PC version’s notoriously problematic version. While the PC version can always flesh out its world with expansions, tweaking, and the prevalent modding community, the console version has to stand alone.

When all is said and done, Sims 3 has been shrunk down and re-wrapped for the console market, with a few new features to ensure longevity (not to mention achievements) and a control scheme which is, perhaps, as good as it will get. It is as absorbing and entertaining as it ever was, stealing the player’s life and distilling it into their own creations. Ironic? Perhaps, but it is always easier to tell someone else what to do and watch them do it, rather than make an effort yourself and risk failure or rejection. Here, in this world, you can create, control, and achieve those elusive dreams, albeit vicariously. This is essentially what the game boils down to and is perhaps why it has sold, and always will sell, in its millions. Anyway, what other game gives you achievement points for Woo Hooing?

  • As relaxed, absorbing and entertaining as ever - it will steal your time
  • Smooth menus and interface
  • Extensive and in-depth Create A Sim area
  • New challenges offer a meaty amount of goals to strive towards
  • Traits are the perfect way to customise your Sim’s personality and offer some fantastic and unique interactions
  • Usual humour is present
  • Karma offers another layer of titbits to tinker with
  • Extensive catalogue of objects and clothing, beyond expectations
  • Easy introduction for tentative newcomers, with concise tutorials
  • Restricted number of objects allowed on a lot
  • Minor screen tearing and slightly rougher graphics, along with a few glitches such as vanishing and reappearing objects and Sims occasionally running through walls.
  • Neighbourhood is divided into parcels which can break the flow of the game if juggling more than a couple of Sims
  • Some imprecise control issues when trying to select small, moving objects or those which are bunched together
  • Inventory management, when handling multiple items, is painful

By now, many will know whether the Sims franchise floats their boat or not, so whether it will pull in new punters is open for debate. However, as a first time experience, it is a solid one and even veterans will find much to enjoy. That said, however, with a handful of expansions now available for the PC version, even with the new additions here, it may seem a little sparse. The Create A Sim is as powerful as it ever was and presents a mind boggling amount of customisation but it is the traits which are the game’s crowning glory and present the chance to not only tailor your Sim’s personality but to enjoy a number of unique interactions.

Another great success is the addition of challenges which offer a wide variety of goals, big and small, to work towards, allowing for extended gameplay and exploration of everything the game has to offer. Immersive, in-depth, and displaying the usual pervasive humour, The Sims 3 presents a familiar experience which feels quite at home on the console. Though there are a handful of niggles with graphics, controls, and inventory management, the game will steal your life.

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  1. Edward Edward says:

    An amazing review, Lorna! :D
    I dabbled in the Sims a long while ago and while I can’t run it on PCs, it sounds like I might have fun with it on Xbox regardless of the lack of expansions if I chose to dive into the series again.

  2. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    See, now this where I betray my inner graphic whore. I DO have Sims 3 for the PC, and it DOES look absolutely stunning… pretty much flawless actually when the reflections are enabled, resolution is full, and the antialiasing and anisotropic filtering are maxed. It appeals to me, and I really enjoy how beautiful it looks BUT… and this is why I’ll never be an outright graphic whore… I adore the simplicity of switching on an XBox and having it ready to be used within seconds, and no messing around with a keyboard and mouse. When you’re playing in the pitch dark through a projector, the XBox controller is much more user friendly than a mouse and keyboard.

    I played the original Sims game on my original XBox and, while I was expecting it to be tough to play with a controller, it was surprisingly easy… but there was nothing to do. Nothing. I played Sims 2 on the DS which, let’s face it, was nothing whatsoever like a Sims game other than they spoke Simlish… no customisation, no decorating, no build/buy mode… just pointless tasks to ultimately become Ratman. I completed it, and it was fun(ish), but it was pointless… and it wasn’t The Sims 2. I also played Sims 2 on the PSP, which was more tasks yet again and looked a lot better than the DS (as you’d expect) but the constant loading from the UMD disc was frustrating and so I never played it.

    Having watched some Sims 3 gameplay on the console last week, I have to admit that I’m certainly more taken with the Sims 3 console version than any of the previous Sims console games. The graphics are certainly more simplistic, in terms of the texturing, but you’d expect that from a console anyway. When I first heard that Sims 3 was coming out for the console I was initially very sceptical but, now that I’ve witnessed gameplay for myself, I’d probably give this a go. It’ll be quite some time though as New Vegas is swallowing what little time I have and the Explorer perk has opened up more undiscovered locations than I was expecting so, 89 hours in, I can’t see me finishing that game for quite some time. This one’s definitely a consideration though, oddly enough. Would be nice if you could turn on the antialising though as some places were a little too jaggy for my liking.

