Review: The Sims 3: Pets
November 9, 2011, Author: Andy Corrigan
It seems that after a lifetime of not really bothering with the Sims as a series, with this very piece I’ll have reviewed two of the games in relatively quick succession (with another on the way). The Sims 3: Pets is the latest title out of EA’s stable (fnar fnar!), introducing dogs and cats (and horses, in the PC version) into the plate-spinning life simulator that is the Sims 3. What separates this Pets edition over the previous expansion from Sims 2, is that you can now control the animals that are in your household; after all, they’re part of the family!
Released as an expansion pack on PC, but as its own separate game on other formats, EA have put a lot of marketing power behind this title. Do pets win prizes or is it a big, steaming dog turd?
No fate but what you make…
This is a Sim’s game, pure and simple. You don’t have any story laid out for you; you create your own by crafting your own colourful cast of characters (and now their pets) and interfering in their lives as you feel the need to. It’s a sandbox on every level, providing you with the tools to create and build, then just lets you experiment and see what the results are. You can try your best to keep your household happy and cater for their every whim, or you can be a complete bastard, torturing them at every opportunity; it really is your choice. You can’t win, you can’t lose; you just play.
Even though for consoles it’s a standalone game, you still have to manage the human Sims as much as you did before, and as much as you will the pets. Try to think of it as the base Sims 3 game with the Pets expansion already installed. Case in point: Although the town and locations are different, you’ll find that a lot of the challenges and interactions are exactly the same as in the standard version of The Sims 3. That said, to make it a little more centred on the animals, nearly all the achievements are based around your furry companions, and these can be a lot of fun to work towards.
The first port of call when starting a new game is creating the members of your household. You can create up to six initial members in any combination you like. The creation process for the humans is practically unchanged from Sims 3, although there are a few new options and styles to select along with it. The creation tool is actually pretty powerful and has almost limitless possibilities, letting you change nearly every facet of a person’s look and being, right down to the finest detail. For example, not only can you choose what they wear from a wide base selection, but you can also determine what material it’s made from and the colour of each possible segment, meaning you can really create something unique to your tastes. Like a t-shirt but think it’s the wrong colour? Change it. It’s really that simple.
As with the aesthetic design, you still have to select certain character traits and a lifetime wish that will affect the way the game plays, and there are plenty of new ones that make use of the pets’ inclusion. Rather than just making them witty comedians, angry loners or never-nudes, you can now make someone a Dog or Cat Person or you can make them allergic to fur; an interesting dynamic in itself. Each has an effect on your game, both negatively and positively, with how your Sim interacts with others.
When it comes to creating your initial pets, you start by picking a base breed of animal, of which there are an insane amount (you can even make a Dingo; best keep it away from your baby!), and then you can tinker as much as you like after that.
You can make your base dog a Labrador, for example, and then make it a mongrel by giving it the snout of a Bulldog and giving it shorter or longer hair. You can change the size of their ears, their markings and colours, and pick their starting age between puppy/kitten, adult or elder. Just as with the humans, you can give them traits, making them smart, friendly to other animals, afraid of water or have them as destructive little bastards. Again, just as with the humans, there’s a lot of dynamics and variants to play around with that will have an impact on how you experience the game.
After all the creation is done, you can choose your home from those affordable in the new town of Sugar Maple Coast (Appaloosa Plains on the PC), and then you can start taking care of business!
Into the game then, and the controls are for most part unchanged. On consoles they’re mapped the same as in the last game, and they’re not at all difficult to get to grips with, though PC players making the transition might struggle at first. It’s pretty much a case of selecting a Sim, moving the cursor to what you want them to interact with and hitting A to see your options.
Xbox 360 owners will be delighted to hear that there is some interaction with Kinect and although it’s voice control only, it works simply and effectively. By saying ‘Show voice commands’ the game will bring up a list of ways that you can control your Sims. For example, switching between Sims is easy with a shout of ‘Switch to Sim 3’. From there you can control their actions, such as asking your dog to roll over by saying ‘Roll over’ when in control of an owner, or telling your dog to ‘Play’ when in control of him. It really does help the flow nicely, speeding up the process of queueing up tasks. Just make sure your real-life partner is aware before you start playing it this way, otherwise you might have them running down the hall to see what it is you’re saying, just as I did when my wife was playing…
Into the game and you can see exactly how the pets change the formula a little. As a human you can play with them, love them, be nice to them or be mean to them and they’ll react to you accordingly. On their own accord, they’ll behave true to life; an untrained puppy will pee all over the house, while kittens will be scratching the hell out of your table leg the moment your back is turned. You can, obviously, train them out of this by scolding them when they’re bad and treating them when they’re good.
When they get to adulthood you can teach them new tricks and skills, which may eventually turn into new traits. For example. a dog that digs often will become adept at finding treasure and that will be added to their skill-set (in fact, I made more money from the dog digging relics up than I did from sending the owner to work). Again, you can let all this happen by being an active owner, or you can control them directly. There’s really so much to toy around with.
