The next instalment of EA and Maxis' life simulator game comes to us in the form of The Sims 3. While the largest change from the original Sims to the Sims 2 was in the graphics department, the largest change going into the third instalment is in the gameplay. Where before, outgoing Sims were confined to their own home, they are now free to roam the town looking for new friends! (Or park benches to sleep on)
Even though your Sim can now explore the entire town freely, you're still unable to follow them into work, even though you'll be with them in the car taking them there, and while they desperately try to make it to the door in time. After that, you're stuck watching a building. One redeeming feature is that under the task for working, there's a dropdown menu with a few ways you can customize your day at work, for example you can Work Hard, which will increase the promotion meter, but make your Sim's Fun meter go down much faster.
In addition to this feature you will sometimes receive a workplace Opportunity, which gives your Sim a work-related goal they must work towards in order to gain favour at their job. This is one of the better additions as it lets you get into your Sims shoes and contribute to their job. For example, my Sim, "Bob Drifter" works in the criminal career. One day our courier fell ill and he was tasked with bringing a bribe to city hall to cover for a "job" that was to take place later that day. The next day at work, Bob was asked to stay a few hours late in order to count all the money from the heist. This is a huge improvement over the last two games, where your involvement in your Sim's job extended only so far as "Reach level x in stat n" and really brings the player into the life of their Sim.
The create-a-Sim tool is extremely well done this time around. While the game provides a large amount of items already, you can add textures from pretty much everything in the game to clothing, should you so wish to sport a hardwood-floor jacket. This is also where you decide the Sim's Traits, which allows you to customize your Sim's behaviour and will change many of the options they have when talking to other Sims. It's probably the largest factor in how you will play your Sim and how he or she is seen in the eyes of other Sims. The look of your Sim can be customized even more than before, with preset options, and the choice to change those just to your liking with multiple sliders. It's easy to make exactly the character you want.
Interacting with other Sims has been an enormous part of previous games in the series, and The Sims 3 is larger in this respect as well. You'll see loads of Sims around the neighbourhood, and you can even invite a friend along for an activity like going to the gym or eating at a diner. You can also pop over to any populated house and introduce yourself, or in the case of a friend, hang out and even stay the night. The Traits system plays a large role in talking to other Sims as well. As Bob is a complete mooch, he tended to ask to "borrow" a few Simoleons from just about anyone he met. When you discover the Traits of other Sims, you can use that information to your advantage. Naturally a Sim with the "Good Sense of Humour" Trait will respond better to a funny story or an inside joke than most others. With the graphical improvements, the animations also improve, giving the Sims more lifelike actions and facial expressions.
There are some outstanding issues, however. The pathfinding in the game is still horrendous, as Sims will bump into one another, (and promptly stop, of course) even when they're on the same path, going the same way. There were a few visual glitches as well, such as objects disappearing too early (before Bob could steal them), or walls not cutting away when entering a house.
The Sims 3, like its predecessors, doesn't have multiplayer. EA has basically done the same thing as with Spore and gone the route of accessing user-generated content as the online feature. Just about anything made by EA has a price to it, however. One nice bonus EA's given out is a free town with the purchase of the game, as well as $10 worth of Sim Points. Absent from the actual game are a few things The Sims 2 had in its expansions, such as pets, which will likely be added in with this store or via expansion. It's fairly disappointing EA chose that route, as including content they've essentially already made would be logical.
The Sims 3 is exactly what the next Sims game should be. While it's not a revolutionary step, it expands upon the concept, fixing most of what plagued the previous versions while adding worthwhile material. It's genuine fun and sucks you in for hours at a time. If you're a fan of the series, you probably own this already, and with the removal of annoyances like going to bathroom at a rate which puts hyperbole at the "accurate" level, it can appeal to the more hardcore. Plus, who doesn't like finding creative ways to butcher their lovingly-created Sim?