The Sims 3: Ambitions review

Sarah Jayne fell out of love with The Sims recently - can The Sims 3: Ambitions woo her back?

When the time comes to tell of the greatest love stories ever told, only a few will make the cut: Anthony and Cleopatra, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, and me and The Sims.

Ours is a love that began in 2000 when I spotted a copy for the original version of The Sims on sale at my local games shop. I took it home and popped it in the drive just to see if we were compatible and, before I knew it, we had spent the night together.

The plethora of expansion packs that came out for both the original game and The Sims 2 only made me more addicted to the game. Honestly, I am a grown woman that took a day off work for the day The Sims 3 went on sale.

Then came the release of The Sims 3: World Adventures in November 2009 and it all started to go wrong. In theory, World Adventures was a great expansion pack for The Sims 3. Traveling around real world places with your Sims sounded as if it would be packed with fun. Sadly, though, the game was so buggy that it simply became unplayable.

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Clearly, with any new game there is the potential for glitches but there are glitches and then there is having your entire game destroyed. Installing World Adventures meant the kiss of death to all of my established Sims households. Not just a mere vanishing of them from a particular neighborhood, but such corruption of the files to make them completely unrecoverable.

I got so fed up that I completely uninstalled The Sims 3 and, until it came time to review the new expansion pack, The Sims 3: Ambitions, it stayed uninstalled. Enough of a bitter taste was lingering in my mouth to make me uneasy about playing the game so soon after release. In the end, though, my addiction won out and with a clean install and slight trepidation, I stepped into the brave new world of The Sims 3: Ambitions.

The first thing that is different when you load up Ambitions is that we now have a new pre-created neighborhood called Twinbrook to play. Riverview and Sunset Valley were outstaying their welcome anyway, so this new swamp land-ridden town can only be greeted warmly.

Once in the neighborhood, a clean install means a visit to the Create A Sim tool to make a new character. Not much has changed in the Create A Sim tool with Ambitions but we do now have the opportunity to ink up our Sims with tattoos.  EA has to be given credit for not going half hearted into this tool. You can select which body part and where on it you want the tattoo to be placed. The preloaded options aren’t bad and range from silly cute to biker rage in style. The tattoo of the grim reaper playing air guitar is evidence the sense of humour Sims fans have come to love is still in place.  In true Create A Sim style, you can customize the colour and transparency rate of nearly every aspect of the preloaded tattoos. There doesn’t appear to be the option to upload your own custom artwork to make truly unique tattoos, which will undoubtedly be a letdown for those Sims fans that can’t get enough custom content.

What won’t disappoint any long term Sims players is the chance to finally cross one of the most requested items off the fan wish list. At last, Sims are playable when they are at work. Previous to this expansion pack, when the work day started for a Sim, they climbed into the carpool and then vanished from gameplay until their shift was complete. Unlike most of the expansion packs for The Sims and The Sims 2, both World Travels and Ambitions have set out to significantly change the gameplay rather than simply adding some new furniture and hairstyles. A welcome development, since it should keep the game fresher for much longer than was the case with The Sims 2.

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No longer do Sims have to stick to conventional jobs. Ambitions introduces five totally new professions: firefighter, ghost hunter (with styles and tool designs that must be giving Ramis’ lawyer an erection), private investigator, architectural designer and stylist. It also considerably expands the existing doctor profession and, for the first time, Sims can register as self-employed and make money from their hobbies. 

A few new hobbies such as inventing and sculpting have been thrown into the mix to make the self-employment option more viable. Some of the new professions, such as stylist and firefighter, require career-specific buildings. They all come pre-placed in the Twinbrook, but will need to be manually placed in any of the older neighborhoods for the careers to be playable.

Embracing all clichés of girly Sims players, I had my sights on my new character going down the stylist path. So, I got her straight down to Drea’s Salon and Tattoo Shop to have her join the profession.  Whether or not somebody is going to enjoy the new gameplay involved with sending the Sims to work in one of the new professions is going to wholly depend on just how involved they want to be with their characters. Right from the start of your Sim’s working day it apparent tha,t from now on, work is going to actually feel like work. A job in one of the new professions means they can no longer rely on taking the carpool to work, which means you also don’t get notified the hour before work is due to begin. Instead, you have to watch the clock yourself and know when it is time to send them off to work.

