The Sims: Pet Stories PC

The Sims, or The Sims 2, or Sims 2: Pets, or Sims Life Stories, or…

Yeah, yeah – it’s another Sims game. If you didn’t know any better, you could be forgiven for thinking that EA’s new strategy is to make sure that, by 2010, no living person is more than five meters away from a copy of, or add-on pack for, The Sims. Pet Stories is a little different from the usual offering, though – as the name implies, they’ve actually had a stab at including a narrative this time around. Although the game is playable in the usual ‘free’ mode as per all other Sims titles, Pet Stories gives you the choice of playing through two story-based modes, which give you a series of specific goals to achieve, complete with bits of expositionary dialogue between characters. But is this a valid way to revive a franchise, or a cynical re-hash that attempts to bring back life to a game that has already done everything it set out to do?

First problem – while you can play Pet Stories like any other Sims game (albeit not before finishing both of the available stories), it won’t allow you to install any of the Sims add-on packs. So if that’s the kind of thing you’re after, you’ll want to divert your attention elsewhere – towards a copy of Sims 2, for example. Considering that Pet Stories retails at full-price, this seems like a fairly cheap tactic to squeeze more money out of the consumer – after all, Sims fans have proven time and time again that they’ll cough up for any old tat, so it’s no real surprise to see the exploitation taken to a new level, is it?

Secondly, the box proudly proclaims the game to be ‘laptop friendly’ – all this really means is that if your laptop goes into standby mode when you close the lid, the game will automatically save your progress, then re-launch when you return. What this most definitely doesn’t mean is that the game will run acceptably on most laptops – despite the game’s presentation being relatively simple, if your laptop isn’t relatively well-spec’ed you can forget it. It’s less demanding than The Sims 2, but was still unplayable on my two year-old laptop.

Still, what about the new content? The first scenario has you playing as Alice, who is currently running the risk of losing her house unless she comes up with a tonne of money in a couple of weeks. Apparently, the best way of doing this is to train her dog to take first prize at a dog show, then using the prize money to secure her home. Which is all well and good, but all it really boils down to is a series of simple tasks, which you have to complete in order, strung together by some competent but ultimately forgettable dialogue.

The problem with Pet Stories – and all the other titles in the ‘Stories’ line, for that matter – is that they seem to be unaware of what made The Sims such a success in the first place: freedom. The Sims worked because you made everything yourself – the houses, their occupants, their lifestyles. The gibberish dialogue even allowed you to create your own narrative as you went along, as you were allowed to imagine that your Sims were saying whatever you liked. That was the whole point of The Sims, and by taking all that away, and giving you the houses, Sims, and story on a plate, you’re left with an experience that feels really restrictive, and not an awful lot of fun.

Of course, some people will still get something out of it, because at the end of the day, it’s The Sims, and everybody loves The Sims, right? As a gift for one’s significant other or teenage daughter, it’ll certainly do its job. But you might at least want to wait until it comes down in price, first.

It’s The Sims again. Only without the stuff that made it fun.

4 out of 10