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Last Updated: Monday, 20 September, 2004, 10:55 GMT 11:55 UK
Sims 2 plays with life addicts
By Jo Twist
BBC News Online staff

It has been four years since the game that lets the player be God over virtual people, The Sims, first hit PC screens.

Screenshot of The Sims 2
Characters will pass on their 'DNA' from generation to generation
Since then, it has made millions, sold millions and spawned several expansion packs. The Sims 2 is the first full overhaul of the hit game, however.

Electronic Arts and Maxis have added the extra ingredient of DNA into the mix and much more realistic 3D graphics, which gives the game an eerie feeling of reality.

Added to that, the gameplay is much more goal-oriented and feels more like a game because of the fears versus aspirations system of winning points.

Social bonds

The gameplay is still ultimately the same however: players must build and run the everyday lives of semi-autonomous virtual avatars, ensuring they sleep, eat, love, wash, entertain themselves, and earn money to do so, so they do not meet the grim reaper sooner than they should.

In other words, making sure they get the desired "work-life balance".

Screenshot of The Sims 2
Frankenstein's baby? You could see how your off-spring would look
Your Sims have also been injected with a bit more reality because they, in creator Will Wright's words, have become much more "socially aware".

Not only do your decisions you make for your Sims affect their lives, as usual, the decisions you make that drive their experiences are carried through their genetics.

So, your teen will remember experience from childhood that he or she carries through, like emotional baggage, to their adult lives. Something a player made happen to them may make them run away in later life.

Players also have far more control over what their Sim looks like, even down to the details of chin size.

They can even be modelled to look like the player. If a player goes so far as to model the Sim's partner on their real-life partner, they could have kids which look like a mix of the two.

Who am I?

Starting the game is a big commitment, not just technically but emotionally. The Sims 2 really epitomises the "from the cradle to the grave" philosophy.

When each Sim is created, players have to decide which area to move them into so they can start living.

By setting their aspiration levels, like the desire to be rich, you have to make them do things that feed their aspirations.

Screenshot of The Sims 2
Format: PC
Graphics: 9/10
Sound: 6/10
Gameplay: 8/10
Enduring appeal: 9/10
Overall: 9/10

Whatever aspiration you set will drive their demands. Failure to fulfil their aspiration levels satisfactorily will make for a very unhappy Sim indeed.

Once the short tutorials, which go through the controls and how to change perspective, are completed players can adopt a pre-existing family, or players can choose to create their own family.

Players can also opt to be property developers, building their house from scratch, or move into one with existing walls.

Because Sims can be moulded to preference, from hair colour to eyebrow shape, this can get quite time-consuming. You can choose their outfits for every occasion they are likely to find themselves in - from sporting garb to (sort of) sexy underwear.

You can even do their make-up. Forget real-life plastic heads which little girls get to practise make-up on. Doing it virtually seems much more fun. Players are free to create whatever freakish nightmares they want.

I tried to create my Sim family based on what my partner and I look like, including star signs and aspirations.

When it came to choosing my Sims' aspirations, however, I fretted over the options. Am I obsessed with my career or am I a romantic?

Remembering it was only a game, I proceeded to get on with the life of my creations and moved them into Strangetown, where dreamers go to seek out the truth.

Born and die

Choosing a neighbourhood to set up home in is simple, and each one comes with a history and its own neighbourhood politics. Players can add or adapt a town's story, and even make home movies of their Sims' lives in the town.

Screenshot of The Sims 2
Gamers have to keep their characters happy
From here on, the game gets familiar. Players are rewarded with some starting up funds and selecting and buying furniture that will cater for Sims' needs is straightforward.

What you buy them can earn you aspiration points, if they had made it clear a new fridge would make them happy, for instance.

It is here though that players have to be patient. Mastering the controls on the game and getting used to the 3D perspective was tricky at times.

But they do age quickly, moving from toddlerhood, to annoying teen, adulthood, then pensioner status, carrying their memories with them.

You can build an entire family tree in a few weeks or less.

The game is overall is as involving as a player wants it to be. In other words, big fans of The Sims will no doubt spend hours playing with genetics and running complex social networks in houses stuffed full of furniture.

The graphics are undoubtedly impressive, but require quite high specifications on a PC, particularly processing power, lots of spare space, and graphics oomph.

Those who are new to the title will spend a lot of time getting used to the whims of these little people and figuring out how to control them, but what is guaranteed is that every player's experience will be different, just like life.

The Sims 2 is out now for the PC

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