The Sims 3 Review

By Michael Thomsen - Posted Jan 11, 2011

The Sims 3 is the anticipated console port of 2009's remarkable life simulator. It's not an ideal way to experience the hypnotic joys of managing a Sims' lifetime, with menu-heavy controls and too many loading screens. Still, the core experience is wonderfully subtle and capable of creating its magic even within the limitations of the platform.

The Pros
  • Core gameplay still mesmerizes
  • Fantastic customization options
  • Options to create and trade objects online
The Cons
  • Controls can be awkward
  • Only one city to play in
  • Frequent loading screens

The Sims 3 Review:

Few games can claim to have invented an entire genre, and even fewer retain total ownership of that genre after a decade and 100 million games sold. Yet that’s the case for The Sims, one of the most imaginative games ever made and a challenge to the violent hyperbole that most typically dominates the gaming landscape.

The Sims 3 on consoles is a decent addition to the legacy but it also shows some of the quirks of age and, as with other console ports of The Sims, is an unnatural fit to controllers. The core game remains beguiling and voyeuristic, but the experience on consoles is more broken up and limited than the PC version.

Lust for Life

Like its predecessors, The Sims 3 is essentially an acquisition game. The lifetime of each Sim is a challenge of getting new furniture, clothes, more money, friends, career opportunities, children, property, and character attributes. You’re limited in this process by the lifespan of your Sim, so you’ll have to balance the want to get everything in the world against the reality of having time enough to maximize only a few of these categories. Which career will you excel at? Which hobbies will you master? Or, if you’ve got a nose for the comic suffering, how much squalor and social decrepitude will you goad your Sim into? It’s a subtle and charming game concept, and The Sims 3 offers the most variety of any game in the series.

In contrast to most popular games these days, The Sims 3 retains the series’ indirect controls. On PC you’d use the mouse cursor and keyboard to issue general commands (e.g. go here, make a painting, cook some waffles) but wouldn’t have direct control over each individual action. You’re more of a life coach than a vicarious actor. What works perfectly on PC is an awkward fit for dual analog controllers. The controls work well enough on consoles, but they never feel natural.

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The left analog stick is used to move the cursor around the environment and the right stick zooms in and out. The right and left bumper buttons tab through you Sims’ various wishes, moods, and statuses, and the face buttons are used to confirm commands and pull up additional information about a given wish or status. When the cursor is moved over an object in the environment you can hit the A button to bring up a menu of all the possible interactions you can instruct your Sim to have with it, from moving to a new spot to repairing a leaky faucet. It all works as well as could be hoped but this kind of menu-heavy, cursor-driven experience is simply not native to consoles and it always feels like a minor inconvenience.

I’m an Xbox 360 and I’m a PC

One of the biggest additions to The Sims 3 was the concept of the city. Your Sims were now able to roam around all the various points of interest from the beach to the mountains to the downtown areas, meeting different Sim characters at each point. The city was a continuous environment on PC, but for console the city has been divided into several smaller sections separated by short but unavoidable loading screens. These loading screens aren’t disastrous but they do intrude on the natural pace of the game.

Managing even two different Sims can quickly turn into a start-stop process of switching back and forth between different parts of the city, waiting for the load, then giving another few instances of stuttery frame rate performance in the new area. These aren’t great inconveniences to deal with, but they are constant reminder that everything about The Sims 3 is designed for PC and not console. Another disappointment is that the console version limits you to only one city with the same cast of characters for each new game you want to start. The systems are still detailed enough to reward several play-throughs, but it does start to feel a little dry without also getting a new city with new characters to meet. 

Karma powers--a new feature for console players--give your Sim a temporary bonus in a particular attribute. They’re an attempt to make some of the laborious challenges more instantly gratifying to console players. If you don’t want to go through all the conversational legwork of flirting with a neighbor to get them to like you, you can instead use a Karma power to make yourself temporarily irresistible. Karma works as intended in some cases, but it’s based on the acquisition of Karma points by completing wishes for Sims so that it quickly gets folded into all of the other long-term planning elements of the game. Likewise, the deepest charms of The Sims don’t really come from seeing a particular event happen onscreen, but instead from the meticulous planning, waiting, and hoping as you aim for a particular goal. Having a power that makes some of those goals instantly achievable diminishes that charm just a bit.

We’ll Make No WooHoo Until It’s Time

The Sims 3 is still a fine experience on consoles, one that has no imitators and no betters anywhere else. The game is a big statistical maze of life possibilities, some comic and some disarmingly realistic. While it’s clear the game wasn’t designed with console hardware or controllers in mind, I still found myself inevitably drawn into the wonders of experimenting with someone else’s life while patiently staring in at them through the dollhouse window of my television screen.

It’s a dreamy experience, both slapstick and serene. No one’s understanding of video games can be truly complete without some experience of it. The console version of The Sims 3 is a workable, but inconvenient port of this wonderful experience. It’s not ideal, but The Sims 3 is a game that can work its magic even in unideal settings.

Still want to play it? Why not rent it at Gamefly?