The Sims Life Stories PC DVD-ROM
Published by Electronic Arts
Developed by Electronic Arts
Release Date: Out Now
Whilst the PC versions of The Sims have been completely open-ended and allowed the gamer to do exactly as they wished, the same cannot be said for some of the console versions of the game. There have been various console versions that require gamers to play through the game in a linear fashion tying themselves to a specific path of completing objectives in order to progress the story. In some respects this has been a good thing and I for one have often found this focused approach refreshing and a nice change from the usual freeform Sims formula. With The Sims Life Stories we finally see PC gamers getting to experience stories and it's even laptop friendly to boot.
The Sims Life Stories is the first in a new offshoot series, The Sims Stories, for our favourite virtual people. In Life Stories you'll get to play through two stories. There's Riley who was living the high life in SimCity until she lost her job and had to return home to stay with her Aunt Sharon until she can get back on her feet with new friends and love interests etc. Then there's the high-tech whiz Vince who just has no problem in making money but seems to be doomed when it comes to finding his true love. Neither story is particularly long, it only takes around 10 hours at the most to play through them both, but they are quite enjoyable and make a refreshing change. You'll need to complete Riley's story before Vince's story is unlocked. In addition to the two stories you can also play in Free Play mode and create your own Sims and play the game pretty much how you could in The Sims 2. There's also a Learn to Play mode that offers The Sims newcomers a chance to ease themselves into the experience.
Aside from the two stories what else does Life Stories offer? Well the game claims to be laptop friendly. What does this mean exactly? Well it actually means a couple of things. First of all the game doesn't seem as demanding as The Sims 2 and performs better on lesser specification PC's and which, I daresay, not only allows older laptops to play the game but also has less of an impact on the laptop's battery life (I guess this would be difficult to prove though). The game also has quite a few keyboard shortcuts (hotkeys) to make navigating the interface much simpler and also less of a chore if you have to use one of those touchpads rather than a mouse, which is often the case with a laptop. The use of hotkeys for actions certainly helps to make managing your Sim less of a chore. For instance you can simply press the Y button to tell your Sim to take a shower or press the H button to tell them to prepare a meal. This is a much better way of ordering your Sims about and it's something that should definitely be included in future versions of The Sims.
Naturally the skeptics will ask if The Sims Life Stories is actually a worthwhile product, let alone a worthwhile purchase? After all you can scale back the graphical detail in The Sims 2 and with a bit of imagination you can fashion your own stories for your Sims if you're so inclined. Well this is a valid argument, although I do feel that Life Stories is actually an enjoyable game and The Sims Stories product line does have potential. The Sims Life Stories does have its limitations too. You can't use The Sims 2 expansions with the game or any custom content that was created for The Sims 2. There's no Body Shop program to enable you to create your own unique Sims models, although you can create your own Sims by using the predefined items and faces that have been included with the game. To some this may be disappointing but it's not surprising when you consider that The Sims Stories are meant to be a separate entity from The Sims 2 series.
Graphically the game is pretty much the same as The Sims 2 with the character models being identical and the general look of the game hardly differing at all. What you will notice is that many of the visible neighbourhood buildings you can see seem to be of a much poorer quality and look very blocky (presumably to cut down on the work for the laptop's GPU to carry out). Whatever cutbacks have been made certainly seem to have succeeded in making the game less of a resource hog. Since changing to an ATi X800XT graphics card, around two and a half years ago, I've experienced poor performance when playing The Sims 2 (my previous Nvidia card and Radeon 9800 Pro ran the game absolutely fine). Poor frame rates and a general chuggy experience has been the norm but with the Life Stories this doesn't seem to be the case at all. In fact it's generally quite smooth. Even with other applications open when playing the game (which by default runs in windowed mode) the performance seems more than adequate which is very pleasing. Load times seem quick too and some might be interested to find the game runs absolutely fine on Windows Vista.
Deaf gamers have always been well treated by The Sims series and Life Stories is certainly no exception. The Sims still talk in their own gibberish way and the general gist of what they are saying is still shown by the display of icons that show what topics are being talked about. All instructions are shown in text. Tutorial messages are also shown in text so you'll have no problem in learning how to play the game (although that's hardly going to be a concern if you're a fan of the series). All objectives are shown by either using icons or using text meaning you'll always know what to do. In short it's just as deaf gamer friendly as The Sims 2, which is certainly a good thing.
Being the first game in The Sims Stories series means that The Sims Life Stories really has to show that it's a worthwhile offshoot in order to pique gamers' interest for Electronic Arts have already announced further titles which are The Sims Pet Stories and The Sims Castaway Stories. For the most part The Sims Life Stories succeeds by offering two quite enjoyable stories, being less of a resource hog and including a very nice set of hotkeys that make giving your Sims orders much less of a chore as most actions can be carried out with the press of a single button. Is the game worth it for dedicated fans of The Sims 2? If you're planning to play the game on your laptop or a desktop PC that might have struggled with The Sims 2 then the answer is probably yes but be aware that once you're done with the stories that the Free Play mode is not as comprehensive as The Sims 2 with its various expansions. On the whole The Sims Life Stories is certainly enjoyable and is definitely laptop friendly and we're certainly hoping the next two games in the series can build upon what's here.
If you're looking for a version of The Sims 2 that's less of a resource hog and kinder on your laptop then The Sims Life Stories is certainly going to appeal. The two stories are quite enjoyable too, although they're not going to take a great deal of time to play through.