I think it’s fair to assume that you’ve heard of The Sims. In case you’ve never actually played it, The Sims is a series of simulation games in which you create virtual people and manage their needs, home, jobs and so forth. The computer versions are known for being incredibly addictive – you can lose hours designing a house alone, without even playing the game proper.
Recently, EA Games released a free-to-download version for Android phones and tablets, called The Sims FreePlay. Can it live up to its name?
A Visually Impressive Game
The graphical quality and attention to detail in the visual aspects of The Sims Freeplay is fantastic. It’s weird to think that you needed state-of-the-art computers only a few years ago to run the Sims 1, 2 and 3. Now you can get a version of it that runs on devices thinner than our hands, which really goes to show what the hardware inside them is capable of.
When you download the game from the Play Store, you then have to wait a while whilst it fetches around 600MB of data (a common trend you’ll have noticed if you play a lot of mobile games). Once this is complete, you are given a fairly lengthy introduction to the game and a step-by-step tutorial to ensure you know what you are doing.
After getting past the tutorial, you are then given little objectives to complete whenever you feel like as you progress through the game. Most of the objectives are aimed to increase the number of Sims (virtual people) you have, and how they interact with one another.
Hopefully this screenshot conveys the high detail I refer to. I am zoomed in as far as possible.
What Is It Based On?
From what I can tell from the playing the game – and being told a few things by people who kept up with the computer series more than I did – The Sims Freeplay is a combination of aspects from The Sims 3 and The Sims Social game on Facebook, with a menu layout resembling the latter. What you end up with is an astoundingly good looking game, but only with the feature-depth you would find in a Facebook game.
Unusual Gameplay; Not Great
Now it’s time for the negativity. You knew that even with a title including ‘FreePlay’, the game would come with some sort of a catch, and it does! EA Games wants you to purchase in-game “Simoleons” or “lifestyle points” with real money.
In the computer and console versions of the Sims, you got your Sim a job, had them earn money, cook, watch TV, sleep and so on. Each day you repeated pretty much the same thing with minor differences – for instance, having your Sim practice speaking in front of a mirror to slowly improve their charisma and eventually land them a better job, thereby bringing in more Simoleans for you to spend on ever more elaborate items for the home.
You can do pretty much the same thing in Sims FreePlay; the key difference, however, is that here everything happens in real time. Growing vegetables in the garden takes literally ten hours, sending a Sim to sleep for half an hour is the same – there’s no fast-forward button. If you have a Sim working a nine-to-five job, you can’t interact with them between 9 and 5.
Frankly I think it’s an absurd system, and I still haven’t grown to like it even after playing the game for over a week. If you want to perform a task instantly, you can use ‘lifestyle points’, which you rarely collect in the game itself. Some activities take several lifestyle points to complete, and this is where the in-app money-grabbing really comes into play.
EA Games’ business angle is hoping you aren’t going to want to wait 10 hours before being able to use your Sim again, and you’ll give in to buying these lifestyle points to accelerate the process.
Every once in a while you forget about Lifestyle points; then this message comes up, bringing plenty of annoyance with it.
As far as I can tell, the Sims do not get older either, which was a defining feature in the PC versions; the slogan for Sims 2 was ‘From Cradle to the Grave’. Similarly, additions to the franchise that were in Sims 3 that Android tablets could easily handle (such as following your Sims as they go to work in their car) are not included.
I don’t know about you, but I would gladly have had a more classic version of The Sims that didn’t try to get you to make in-app purchases all the time. I would have been happy for a version with adverts in it, and a version which you can pay for to remove the adverts. Sure, The Sims FreePlay is free to download, but the message that comes across whilst playing it is ‘Money, Money Money’.
Frankly, the game feels more like a dolls’ house than a proud edition of The Sims. If anyone remembers those Tamagotchi toys kids had to look after which also operated in near real-time, this game isn’t that far off.
I’m going to have to give The Sims Freeplay 7/10. It’s a lovely game to look at and some people may find it fun, but it would have been so much better if they had made the game style more classical, allowed the warping of time, and not put in-app purchases in. They’ve spoilt an otherwise good game, which is very disappointing.
I am also going to mark this game as Freemium, rather than Free. Though advertised as Free, it is impossible to enjoy it without spending money on lifestyle points and more Simoleons, even then it would be difficult due to the real-world time system the developers insisted upon.