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Our Picks - The Best of Sim Games

01 Apr 07

The simulation genre has been a bit of a quiet front in recent years. Traditionally more of a niche genre, whose exponents are usually not considered ‘true’ gamers, it doesn’t quite garner the attention and expectation received by other game types; for example action titles like Gears of War or Half Life 2. This is a bit of a misnomer of course, as indeed some of the most popular games out there, although we wouldn’t want to admit it, are simulation games, a case in point being The Sims. Will Wright, the acclaimed power behind The Sims, realised the great potential in the industry and has made himself a legend by capitalising upon it, much like another personality we all know and love, Sid Meier.
As both these excellent designers and others have titles lined up for release this coming year, I’d like to review the recent titles in the genre, as well as those to come. Some of the greatest leaps in design concepts and the most creative freedom seem to exist in the simulation market, which makes it an exciting game genre to follow.

Some of the recent titles that have entered the market are:

The Sims 2: Seasons
As always there is another recent expansion for the mega game, The Sims 2. One every three to six months seems to be the pattern, and you can’t get away from them. The latest one is titled Seasons, and was released around the beginning of March. It is the fifth expansion to date and, you guessed it, adds the four seasons to the world of your Sims. They can build snowmen in winter, and get sunburned in summer, as well as have a host of other seasonal related activities to perform. When adding this to the university, businesses, pets and nightlife of the previous expansions, The Sims 2 is shaping up to be a massive game.

The Sims: Life Stories
Yet another Sims title, this time the beginning of a new line. Not intended to supersede the main Sims 2 franchise, these Sims games are optimised for laptop play. One key feature in support of this is the lack of need for a separate video card or onboard; hardware that many laptops cannot match on a PC. Gameplay is similar to the traditional type experienced, although there is more emphasis on ‘Story Mode’, a mode of play where players direct their Sims through a story full of goals like romance and other interactions. It is expected that this title too will spawn a host of expansions.

City Life: World Edition
A strong competitor for SimCity’s throne, City Life was released to generally favourable reviews midway through last year, and now early 2007, an expansion has recently been released. The expansion adds more global landmarks to add to your creations, allowing you to move your cities further from purely US-styled metropolises. In total some 100 buildings have been added to make a total of around 300. It also included an extra building creation tool, which should be a blast for city building enthusiasts.
Some of the titles that are coming up this year include the following:

Perhaps one of the most eagerly awaited titles in the simulation market, and in fact the PC game market in general. Will Wright’s opus promises to combine a life simulation, tribe simulation, city building and civilisation simulation with a final sandbox-like online component at the end. Completely open-ended and endlessly varied thanks to procedural generation of its content, a long lauded technique that with any luck Spore will bring to the mainstream with its success, Spore promises to be revolutionary. If it works and sells well it could bring a much needed boost not only to simulation games or PC games in general, but to the entire industry. Hyperbolic? Perhaps, but with Will Wright, nothing is certain.

Hospital Tycoon
Remember Theme Hospital? A micro management dream or nightmare, depending on your perspective, it was nevertheless a nice solid title from Bullfrog that many people, including me, enjoyed immensely. Hospital Tycoon could be considered the spiritual successor to the original title, and benefits from the experience and polish of the long running Tycoon franchise. Promising a sandbox mode and god view of the standard hospital management system, along with the continuing attraction of holding people’s lives in your hands and those of your incompetent doctors, this title should be something special. It’s set to be released this year.

The Sims: Pet Stories
Much like The Sims 2 Stories, this title is focused for laptops and has its graphical capabilities scaled as a result. The Sims 2 Pets expansion for the full game was very well done; making the pets included a lot more than a gimmick and only a step short of full Sims themselves. Early suggestions of this new version are that Pets have a much greater focus, with stories and lifestyles moulded around themselves rather than as a simple extension of their masters. The release date looks to be winter this year in NZ.

The simulation market is thriving more than you might think, and having titles such as Spore coming up makes its future look very bright. There is still a very limited presence on consoles however, with this genre seemingly exclusively PC. Will this change over time? Consoles are consistently becoming more sophisticated and evolving from their bright colours and fast action roots, so it is conceivable that as more gamers with a more thoughtful frame of mind adopt the platform, games from the simulation genre that match their tastes will follow. Certainly, the Sims series of games seems like it wouldn’t take too much effort to create a port for the 360 or PS3. Who knows?