What’s true across all Sims, however, is that you need to manage their relationships and friendships. All Sims, human or animal can fall in love, have Woohoo (Sim-sex) to have young, and they all have their own family trees too. Naturally, though, you’ll end up micro-managing the humans slightly more, and here you need to be careful. Love your pets you might, but if you do anything to spook them, such as setting fire to your stove when they’re nearby or even just mistreating them often, they might run away. If they do desert you, your best bet is to report them missing via your phone, and hope that someone will either spot them, catch them and bring them home to you, or at least tell you where to find them. You might get lucky, though, and find them yourself by wandering the streets.
There’s lots of silliness to experiment with along with the day-to-day stuff. Once again, Karma powers return that, in exchange for building up wishes, can be used to have both negative and positive effects on your household. Before you could give the Sims extraordinary good fortune or make them endure an earthquake, among others, but now there are lots of new ones, especially for the pets. You can, for example, make your pets possessed, and while yes, it’ll have a negative effect, it’s fun to play around with.
One thing that comes into effect here is if you use more Karma than you should, the game will occasionally pause and tell you that the mighty Plumbob will decide your fate, before playing a game of Russian Roulette with the Karma powers and forcing one on you. It certainly helps keep you on your toes, but the negative ones can often come at the worst possible time.
When successfully catering for the whims of your household and completing challenges, you’ll also earn points to spend on Lifetime Rewards. These are little perks or modifiers that will help you manage things a little easier (or harder, if you want to go that way). For example, you can buy your cat nine lives, so that you don’t lose him to old-age as quickly as might otherwise happen; or you can make your dog naturally clean; or in the case of the humans, make them quicker when it comes to household chores. Using some of these will certainly help speed up things and allow you to concentrate on more of the fun stuff to do around the town.
If there wasn’t enough content before all that, then you’ll be pleased to know that a lot of the features from the Ambitions DLC from the PC version have made it in too, so you can buy a workbench and become a wacky inventor or choose a career as a ghost hunter, which is actually a lot of fun.
Speaking of ghosts, something else that adds some much-needed direction is the new side mission to become a Mysteriologist. Seems that there are a series of strange goings on around town, and you can go around investigating and solving many of the mysteries behind them. To fully investigate each new mystery, you have to fulfil certain criteria. One might require you to have a dog with a level 2 digging ability, or one might see you need some form of ghost-trapping equipment.
For example, one led my dog on a wild cat chase, as he tried to work out which neighbourhood feline was leaving him scents, while my cat had his own quest to sample the most comfortable furniture in the town. Both of these unfolded into different, wackier plots that resulted in saving a lost child and finding a ghostly cat..
For the equestrian fans amongst you, you might be disappointed to discover that there are no horses on the console versions. However, if you’ve picked this up on PC, you can visit stables to ride and adopt horses. Should you get so far, you’ll even be able to buy and build your own stables, train the horses for racing, and ride them around the town.
Thankfully, even without the equestrian portion on consoles, there’s a metric ton of content to experience. Seriously, there’s just so much to keep yourself occupied with here that it’s literally impossible for me to go through everything, and half the fun is figuring things out and exploring all the possibilities for yourself. Rest assured it’s a game that’s fun and rewards those who put the time in.
Not looking dog-rough…
You’ll find no real surprises with the visuals; it looks just as it always did, pretty and functional with few issues to report. With previous experience on the 360 version of the standard Sims 3 game, I can definitely attest that Sims 3: Pets looks a little sharper than its predecessor and the frame-rate is also just about superior. It still has the odd moment where it chugs a little if you’re progressing time at full speed, however the improvement is just about clear.
Elsewhere for the console version, the text size has been increased greatly since the last iteration, which is a blessing on the eyes. Note that it does mean a lot of scrolling in menus, especially when looking at challenges, but at least you won’t go blind.
There are no surprises with audio either. You get all the usual background sounds of a household as your Sims go about their daily lives, while the addition of animals further adds to the homely experience. They’ll bark and meow as they play or fight, and create all the types of noise you’d expect. You also still get those not-so-subtle audio cues telling you instantly that something has happened; whether it’s good, bad or whether you’ll be scolding your pet for it.
Soundtrack-wise, the usual theme is here, but has been modified slightly to give it a bit of character that’s completely its own. There are also some hidden aural delights to discover, as licensed artists have provided their voices and music for Simish versions of their hit singles. “Good Intent” by Kimbra (for the record, I have never heard of this person) is one that EA publicised via press release, but according to others, if you listen carefully you might catch the likes of Plan B and even Erasure (remember them?!) singing their songs in gibberish!
The dog’s bollocks?
This is a tricky one to call, but the fact of the matter is that you’ll already know whether you’ll like this game; you’re either a Sims person or you’re not. In spite of its immense popularity, it’s still very much a niche title, developed for a certain type of person and if you’ve previously decided that the Sims isn’t for you, then you’ll find very little here to change your mind.
For everyone else it’s a charming and worthy purchase with few faults. Established fans will love the possibilities and additions brought in with the arrival of the pets, and for the people who have yet to delve into the world of The Sims 3, there really hasn’t been a better time to do so; there’s enough content here to keep you busy for months.