The Sims Life Stories PC Review - 26/07/2007

The countless number of special editions and expansion packs may have led many to believe that the franchise was beginning to run dry. But the recent release of a new spin-off series has successfully re-energised this popular brand.

Although a great deal of criticism has surrounded the apparent ‘milking’ of the Sims franchise, EA have taken steps to ensure that The Sims 2: Life Stories is perceived as the beginning of a genuine sequel/spin off, and not yet another expansion of the previous games. The introduction of a more focused narrative is certainly a first for the series and is the most significant addition featured in Life Stories. This creates a more structured gameplay experience by setting clearer goals for the player.

Thankfully, the classic Sims elements that have made the series so popular have been retained. The return of the original free play mode ensures that veteran fans of the series won’t be put off by the any of the new features. Other enhancements include seamless integration with instant messaging chat programs (allowing players to talk with others and even check their e-mails whilst playing the game) and expanded controls providing greater flexibility when you’re constructing your dream home or landscaping a Ground Force inspired front garden. The game is therefore a much more substantial offering than some of the limited expansions that have been brought out in recent years.

The original Sims titles were genre defining given how technically accomplished and superbly accessible they were to gamers of all ages and abilities. Life Stories is still all about simple life management, but thanks to the newly implemented story mode things have been shaken up quite considerably. For example, your Sim's aspirations are now focused on achieving certain things within the particular story that he or she is destined to live out. It is these key achievements that help progress the story and allow the player to better judge the progress their Sim is making in life. This change is subtle enough to ensure that fans of the series won’t feel as though their level of control over the game has been diminished, but significant enough to attract gamers looking for a less freeform experience from the Sims brand. Other aspects have remained largely the same, with minor tweaks to the building construction and room customisation options rounding out the remaining upgrades. On the whole, The Sims Life Stories is a polished and well refined product that marks the beginning of a welcome new direction for the franchise.

However, like a lot of games nowadays, the technical specifications have to match the quality of its gameplay, and for a series as long running as the Sims, this couldn’t be more true. The stylish graphics of past Sims installments have remained largely the same. The frame rate and engine stability has been significantly improved upon over past installments. There are fewer instances of slowdown on lower end machines and faster loading times overall. The simplicity of these enhancements may make them appear trivial, but when viewed in a wider context they make the game run much more efficiently.

The Sims remains one of those timeless classics that doesn’t demand too much commitment from the player, and yet always remains engrossing no matter how often you play it. It seems that this has remained the focus behind EA’s new direction for the series. Life Stories is, at its core, a slightly better looking, more stable version of The Sims 2. The gameplay itself hasn’t changed very much at all, and your control over the personality and attributes of your Sim has remained largely the same. To be honest, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as there are enough technical improvements to warrant this latest rebranding, and the new story mode is a logical development over previous efforts. While this certainly isn’t an innovative product, one wonders what other territory the series can cover without radically altering the core experience it provides. The last thing that EA needs to do is alienate its devout fanbase.

The stories themselves, although basic in structure, make for an interesting diversion before you dive into the free play mode. The fates of Riley and Vince, (and their respective success with the opposite sex) provide the focus of the events that occur. The challenge of managing your Sims in the story mode has been reduced to a minimum. This is possibly to ensure that those new to the series aren’t thrown in at the deep end of hunger tantrums, irate friends, and spontaneous needs for the toilet. For those looking for a real challenge, the free play mode will be your best bet. Although entertaining, the difficulty of the stories has been set too low, even for first time players. This is something that can be remedied in the sequels, The Sims Pet Stories and The Sims Castaway Stories.

It will be interesting to see if future installments will build on what has been established in Life Stories. For now, this is thoroughly enjoyable new take on the tried and tested Sims formula. EA have succeeded in giving the franchise a new lease of life.

- Jon Titmuss



EA Games