Other than briefly dipping my toes in the demo of SimGolf, I'll freely admit that The Sims phenomenon had, until recently, largely passed me by. Sure, I know it's the best-selling PC game of all time, with open-ended gameplay and a thriving fan base, but didn't realise exactly why until I was given the sequel to review.
While it follows the same lines as its predecessor (so I'm told) and revolves around the creation, control and development of simulated people with individual needs and personalities, The Sims 2 brings with it some new developments that should keep the experience fresh to existing players, as well as attracting new ones. The first of these is a brand new 3D engine, which replaces the sprite-based graphics of its predecessor. This renders each of your little computer people (a brief nod to the very first sim game, there) and their environments in glorious detail - scroll in close enough and you'll see the brand name on the new VCR your sim just bought. You can also exert far more creative control over their surroundings, even going as far as building a home from the ground up, if you've got the inclination.
Alternatively, you can just dive right in, like I did, and start playing with the pre-configured sims that come with the game. Keep them happy by fulfilling their needs - which can be as simple as buying them a new chair, or as difficult as getting a job promotion - and they'll live longer. Let them fall prey to their fears and you could find that they lose their marbles (which is pretty entertaining), or even keel over and die (which isn't). Your sims can also get out more, with communal areas like the park or mall at their disposal, and they build memories, which can affect how they act/respond in later life. Should your sims be lucky enough to find their soul mate (or unlucky enough to be kidnapped by aliens), they pass their genetic heritage to their offspring, and you can watch families develop and branch out from even the simplest beginnings.
The game isn't perfect, and you can find yourself cursing your sims for their apparent inability to step around each other, not to mention the sometimes awkward navigation when building or redesigning home interiors, but these aren't enough to stop you coming back for more, or being unable to take a break for fear you'll miss something.
Score CardVisuals: Comprehensive attention to detail that may be a little hard to swallow for under-specced machines
Audio: Entertaining for the main part, but can become a little grating after extended play
Gameplay:Totally immersive and often extremely frustrating
Publisher: EA Games