Perhaps the highest praise I can give The Sims Studio's console port of The Sims 3 is that it it's remarkably like the original PC version. That's no backhanded compliment, either: The Sims Studio has taken a series that has been a staple of casual PC gaming for a decade now and faithfully adapted it to feel right at home in your living room.
The core of The Sims 3 is still as rock-solid as it was when we reviewed it a year ago for the PC. If you're a long-time fan of the series, then you really don't need this review - you're busy enough playing the game on the PC with all your fancy-schmancy expansion packs.
For the eight people on the planet who have never played a Sims title before, the game has you controlling a person - or a couple, or a family - in their everyday life, managing their hopes and dreams and making sure they take out the trash and don't pee their pants. The Sims 3 added a ton of new options to the franchise, and generally made it easier to create virtual people with unique personality traits (mean-spirited, lucky, outdoorsy) and life-long goals (I want to be an astronaut, the leader of the free world, or have 20 boyfriends over the course of my life). Refer to our original review for a more in-depth look at the game.
The Sims 3 already streamlined the process with which a player could create a Sim and give them a personality and aspirations; the console version makes it even easier to jump right in to the mix. It's very simple to set up a family and move them in to town, and the game holds the player's hand every step of the way for those console gamers who might be new to the series.
The most striking difference between The Sims 3 on the consoles and its PC counterpart is the addition of Karma. Essentially, the Karma System gives your invisible player puppetmaster godlike powers - more so than you already had, anyway. You earn Karma by helping your Sims accomplish their goals in life (with a lump sum awarded every in-game night), and can spend it to make life easier on the virtual people by awarding them with clean surroundings or momentary strokes of genius and luck. On the other hand, you can also screw them over with bad luck, sudden plagues of misery, or earthquakes and fire raining from the skies.
If you're the type who liked building cities in SimCity just to send in the aliens or tornadoes, you'll appreciate those last two.
While the core Sims experience is still great and addictive, and the Karma powers are alternately useful or hilarious, The Sims 3 on consoles has a few issues that make it less preferable to the PC original. Load times are frequent and just long enough to be irritating, but they're hardly a deal-breaker.
If you're used to playing The Sims on PC, though, the controls might be too annoying a hurdle to ever jump over. At their core, The Sims games have always been about navigating through various menus and radial selections. This happens to be the sort of input that is uniquely suited to a mouse and keyboard, where it's easy to click this and then click that before clicking over there - boom, you've done what you wanted to do. On the console, you'll need to push the right button to select your Sim, move the cursor to the general area of the object with which you want to interact, select the object, select what you want to do with it, hit the button to cancel what they're doing right now - it's simply a clunkier way of doing things.
It isn't like this is something that The Sims Studio phoned in and should be blamed for - this is clearly a very concerted effort on the part of the team to adapt a game to a completely different set of controls, and it turned out probably as good as anyone could have imagined. If you aren't a PC gamer, you probably won't even notice: The controls are functional, and you'll likely get used to them after a few hours of play. For someone accustomed to how the series plays on a PC, though, it's a shift that never really feels right.
Bottom Line: The core Sims 3 experience is as entertaining as it's ever been. This console adaptation makes it easy to jump in and get started, and patiently leads newbies along from point to point while providing veterans with new supernatural tools to help their Sims succeed in life - or fail miserably. When held up against the PC version it doesn't quite stand tall, but in a vacuum it's a solid and faithful adaptation of a gaming mainstay.
Recommendation: If you only play games on consoles - or if you're looking for a Sims experience you can share with your friends - it's worth a rental at the very least. If you're familiar with the series on PC, knock the below score down a star - the controls are going to drive you nuts.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.
John Funk lives vicariously through his Sims.
Game: The Sims 3
Developer: The Sims Studio
Release Date: October 26th, 2010 (NA), October 29th, 2010 (EU)
Platform: PS3, Xbox 360, Wii
Available from: Amazon (360), Amazon (PS3), Amazon (Wii)