    Excellent, and very detailed, review… but “an obsidian tipped Clive Anderson”… the world is NOT ready for that! Sheb sheb! Abfladaah!

  3. Louis says:

    unfortunately this felt more like a comparison than a review. i dont game on my pc and dont care about how every feature compares to its pc counterpart.

  4. Lorna Lorna says:

    I can understand your point, Louis, but when a PC game has essentially been distilled down for a console release, some degree of comparison is to be expected. As a standalone console release it is good, though with a few issues.

  5. Adam Adam says:

    I managed to read everything in this review I wanted to find. 13 references to the PC version out of 3000 words is all part of the balance given the anticipation of the game for fans of the Sims that don’t have the option of playing it on the PC. Great Review Lorna :D

    I have my personal issues with the Sims. I’m way over my gripes against EA for the treatment of the first game and its many many many expansions, when I got around to playing the Sims 2 I found it to be a fun, rounded and complete experience. I just hold a grudge for what the game did to my digital representation of me, even though I love the game for doing it.

    Sims 3 sounds like a lot of fun and comprimises aside for the console version, it’s nice that they didn’t just direct port it and bash on compatible controls. They seem to have adapted it well to suit its purpose and I’m sure that helps. I like the sound of the challenges, it’s great when a game offers you a reward for doing something you hadn’t considered doing before.

    Given that I’m currently playing Oblivion as a spellcasting stealth wizard who steals shoes from the dead (and sometimes the living if they’re especially nice shoes), but doesn’t wear any shoes himself -Just for funsies – I think I’d get a real kick out of letting my imagination run riot and play the Sims differently to how I have in the past.

    Again, Great Review Lorna

  6. Samuel Samuel says:

    “You can create an insane, neurotic, virtuoso who has a green thumb and is afraid of water” – I think I’m friends with that guy.

    I played the original Sims, but the second game left me very cold. When I managed to install it, that is, and I’m pretty sure I’ve told you about the mass of problems I had getting it to not install in Chinese every time. Patching was a nightmare too. So I haven’t played a Sims game in years now, but this third game is starting to win me over again. If I were to dip back into the franchise though, it would be on the PC, and not on a console. Some games just need to be played on a PC, and the Sims is one of them. In my opinion, of course.

    Good review Lorna, and I’m really tempted to give the Sims another chance now.

  7. Ste says:

    Nice review Lorna. I spotted this on the shelves at Tesco the other day, it surprised me a little that EA were releasing it on a console and until reading this I hadn’t realised they had realised the previous two on previous consoles too. I’m with Sam on this one though, if I were to ever play this game then it would have to be on the PC. That’s not because I’m a graphics snob, its just simply the fact that the Sims is first an foremost a PC game. The console release for me seems like a cheap after thought to try and claw some more money out of this beast of a series.

  8. Richie rich says:

    Bah… too complex for my tastes. I’m slightly afraid of anything that has its roots in PC gaming I think.

    Good review though Lorn. Will go for the sweet max-a-roo?

  9. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    Ooooh now there’s a challenge! Max out the cheevs on the XBox. Good call, sir!!

  10. Lorna Lorna says:

    Thanks for all the great comments folks, very much appreciated as always :) I also agree with Samuel and Ste that the best place to play Sims 3 is the PC…for the expansions and mods more than anything, let alone the ease of controls. The console version is a nice relaxing title though and may be a gentle ‘in’ to the franchise for those who haven’t yet touched it. I still intend to play it is genuinely absorbing and a nice antidote to some of the more intense titles out there.

    @ Samuel – Now that there are a number of expansions for the PC version, it be worth a look since there is now much more to do and a few of the niggles have been ironed out.

    @ Rich…Oh yes, though surprisingly this one may actually take quite a while, since some achievements are tied into taking down vast numbers of challenges.

  11. Adam Adam says:

    It’s now on my LOVEFiLM rental list :D

  12. Kat says:

    Good review Lorna. I bought it last week while very ill and started to play it then got bored straight away but it was my own fault. I’d created me and the girls in Sim form as it was cute and the little ‘un found it funny but then I was “wtf? this is what I do IRL”. I think I’d give it another go with Lee’s idea to make the Sims people from Gaming Lives :D It’ll have to wait until Fable and Fallout have been seen to though.

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  14. tiffany joanis says:

    i would like to see more dlc for the sims3 i want to see you add a couple of different towns and more things in the dlc i want more sims i love the sims 3 i want more

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