Gigantic posters sporting the phrase "Let There Be Sims" cover billboards in Time Square and buildings in Los Angeles, signaling the release of a sequel to one of the best selling games of all time. Millions of dollars are being spent on television and internet advertisements featuring a glowing, green diamond, and the game sold over a million copies within its first week of retail. The fact that EA is able to get away with an marketing campaign equating The Sims 3 to the Biblical creation of light itself proves exactly how big of a deal the game is.
The Sims 2 added a lot to the formula started by The Sims. A life cycle was added, meaning there was more to living than either being a child or an adult, and the option to visit different locations gave more opportunities to explore the world. Seeing as The Sims is a franchise built around life simulation, being able to age and travel is sort of a big deal. Needless to say, The Sims 3 had a lot to live up to calling itself a sequel, especially considering the fact that The Sims 2 had upwards of a dozen expansion packs.
The most important aspects of The Sims remains. There's still no plot, there's still no end, and it's still about living vicariously though virtual people. It starts off very much the same, with the creation of characters or an entire family. There's a huge amount of customization, as could be expected, but random holes where there is a jarring lack of options. Hair styles, for instance, seem to be minimal, which is strange considering the ability to customize the hair color to almost unnecessary levels. Clothing also comes in an insane amount of varieties, and allows for nearly infinite possibilities. When making a character the visual improvements are most apparent, and while it isn't as large of a step up as it was between Sims and Sims 2 the graphics have kept up with the times.
After choosing a look and style, a few new aspects are entered into the equation: Character Traits and a Lifetime Wish. Character Traits add personality quarks such as being a workaholic, loser, kleptomaniac, or fearful of commitment. These work their way into the game as obviously as could be expected, modifying how they act and what makes them happy or sad. The Lifetime Wish is an endgame of sorts, and gives a character an actual goal to work towards. This makes the already human-like Sims feel more alive, and adds more depth to the experience. Similar features existed in The Sims 2, but it's expanded on so much it can barely be considered the same.
But additions to the personality system wouldn't work without an overhaul of needs, which is just what EA did with The Sims 3. The promise to "move beyond pee" was made early on, and it's now much easier to take care of basic functions. Instead of punishing players for forgetting to take care of the needs of their characters, they're rewarded for remembering. Being dirty won't mean the character explodes or dies, and it is much less frequent for a Sim to pass out or pee itself. It works well, and fixes some of the biggest issues with the past few games. Other aspects have also been refined as well, including the moodlets earned by completing small tasks randomly assigned throughout the day.
This is extremely important when the characters go to work, which, again, has seen a significant boost. Instead of a career being something the character simply disappears for from 9-5, a little drop-down menu allows for the player to pick exactly how each work day will play out. By choosing "Work Hard," "Suck Up to Boss," or "Take it Easy," it's easy to feel more in control of everything that happens. On top of that, occasional challenges will pop up, giving Sims the option to complete acts to please their boss, making a raise or promotion more likely.
And, of course, spending that money is equally important. Upgrading and building homes is much, much easier and more customizable than it was in past iterations of the series. It's simple to add another level to a home and design individual rooms, making creating a dream house as easy as possible. Filling the rooms with furniture and items is a snap as well, and before long you'll feel like a little girl, sketching out her dream home. Or, you know, a manly man... sketching out his dream... pad. Whatever, it's cool, simple, and a welcome layer of polish.
The final enhancement, and one that might be the largest, is the scale of the game. No longer is the family on house arrest, and the walls of loading that surrounded every action have been removed completely. Now, Sims can go for a walk, travel to the theater, visit friends' homes, or even mourn their dead at the graveyard. It's seamless, and means that the game world is now much more important than it was before. It works its way into every aspect of the game, and single-handedly justifies the game's label as a sequel.
There are sharing tools, but none are as deep as Spore's, though it would have been a welcome addition. Being able to mark friends and have their Sims wander and move in to your town seems like a natural blending of the two games but sadly it wasn't available. Instead, a basic sharing option is offered, which allows for players to swap decorations and characters in an external browser. Being able to create videos is also a feature in the Sims 3, but it, too, is held out of game. These don't really hurt the experience much, but hinder the series from moving to new places, and with EA's record it should have been better implemented.
It isn't hard to recommend The Sims 3 to fans of the series. It is, after all, a highly improved version of the past titles. Additions fix some of the notorious flaws of the game, while others solved problems that most likely didn't even know it had. It's charming, simple, deep, and addictive, just like all of the games in the series before. Even if you didn't find yourself a fan of the past few it might be worth trying The Sims 3, you'll likely find that most of the problems are solved and there's definitely room for a few more fake people in your life.