I have a confession to make: I have never played a Sims game before writing this review. Ever. Have I seen videos and screenshots and other people playing the games? Yes. Who hasn't on some level? But I have not felt inspired to play it before. It just didn't seem like something I would play. So when an expansion pack was sitting around the office (so to speak) for awhile, it just felt like the right time to finally discover what I was missing. This is a review of The Sims 2 Double Deluxe and Apartment Life with a strong emphasis on the latter.
Anyway, there is no overarching plot to tie it all together. It's all about how you want your characters to exist. It's all about what you think a meaningful life should be. So you can create a character (done with an exceedingly potent character editor that lets you edit almost every single pixel of a character's visage along with personality) who lives by himself and has a ton of friends. Or a working girl who focuses on her family. A couple who grow old together. It's all there. Go nuts with it.
This is all connected to the game play. As you might already know, each Sim has his or her own needs. These needs are hunger, hygiene, environment, bladder, social, energy, comfort and fun. If the Sim's needs are not met he'll throw a brief fit and then proceed to do what you told him to. Unless it's something major, in which case they'll either fling themselves toward the proper environment item (like the fridge or die of hunger) or they'll pass out (lack of energy) or urinate in the pants (bladder). Furthermore, each character can earn skill points in a variety of different areas. Each area helps out in different ways. For example, if you have a character focus on mechanical things, he'll be able to fix things with far less effort than someone who has no experience. The same is true for body, which will help keep Sims healthy. Or even cooking. Higher cooking skills allow a Sim to cook more complex meals and lowers the chance of creating a fire. Thus, even if you create the same Sim over and over there is no real guarantee that you will see the same events unfold each time. Or even the same skill sets and jobs will be developed. This creates a highly customizable world for one to enjoy.
Usually in a Sim's world, that person lives in a house of some sort. But with the expansion pack known as Apartment Life that all changes. You can choose what type of apartment complex to live in (one bedroom and one bath or a two bedroom one bath apartment). Just like in the real world, you only have so much space to put everything together. You only have so much space for it all to work. And as far as I can tell, The Sims 2 benefits from having closed-in quarters. Unlike houses that have multiple doors that'll let them take which ever route they like (oh, yes, Sims can be that naïve!), it forces them to go where they are needed. No weird little detours that take them outside and walk all the way around the house even though the phone/oven/television is right in the next room 15 steps away.
It also allows even more emphasis on the companionship element of the game. Friends and acquaintances are just a floor or two away. Run down stairs and hang out. Or you can still call that person if you are friends. Or you can call a taxi and go to a community lot (a place anyone and everyone can go to hang out). Regardless of where your Sims live, it's never truly difficult task to meet other people and fulfill the friend requirement for jobs.
With the "aid" of Apartment Life you can become friends with and marry a witch (the "bad" witches look like the old stereotypes thanks to a certain classic film) which then allows you to start casting spells. Unfortunately, I haven't had much luck with running into them or even becoming friends with them so I wouldn't know how well it works out. There is also a reputation system which I'm not too certain how it works, but it has to do with how well Sims have heard of your character. But it feels right. It feels like something that natural belongs in the universe. But I think it helps to force someone (a non-playable character) to do something that you want them to at the expense of reputation points. Of course, I could be seriously wrong about which point values it drains.
For me, this is an incredibly addictive game. But I do have a few complaints that need to be voiced. First of all, time can slip by rather quickly. Each second of real world time translates to a minute of game time. An hour in game is 60 seconds long. As such, it can take a fair amount of time to do something and then BAM! You character needs to go to work or sleep or eat and that takes up even more time. It just feels like there's not enough time to do everything. This is connected to my second complaint: it feels like certain actions take far too long to be completed. Making the bed takes 20 minutes (or so it seems) while I can do it under two in real life. Or waiting for a certain need to be sated can take hours. Now granted, this is all based upon the personality of the character. But still. It feels like a balance issue. My third issue is one that I have previously written on: The Sims' behavior can be downright dim-witted. Sometimes they'll take the trash ALL the way down at the bottom of the apartment complex when there is a decent trash receptacle on their current floor. Or to get to the oven they'll wander all over the place until they get there. Or they'll easily get distracted when you give them a series of commands. It can be downright maddening wanting them to clean up the dishes and tell them what to do next -- only to have them skip that command and complete the following one. It makes me wonder if this is a programming fault or a quirk of a Sim's personality. Sort of like a certain lollipop, I guess I'll never know.
However, despite all of the game's quirks, I love The Sims 2. This game is dangerous to my gaming time. I'll sit down and play sometime in the early evening and the next thing I know it's dinner time (or well past my bed time) and I need to stop. The only other game to have captured my attention that well is Civilization III (or as I like to call it: Civacrack III).
But what you guys need to know is the bottom line: Is Apartment Life worth your hard earned cash? My response is "yes." But then again, I have not been playing the Sims as long as everyone else so I might not be able to discern expansion pack quality very well. All I know is that it perfectly fits into the game play. Heck, this is something that probably should have been in the game in first place. I think that it shows off the skill of the programmers involved this game that it is so seamlessly interwoven into the game. So die hard Sims 2 fans might want to check it out. And for newbies who are just getting into the Sims 2 Universe, this is a no-brainer. For $60 you can get your hands on the Double Deluxe starter "kit" and the Apartment Life expansion pack. And you're getting a lot more gaming time than most next-gen games. So if you have any doubts about the games, just go for it. It's a ton of fun. So now that I'm hopelessly addicted to this game, I guess this means I'll have to drag Winehouse with me to rehab. Divine help us all.