Sims 3
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Billy busks for tips in the park

There is only so much The Sims 3 really needed to do to be a success; being the third generation of the biggest selling PC game of all time, a rabid fanbase was already in waiting. Although core gameplay values remain the same, the experience has been refined, levels of customization have exploded and the sims have truly 'busted out'.

Sending your sim out to work or on a 'hot date' will no longer see a patient car remove them from the in-game area off to an algebraic success/fail result. They will now seamlessly be transported to an area within the town, all of which can be navigated at will. There's nothing to stop your sim taking a walk, picking a random house and ringing the door bell to meet the eerily synthetic creatures within. All the town's other inhabitants go about their daily business, which makes it feel like your sims are now part of a wider community. The interactions that occur while outside are now just as important as the ones at home and the use of prompt taxis help sims travel long distances. Each sim has an inventory to allow them to use items wherever they may be and a mobile phone for easier organisation/interaction. Y'know, like real life. The changes are so logical and intuitive you hardly notice they have happened, and you won't believe you ever made it by without them.

Relentless micromanagement is still part and parcel of the game, but a more enjoyable balance has been struck between the toilet-trip and shower management of old and the bigger picture of careers and social interactions. Sims’ basic demands have been slightly lowered and their autonomy increased so you can concentrate on the interesting stuff (whatever that may be) rather than the mundane. Of course, completely neglecting them can still result in embarrassing accidents or missing the school bus, and getting all your sims to work in a fit state remains one of gaming's oddest real-time strategy challenges. An achievement in itself, especially when household appliances and bathroom fittings malfunction with insane frequency.

Certain in-game events such as a good meal or earning a promotion will now cause a 'moodlet': basically a stat (or mood) modifier. The moodlet's length and type of effect depends on the event. A sim's first kiss will leave them in a better mood for a couple of days, while coming home to dirty dishes will have a negative effect for a few hours.

The greatest new additions to gameplay are the wishes and opportunities. At any given time each sim will have up to four wishes dependent on their skills, personality and environment. Wishes vary from tiny goals such as 'bathe' , 'increase guitar skill' up to the more time consuming 'become best friends with...'. Achieving these actions will grant your sim Lifetime Happiness points which can be spent on new abilities or permanent modifications to their personality. This system of constant goal setting and feedback allows sims to appear more human and keeps you occupied completing challenges and seeking rewards. 'Opportunities' add the chance to earn extra money or increase performance at work, another example of how optional goals add structure to the sandbox world of The Sims.

As you would expect, the process of designing appearance has been graphically improved and given more options, but on top of this sims now have five personality traits chosen from a wide selection. My sim, Billy, seems to be doing pretty well as an over-emotional, artistic and ambitious virtuoso/party animal at the moment, but personality traits will have a complex effect on success at work, in relationships and for life in general. Identifying other sims’ traits is key to your sim getting along with them.

Levels of customization have been taken to new heights in The Sims 3, which will sit well with all the designers out there. A full colour palette and a pattern editor are at your disposal for wallpaper, household objects and clothes. The new and improved build mode includes diagonal walls and a range of features to really let you get creative with the architecture of your home. Custom objects, homes, sims and families can be uploaded and shared with the online community, as can videos of your creations at work, using the simple video editor included. Inclusion of a massively multiplayer option would have been good but EA seem to have side-stepped this and all the potential complications it brings.

Whilst sims can be controlled and watched walking around town, once they enter one of the town's locations for work or evening class they disappear from view and go about their business. It does stand out as the only time that your sims are hidden from your direct control although strangely, they are still able to meet colleagues/schoolmates. Exposing the activity within, I suspect, will be the subject of the inevitable expansion packs but could have been included to make a better, more complete game on release.

The Sims 3 is not just a make-over; by opening up the town it is a carefully executed evolution to the Sims concept and the exciting number of options opened up will mean you'll never look back to previous editions.

The town can be explored at your leisure