The Sims has always sort of stressed us out. In real-life, time management isn't a particularly challenging task. You can box your life into a series of coloured segments on a spreadsheet with relative simplicity. Fifteen minutes to get washed and dressed. Five minutes to check e-mails. Ten minutes to make breakfast. Ten minutes to eat breakfast while reading NeoGAF. You get the picture.
Even when you're life is at its most hectic, you can still manage your time efficiently. You might have to make compromises, but as far as we're concerned humanity is a strong nugget. You'll always find a way to get things done. Be it a complex essay, stressful deliverable at work or, in our case, getting through the terrifying Christmas release schedule.
No matter how hard it tries, The Sims isn't quite like real-life. It does a staggeringly good job of creating the illusion for sure — complete with all the ups, downs and dilemmas — but it does so in a way that makes it ridiculously challenging to manage some of the most inane tasks. Going to the toilet — for a pee no less — should not take fifteen minutes of game-time, nor should having a bath require anywhere up to an hour.
And that's what has always stressed us out. "Argh, I've got an five minutes to get to work and I haven't even eaten breakfast yet," we'll scream into our DualShock, terrified at the possibility of our Sim collapsing of starvation while attending his dead-end job and missing out on that all important promotion.
The Sims 3: Pets ups the hair-tearing affliction by, for the first time, adding playable pets to the already complex equation. Largely identical to last year's console port of The Sims 3, Pets maintains many of the issues from its predecessor. Controls are still finicky, loading times are exhausting and general interface and technical problems are still grating. But, much like its predecessor, the game's good enough, and unless you've spent hours and hours being driven to despair by The Sims 3's loading screens, then you're unlikely to find anything too frustrating in Pets.
Despite our love-hate relationship with The Sims, the series has always fascinated us just through virtue of its sheer ambition. And while The Sims 3: Pets is far from a revolution, it's pretty staggering just how far the series has come since its origins. Full towns and neighbourhoods give your Sims a wide variety of activities to participate in, and even the relatively small (by definition) addition of pets adds a whole new layer to the game's complexity. If you're willing to let it, The Sims 3: Pets could easily consume your entire gaming time for the next 12 months and you'd still come out of it without experiencing everything. It's staggering just how much content is included.
That's emphasised by a complete custom creation feature, that allows individually designed patterns and objects to be shared between players online. The options are exhaustive making the potential essentially limitless, giving The Sims 3: Pets the ability to expand enormously beyond its initial release.
Disappointingly, pets are limited to just cats and pooches — missing out on the PC version's horses, snakes, and gerbils. But using The Sims' character creation feature to design your furry friends is heart warming and time-consuming. We spent upwards of an hour trying to recreate all the unique markings on our digital cat to replicate that of our own real-life companion, and while the system can be a bit finicky, it provides the potential to get any design you want — eventually.
But it's the AI behind the animals that makes Pets such an exciting package. Like the mainline version of The Sims 3 you'll be able to assign personality traits to your animals, creating complex and startlingly realistic mood patterns for your friends. The staggering deep feature — which is also on offer for the human Sims too — allows you to carve out some pretty interesting social and personal scenarios. And that's the joy of The Sims isn't it — putting computer controlled personalities into extraordinary situations and seeing how they deal with it.
You'll also need to give your Sims ultimate life goals. Being budding business moguls we opted to give our Sim the ambition of being the CEO of a mega company, but our goals were hindered by our character's somewhat introverted personality. True to life, we put a lot of time into the Charisma aspect of our miniature alter-ego, desperately trying to raise his interpersonal skills to the level where he could become more than a lowly coffee shop courier.
Another issue we encountered with early Sims games was the franchise's distinct lack of structure. EA's rectified that by implementing a new "Wishes" system, a sort of in-game miniature achievement system that increases your Sims' overall happiness when completed. Objectives range from the defiantly simple — such as buying a new computer — right through to the desperately tricky — such as earning a promotion — and you'll be rewarded appropriately for each individual task. The system gives the game a bit more structure outside of its normal sandbox nature, and it means you're constantly working towards something in order to progress your character's well-being.
Impressively, much of the detail that is lavished on the human Sims characters is replicated across the pets, with animals able to go on adventures, seek out employment and befriend neighbours.
The whole universe is brimming with life. During our time with the game we happened upon a nocturnal neighbour and elderly gentleman that was terrified of cats. Needless to say it was hilarious sending our kitten round to stalk the poor gent.
An expanded Karma system also allows you to affect the game in a variety of different ways as you complete objectives. The 'Transmogrify' ability allows you to transform your pet into a human and take your relationship in a whole new (and somewhat weird) direction, while other abilities include the opportunity to refill your progress meters or simply give your Sim a bout of serious bad-luck.
Other additions include the inclusion of a Mystery Journal, a kind of centralised quest system that gives your Sims a variety of multi-tiered challenges to participate in. The addition is totally optional, but again provides you with a more structured alternative to playing the game.
It all culminates in a package literally brimming with content. The Sims 3: Pets is a staggering game that, despite being distinctly similar to its predecessors, manages to provide a sandbox of activities capable of consuming your entire gaming time for the foreseeable future. The inclusion of more structured activities makes the game much more accessible, without watering down any of the sandbox features that underlined The Sims' success in the first-place. Interface and technical issues come with the territory, but The Sims 3: Pets still does an admirable job of transforming the PC series into something palatable on consoles, and the inclusion of pets really does add an enormous layer onto the franchise's already bulging complexity.
The Sims 3: Pets depends on a specific sort of player to get the most out of it, but then that's nothing new for the series. If you like the idea of toying with a variety of human and now animal personalities, then this game should be right up your alley.