The Sims Life Stories PC Review
Life Stories is a new standalone game in the hugely successful Sims series. Lately we’ve seen many expansion packs, so many in fact even the most hardened fan would struggle to keep up. Fortunately for them they can probably give this a miss; Life Stories is a slimmed-down sideways step to draw in new gamers of the more casual and largely female variety. Much has been made of the casual gaming market and EA is clearly hoping to tap into this.
“Laptop Friendly” is proudly displayed on the box as EA have designed the game with the aim of making it easier than normal to play on the move. I installed the game on my girlfriend’s 2 year old Acer laptop and was amazed to see the game repeatedly crash after leaving the main menu. All drivers were up to date and the error message didn’t hint what the problem could be. System specs looked correct and the explanation was neither helpful nor impressive. This doesn’t mean it won’t run on most laptops but once again points to PC developers needing to manage errors better so we’re not left without any alternative other than returning the game.
On my gaming desktop PC things seemed to run fine. Out of the box the game runs in a window, enabling you to browse the net and use messengers at the same time. Casual gaming is the order of the day but for me this took the edge off the atmosphere. You can switch to full screen in the options but it would have been a good idea to ask the player up-front to let them know they have the choice.
Before starting I recommend all newcomers take advantage of the Learn to Play scenario. This walks you through the various features and how to switch between gameplay modes. It also covers new additions to the game for more experienced players. After this you can either proceed with Riley’s story, after which you unlock Vincent’s story. Think of it as a jumping into a sitcom where you control the characters. Once you do there’s a steady flow of things to do like find a job, get involved in a relationship and act on your sims’ ‘wants’ – a handful of thoughts from dreaming of a bookcase to tickling a prospective partner. Actions are queued up and they will complete these in order, though sometimes interactions will go uncompleted if the intended recipient walks away, which happens a lot as friends come and go as they please. It’s possible to leave your neighbourhood for cafés, the gym and other places, offering a nice change of scenery, but it did feel like living in a bubble instead of escapism.
Life Stories is a more approachable version of Sims 2, cutting out some of the more time consuming micromanagement like sending your Sim to the bathroom every time they need the toilet. But I still found sending them to the fridge and other activities very tedious. They randomly go about their lives and interact with others but on a fairly superficial level as communication is gibberish. Some will undoubtedly be put off by this approach and you’ll have to fully embrace the style to get into the game.
An alternative to story mode is the chance to embark on a Free Play adventure where you can create everything from house and family to neighbours. Free Play mode gives the game a big dose of longevity and makes the full-price tag more worthwhile.
Graphically the game is reasonable, with objects and people rendered in detail, though nearby surroundings can look a bit rough. However many will have difficulty controlling the camera, which features 3 methods of control: keyboard, GUI buttons and mouse. There’s the ability to rotate and zoom in and out and you’ll need the mastery of a director to watch the action from a good perspective. In Supreme Commander when you zoom in, the camera zooms to where your mouse pointer is, here this isn’t the case and you always zoom away from where you want to be. This or an automated camera would have posed other problems but too much time is spent messing with the viewing angle than getting on with the action. This is of course caused by the 3D nature of the game, and although much has been done to make the game user friendly it still comes across as over-complex. This problem continues into the GUI which is overloaded with icons; it looks nice but you have to hover over each one to see what it does. It’s fairly well designed but there’s just too much going on and it’s overwhelming at first. Once you get used to the methodology and take advantage of keyboard shortcuts you’ll be in for a much better experience.
The game features impressive buying and building modes, allowing you to build/improve your house and furnish it with an array of stylish items. This is largely optional and you only need to delve in as far as you want to. Which is good for those of us fed up with DIY in the real world! Ready-built houses have interesting yet believable layouts with good attention to detail.
Instead of music there’s background noise, though you can turn on the radio. In these simulation games I always preferred the approach taken in early versions of Sim City where a selection of funky tunes accompanying the action somehow made the game seem a lot more fun.
As a whole I felt under-whelmed considering the established nature of the series, instead of so many releases I’d prefer to see more advancement. There’s no hiding the fact some players will find this boring and I really didn’t find the experience a humorous one; a few animations like watching someone fall off the treadmill will raise a smile but this was largely a boring experience. As the video game equivalent of Big Brother – love it or hate it – it’s hard to argue Life Stories is more entertaining to watch. Despite having the power to influence play, proceedings feel detached and predictable. Trying to balance all the Sims’ needs was a constant annoyance and even when none were that low and she wanted a job she refused to look for one in the paper.
This isn’t recommended for fans of the series as there’s little new here, but Life Stories welcomes newcomers with open arms and offers a good taster of what The Sims is all about, whether you like it is another matter. If you’re open minded enough to overlook the lack of real conversations and patient you may enjoy the experience, just don’t expect to get into it straight away. With other Sims games available for less money it’s not easy to recommend and this comes across as a Sims game too many. It really needs an injection of fun.
Ultimately you’ll either like it or you won’t, depending on how interesting you find day-to-day activities.