Since 1992’s SimCity, people have enjoyed playing god, watching over their puny people’s lives from the day they’re created right up into their death – which is usually burning in a ring of cheap ovens two hours later. 20 years later with the release of Sims Freeplay, EA have allowed you to torture your defenceless citizens on the move, from the comfort of your own phone.
Only they don’t die. However, they do call on you every hour of the day to feed, bathe or party with them. Essentially, they’re like a technologically advanced Tamogotchi, only you can’t pause them while you attempt to look after your own life. Freeplay is the first Sims games to be played in real time and believe it or not, it’s a step in completely the wrong direction. It doesn’t really matter if you can’t tend to their every need though, as even if you let their stats drop to zero, they just get slightly unhappy and refuse to leave the house, rather than the inevitable death that is embraced by every Sims fan. This removes any real challenge from your virtual babysitting. Instead, the low need bars are more of an annoyance as you know that if you leave them for just a day to fend on their own, you’ll spend the first 10 minutes restoring them to their full happiness.
In addition, there’s no way to speed up time, so tasks such as watching a movie or sleeping take hours and won’t really keep you entertained, unless you like watching someone lie unconscious of course. The good thing about this though is that you can do other things on your phone while the app is running, such as checking your messages and playing other games (though this defeats the object of having the Sims open, doesn’t it?) and the game will send you a friendly notification to tell you when certain tasks have been completed, allowing you to keep an eye on your small-fry friends without needing to keep an eye on them at all.
The real challenge of the game is in the tasks that the game itself sets you, such as building a new room or adding a few neighbours. There are dozens to do, making it unlikely that you’re going to get bored after a few hours and they all take a certain amount of planning in order to finish. For example, the game asks you to buy a new item for the party you’re planning – you can’t just go into Buy Mode and pick one up as it’s unlikely you’ll have the Simoleons available. Instead, you’ll have to plan how to make them, whether it’s by planting vegetables, going to work or collecting your hard earned cash from the town itself. Wait, why are we getting handed cash just for owning a house? That doesn’t happen in real life does it? Maybe your Sims live in the same town as a generous millionaire, maybe they’re still receiving pocket money from their parents or maybe EA just really want you to make lots of people and think the only way to make you do so is by bribing you. Whatever the reason, we’re not going to start complaining.
As well as handing out free money out to you every few minutes, the town also provides plenty of opportunities for your people. You can build houses for new Sims to live in, providing you with more money and more entertainment, as well as a variety of companies for them to work at. To say it’s just a free game available for almost every phone, they’ve packed a lot into it, and although the town doesn’t quite match up to the PC’s standard, it still gives you a few extra things to do and gives the game a (slightly false) sense of size and depth.
So what else can your Sims get up to? Well anything you’d expect to see in one of the main games really, minus wandering around town aimlessly, spending all of your heard earned cash on pointless films or meals out. That’s what makes this game stand out in the bustling market of apps – you know you’re getting a full game that never truly ends. Even if you finish all the tasks, you can build relationships, expand your house into something from your dreams or just guide your people through their mundane lives, adding a hot tub party every now and then. Despite just being something you can pick up free, you can still rule the world, which is something often forgotten or cut-out in other phone ports. You begin to play and you immediately recognise it as the Sims you grew up with, the world in which you so often create havoc.
Remember when you picked up the first Sims game, started to design your house and were met with a measly variety of toilets or sofas? Thought it would be the same leap back into the past for this game? Well think again. We opened the Buy Mode screen, expecting to have a 30 second discussion on whether the white, black or silver shower would look best in our house when we were taken aback by the amount available for us. There are even the items that you’d have to buy an expansion pack for normally, such as baths shaped like coffins and a heart shaped hot tub, it’s all a very nice surprise to say we didn’t spend a penny to acquire them. Both this and the amount of clothes and hair styles that you can spend hours debating over really make you feel as though you’re cared for.
Obviously the developers have tried to include something for everyone, to make it a game worth passing around the living room when you’re bored, and it’s worked incredibly well. Even our editor Robin, who usually complains that the Sims isn’t a real game and that you own a womb if you play it, spent ages deciding what the best outfit for a Sim was. One of the most important aspects of a smartphone game – its flexibility of consumers – has been ticked by Sims Freeplay. A nice, thick, bold tick.
However, despite the word ‘free’ being in the title of this game, the company has to make their money somewhere don’t they? If you’ve taken a fancy to that flatscreen television and don’t fancy waiting around for hours while your Sims work tirelessly to earn Simoleons to pay for it, you can always hop onto the online store and buy bags of money at a fairly cheap rate. Due to the declining economy, just £3.56 is equal to a great 5000 Simoleons which will buy you just about anything you want. Of course, so does leaving your people to work for a few hours, but it’s not bad all the same.
Life Points are also sold in the same way, a reasonable number for a few pennies, however, these are only used to skip waiting times for tasks that you’re probably only doing to get Simoleons and so it would probably make far more sense to just buy the money to begin with. Unless you’re grinding experience points of course.
Don’t worry if you don’t have much real money to be spending on the virtual equivalent though as special packages are available at a much better rate, giving you fully furnished rooms or the garden that your neighbours will all envy. If you have the money to spare, it’s a nice addition to the game and allows you to brag to your friends, not about the virtual things you own but rather the real cash that you’re slowly throwing down the toilet just to save you having to find something else to do for a few minutes. Well done Mr Moneybags!
New phones are released every month, each boasting about a new style of screen with incredible colours and technologically advanced graphics, meaning that this game can’t look very appealing, can it? Actually, yes, the colours are sharp and match those of many handheld consoles as well as some PC games. The grass really is greener on the other side of the screen. As well as this, the game takes a more cartoon approach than you may be used to, though for a small game on a small device, it really works well. If they’d tried realism, it would have looked much worse, the colours dull and the amount of detail would be near impossible for the size of the game. Instead, it reminds you of the fun spin-offs that no doubt improved car journeys when you were younger – letting you reminisce as you play and offering a feel of familiarity that makes this game so entertaining.
To keep the theme of familiarity, the game includes all the music you’d expect to hear when turning on a Sims game, both in the stereo and elsewhere. Okay, so it may be that you’re sick of the same sounds by now and who could blame you? It’s been years. Although it’s a nice reminder of the past and maybe each track holds a special memory of a memorable death but it’d be nice to be able to import your own tracks into the game, let your Sims listen to some real music for a change! Other than that, the quality is great, considering all phones sound like they’ve been thrown down a cliff and are submerged in water when playing any sort of noise out of the speakers.
It was inevitable. The Sims was always set to come to your phone at some point and now here it is. A cut above most other free applications available, it’s certainly worth a trial. If you’re looking for torture without a consequence though, you’d be better off digging out the games from 20 years ago. Sims Freeplay is one of those games that you’ll always check up on, especially in your moments of desperate boredom. And why does it need to be anything else?
Impressive and definitely worth the price, yet the lack of death is a huge disappointment. 7/10.
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