As a more ‘hardcore’ game focused website, we do like to make fun of the casual side of things whenever the opportunity presents itself, but I’ve come to the realisation that  I don’t mind them. That is to say, I’ve played an awful lot worse. That sounds a lot more grim than The Sims deserves, actually, as it continues to be the perfect chill out, brain off, peaceful game with no risk of a rage quit.

I originally reviewed The Sims 3 on the PC a couple of years ago, and since then the game has seen a console release, a strange Medieval spin-off, and now pets return to the lives of the Sims, much like they have in previous iterations, but it brings with it a host of features which makes it a more memorable experience even without the actual domestic comforters.

In review (skip if you’re well familiar with The Sims later iterations), The Sims is a “life simulation” game which sees you taking control of a household, and managing the whims and needs of the occupants. The “needs” are handled simply enough by six ever-depleting bars of hunger, hygiene, bladder, sleep, social, and fun. The whims are dictated by the five personality traits (which are selected from a pretty comprehensive library of available traits) which feed into their preferred behaviours and four short term wishes and singular lifetime wish. Your sims also have skill attributes which can be built up through practise and training to increase their ability to interact with certain items, like logic for chess and astronomy, athletic for jogging and working out, cooking for, well, cooking, and many have a straight-forward way of being monetised.

The inclusion of pets don’t actually change the dynamics a great deal; they’re essentially sims in their own right, with relationships, needs, and wishes which all function much the same. Dogs have the need to destroy and cats have the need to scratch and they both have their own specific skill to level up. Cats hunt and catch things, and at the later levels of that skill, these ‘things’ stop being spiders and lizards and start being ghosts, poltergeists, and spectres. So while there’s no major shake-up in the mechanics, the coat of a furry exterior with enough of a twist makes inviting an element of destruction and claws into your home worthwhile.

What I really noticed beyond the pets, however, was the Mysteries Journal. The game makes a point of constantly reminding you to make a trip in to town to pick one up, and I was foolish to ignore it for as long as I did. The Mysteries Journal provides a narrative reason for you and/or your pets to explore the town and see the various sites. Prior to this, grinding the career ladder became a single minded goal which was achieved all too easily without straying far from the beaten path between work and home. The Mysteries Journal presents a set up for each of a good number of scenarios in the book, which will start a chain of tasks, which could mean befriending someone, or finding something, or even going into someone’s home and breaking something (as did my cats quest for the perfect couch.) Each step is presented in the delightful whimsy typical of a Sims game, and the humour that fits in with the other written aspects, like item descriptions.

Rewards and karma is something that’s been redone this time around, and rather than unlocking items for use (though that can happen by solving the mysteries in the journal) it unlocks powers, by building up the special currency you get when fulfilling wishes, which can then be spent on using these powers. The powers can make your sim lucky, or raise all their meters marginally, or they can be evil powers, like dropping all of a sims meters to zero, or inducing a feral possession in all the animals in the neighbourhood. Using a power when you don’t have the currency to do so can trigger an inadvertent evil power, which is not something you really want, but since it’s only a risk, it’s pretty cool that you can tempt fate like that.

Of course, like any Sim game, there’s a bunch of weird crap that can happen that can only be attributed to glitches and bugs (as opposed to the weird stuff that they put in there deliberately.) At one point, I had a guest pull out their guitar and start playing, only to never stop. The green stink coming off their armpits was clearly showing that the sim was in dire need of a shower, but as if possessed by spirit of one of those characters from that Glee show my girlfriend watches, they played on. Another time, there was a strange loop where sims would get in and out of the hot-tub, occasionally changing from swimsuit to being naked. The only that really irked me was that quite frequently whenever I told a sim to do something, they’d pause for a while before starting the process. The pause seems like the same length at all time-speed levels, which, given how impatient I am, meant that I was wasting an unusual amount of time waiting for my sim to get started on doing anything.

The last bullet point on this game is that it supports Kinect voice recognition. It’s a neat idea, but in practise there are simply too many commands to remember, and trying to play it with voice commands made me feel like I was playing a text adventure game with the old school two-word limit. Worse yet, because the amount of commands is so large, the game seems overly willing to accept random bits of background noise as a command, which is not so cool because my sim already does enough stuff that I haven’t wanted him to. Seriously Max Fightmaster, what is your deal with reading that one book over and over!?

The Bottom Line

The Sims 3: Pets feels like the definitive Sims experience, though probably whenever someone says that, a new one gets planned. In the past I’ve been put off by Sims expansion packs because they’ve seemed unfocused and geared towards the real Sim-crazy people who just enjoy the idea of messing around in a sandbox eternally. The Mysteries Journal fixes that issue and the achievements aren’t token throwaway things either, and some of them are pretty funny, like the Crazy Cat Lady one (Female, personality traits of Cat Person and Insane, living alone with multiple cats.)

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