The most surprising thing with the Sims 3 is not that it might very well be one of the best Sims game so far out of the box, but how it manages this despite being the first Sims game not to be developed officially by Maxis.
This doesn't stop the Sims 3 from being rife with references from the Sims past, be it in the great many familiar faces that return in the new Sunset Valley and Riverview towns or via various Easter Eggs you can see left and right like the statue of the Sims 2's servo at the entrance of the Science Labs career building. Still, it doesn't prevent the Sims 3 from being its very own game, and a great addition to the Sims series at that. The Sims 3 brings quite a lot to the experience, there are many reasons for it, but here there are mainly two. The first is the open neighbourhoods, as many a Sims 2 fan will agree that the days of waiting on dozens of loading screens on each session was tiresome at best, with the new seamless neighbourhoods that is a thing of the past.
The other is that you could easily say that the Sims 3 manages to successfully merge the level of detail and open-endedness of gameplay of the PC version of past Sims games with the more objective based gameplay of the console Sims for a gratifying play experience.Changes to the formula
Obviously, the changes don't stop there, nor is that short paragraph even a good description of how deep the system is. As such, actual changes to the game are in fact quite many. One of the first to be noticed by experienced Sims players is in the save game system. Prior to the Sims 3, all save games were reflected in the families of a single neighbourhood. Though this meant you could have many custom created families sharing a neighbourhood, it also indirectly meant that if one of these Sims were to die whilst playing another family (such as by the actions of the nefarious Sims 2 University "Cow Plant"), you would have to deal with the consequence of this. For the Sims 3, this has been tweaked a little bit. It now works on a more "conventional" save games system where you can create different separate save games using a single neighbourhood. Since elements of one save game donít carry to the other, this does not permit the same level of "shared neighbourhood" that is seen in the Sims 2 and forces you to only be able to have a single "active" playable family at a time, on the other hand this prevents the type of events that could have happened before in the Sims 2. Some actually like it, whilst others actually dislike the new system preferring the time when they could easily switch between families in a single shared neighbourhood.
Still, with an "open neighbourhood" that ages alongside your active family, getting their own job promotions, forming couples and moving on... there were little ways to do otherwise since any family you are not directly managing will be just as independent as yours.
And now, into that dynamic and open neighbourhood, we see one of the Sims 3's first and main selling point.
Let me tell you right away: It was a great idea. Before, when you needed your Sims to go anywhere... well, they would simply head toward the "exit" of their house's lot and disappear to a loading screen before reaching their destination. Not so much anymore, all the loading screens are gone and all lots are connected in one open neighbourhood. Want some Sim to go to the park? You can follow him as he walks or basically drives there... and see other townies going about their business. For a day I went to the park, and got to see picnic baskets on the floor with napkins and many people hanging around, but when I returned the day after, they were gone. So, yes, Sims outside of your activity will have lives and occupations of their own during the day and not only this, but as time passes for your family, so does it pass for them. "Townies" now age, marry, have children, and move out to other cities as new townies will move in... as I found out, a good way of keep tracks of these changes is... to read the newspaper.
Yup, for older Sims fans I can now confirm that the newspapers have now more uses than just searching for work or doing crosswords. Basically, while in the Sims 2 the "Read news" newspaper interaction pretty much did nothing else than fulfil the "fun" need of a Sim, in the Sims 3 it actually sees some practical use in providing you feedback on who just got married with whom in town, who just had kids and who recently passed away or moved out of town. In other word, the newspaper is even more useful of a tool now than ever before.
Scattered across the neighbourhoods (and thus encouraging you to explore it!) will be various "collectibles". These range from raw gems (that can be mailed to be cut into decorative gems) that be found near rocky formations in the town's outskirts to seeds near gardens, which can later re-planted by the more gardening type, gardening being a new skill included in the Sims 3.
Also, since I mentioned moments before that one of the aspects that I liked of the Sims 3 was how it merges features of both past PC and console games let met explain this a little bit more.
Basically, past Sims games were renowned for the level of freedom they possessed, which pleased many since it permitted a lot of people to basically "make the game theirs". However, some critics often mentioned that there was little "goal" in playing the Sims their way. On the console side, the main critic often was that with less options and details than the PC games (such as the inability for Sims to age on most console versions) was how "restricted" the experience felt compared to PC. However, I was one who personally liked the occasional goal based gameplay of console versions since it provided a bit more motivation to play at times than just "managing" your Sims.