The Sims 2: Pets PS2 Review

You probably all know a fair bit about The Sims by now. It’s certainly fair to say that, even if you’ve never played it, you’ll at least have noticed the fairly maddening amount of shelf space that the series (and its many add-on discs) have enjoyed over the last few years in most games shops. Like it or not, The Sims has sold a lot of copies. Its widespread appeal wasn’t totally undeserved, either – it was a solid enough concept for most gamers to get their teeth into, not least due to the fact that it borrows a lot of RPG and management sim conventions (designing and building houses, moving people into them, looking after them, helping them get better jobs and form relationships through improving their skills, etc.), whilst also allowing teenage girls to pretend that they were actually just playing Big Brother: The Game. Teenage boys, on the other hand, were also able to get plenty of enjoyment out of the game by making their Sims drown, set themselves on fire, wee their pants in the living room, or whatever cruel fate they decided to come up with that day. I knew one kid who got his jollies by locking any ‘disobedient’ Sims in a dark cupboard containing nothing but a phone on the wall. But I digress.

As soon as you start the game, you’re treated to an excellently cheerful intro sequence, and asked if you want to try out the tutorial. I’d strongly recommend doing so, as the controls are a little hairy at times (which is no surprise, given that we’re dealing with a game that was originally designed to be controlled with a mouse). Five seconds into the tutorial, I watched helplessly as my dog pushed a rubbish bin over and urinated in my living room. I couldn’t help but wonder if the dog was having more fun than I was. Still, it does pick up once you’ve got used to the interface, although certain activities are pretty cumbersome no matter what. For example, you can’t tell a Sim to serve dinner, then watch him or her sit down and eat it. Instead, you have to go through the drudgery of serving the meal, selecting the food again, grabbing a plate, selecting a chair, sitting down on it, selecting the food again then eating the food. If there was actually any fun or skill involved, this might not be so bad, but if I wanted to spend forever just selecting actions from a bunch of menus, I’d play a Japanese RPG. At least their menus lead to flashy superpowers, as opposed to watching an old woman clean a toilet.

This is kind of where the game starts to fall down – you feel like you’re spending the bulk of your time just running around doing menial tasks. Sometimes it’s fun, but sometimes you just find yourself constantly juggling the Sims’ needs, and the game falls into an endless balancing act of “USE TOILET! EAT FOOD! WASH DISHES! HAVE A SHOWER! GO TO SLEEP! WAKE UP! EAT FOOD! USE TOILET! HAVE A SHOWER! FEED THE DOG! GO TO WORK! COME HOME! USE TOILET!”, and so on and so forth. Don’t we play games to get away from this kind of thing?

There are still moments of levity, of course. For a start, it’s clear that a lot of care has gone into the item descriptions, as most of them are just plain funny – personal favourites being the cheap dog food that comes in ‘brown flavour’, and a home stereo that claims to work by algorithmically generating all its tunes – a nice little nod to Will Wright, the original creator of The Sims. Furthermore, fluff aside, this is easily the most solid Sims experience to be found on a console yet, so it’s safe to say that anyone who has enjoyed a previous version will find this equally absorbing. It demands a lot of time from the player, but it’s sure to regularly award you with new items or jobs for your Sims, and at the very least it’s always sure to dangle the next carrot above your nose to hold your interest.

Still, we’re not just dealing with a regular Sims game here, but a tarted-up version of Sims 2 with the new ‘pets’ add-on thrown in for good measure. For the most part, the pets add-on is pretty substantial and fairly well implemented. You can easily create a pet (read: cat or dog) in much the same way that you create Sims. You start by choosing the breed (and there are a lot of breeds to choose from), then customise it from there – face/body shape, fur pattern, fur colour, tail length, clothing/accessories, and so on. For the sake of simplicity, all pet-related tasks and item purchases are kept separate from the regular Sims guff you’re used to dealing with.

Basically, as well as your usual simoleans, you also earn ‘pet points’. Pet points are earned by fulfilling your pets’ needs, and can then be spent on treats or toys for them, or to give them a wash, or whatever. So, making your pets happy gets you points, which can make your pets even more happy, which gets you even more points… and so on. Along the way you unlock new pet-related items to mess around with, to keep things interesting and give you something to look forward to. Furthermore, as well as having separate currencies, the game also has an entirely different area for you to visit in order for you to buy pet supplies. By wandering down the pavement outside your house, you can visit the town centre and socialise with other Sims, buy stuff for your pets, and so on. There’s also the option to bring your pets with you, and let them run around and socialise with the other Sims and pets.

The game is bogged down by a few technical issues, however. The game looks pretty enough, but it suffers for it. The loading times are pretty horrendous, and not just when you’re moving between areas – simply dressing your pet or visiting the town centre causes the poor PS2 to stutter a fair bit, which is a little frustrating. Additionally, I ran into trouble with the pet points system. One of my houses had completely run out of points, so I had a look at the next pet-task I had to complete to earn some more. It turned out that my dog wanted to have kids. Trouble was, pets can only mate with other pets from the same house, and he was the only dog in the house. And I didn’t have any pet points to buy another dog for the house. So, I was stuck. I dare say there’s a way around it (without cheating), but running around giving myself a headache for half an hour trying to figure out what to do wasn’t an experience I’d care to repeat.

Still, despite its flaws, the game manages to stand up fairly well. Building houses with the PS2 joypad is slightly awkward at times, but on the whole the game is a reasonably faithful translation from the PC version. It demands a lot of time, patience, and even outright drudgery at times, but if the near-constant promise of new unlockable material is enough to hold your interest, you’re in for a treat.

Oh, and Hilary Duff is in it.

Love it and it’ll love you back.

6.4 out of 10

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