Once they get to work, the daily grind is played out in the form of career specific mini games.  In the case of the stylist career, that means having to give one makeover after another to the townies. Playing around with the Create A Sims tool has also been one of the more enjoyable parts of playing The Sims 3 for me. Also, it gives players a chance to use the fashions and hairstyles that have been collecting dust in the Sims wardrobes. It does have to be said, though, that even for somebody like me that fully enjoys the character creation aspect of the game, by the time I got to the more advanced level of the career, it was getting a bit old giving yet another makeover to the same townies.

Since the professions introduced by Ambitions require you to be hands on with your character throughout the work day, it can also make growing a Sims family more difficult. When my Sim was new and single, it was easy to push her up the career ladder and do one of the mini games after another. Having two Sims in the new professions, though, would have the potential for driving the player nuts with having to go back and forth between mini games all day.   Unless a player enjoys that sort of chaotic character juggling, then the solution is to have one spouse in a traditional carpool-based profession while the other works in a new career.

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Undoubtedly, this will create favoritism between the player and a specific Sims character, since most of the gameplay will have to be focused on that character, with everybody else being mere background noise. Conversely, though, you can really micro manage just about every moment of an adult Sims character now and some people are really going to get a buzz from that.

A bit more than a week into playing Ambitions, the new professions are still fresh enough for me to be getting a lot of joy from mere discovery.  A year down the line, I am not so sure it is going to be as entertaining putting out my millionth fire or picking out yet another swimsuit for the old lady down the Sims block. For now, though, I am loving it.

Whilst the new professions are the main focus of Ambitions, they are far from the only changes made to the game with this expansion pack. Some of the changes are more superficial, such as a whole slew of new traits you can give to your Sims to form their personalities.  Some of them are just pure fun, such as the eco-friendly trait which sends your Sim into fits of guilt every time they have to get into a car. Most of them, however, such as the savvy sculptor trait, are there to push your Sim towards a particular trait or profession.

New buildings have popped up all over the neighborhood too. The new consignment shop can be visited to buy or sell unwanted used goods for a knock down price, while the town laundromat introduces the task of doing laundry to the game. Surely that was added for those Sims players that thought telling your Sim when you get a shower was the more interesting part of the game. Still, it does give you a location to meet other townies, even if they are probably in their pants at the time.

If your Sims feels like going foraging for scrap metal, they can go to the new junkyard to get elbow deep in rubbish. The basement of the beauty salon is the location of the town’s new tattoo parlor, which has to be one of the better humored additions brought to The Sims 3 from this expansion pack. Watching your Sims squirm with fear as the tattoo artist holds them down to start applying the ink has the same masochistic thrill that some of us have gotten in the past from taking away the ladders when a particularly annoying Sim was in the swimming pool.

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In typical Sims style, though, one of the most promising changes to the game doesn’t even get a mention in the instruction booklet that comes with the game. Ever since the launch of The Sims 3, Sims have been able to buy partnerships in the town businesses. One of the many bugs associated with the World Adventures expansion pack was that it stopped the Sims being able to collect their weekly commission from the properties they owned. They could buy them alright, but never collect any returns. It appears that in the background, the Sims creators were planning on totally changing the system of community property ownership.

There are now two different systems of community property ownership. They can both be accessed through the newly created ‘real estate’ option available on any Sim computer or phone. Under the first system, you can still buy partnerships in the local bookstore or cinema. The second option, though, is where it gets interesting for anybody that gets their Sims 3 thrills from the building portion of the game.

Your Sims can now also own venues which are community locations, such as fishing holes and parks. It isn’t just enough to own them, though, because the whole venue ownership system is more like its own real estate tycoon game hidden away amongst the hype of the greater Ambitions expansion pack. Any venue you purchase needs to be upgraded to a higher status level and in order to do that you are given challenges to perform for that lot.

For example, when I bought a really crappy fishing hole, I had to increase the value of the land by a few thousand simoleons and ensure it had a picnic area before I could reach the next property level. Increasing the value of the land forces the player to make use of the community build function of the game. Prior to this expansion pack, that had to be one of the most underused tools of any of The Sims games. Only the hardcore builders used it, but now it is going to be an important part  of the game for anybody trying to expand their Sim’s fortunes.

In the span of just over a week of playing of The Sims 3: Ambitions, I haven’t encountered what I would consider to be any serious bugs.  The graphics have moments of drawing really slowly, despite the game being run on my more than capable machine. White blocks will appear instead of the textured buildings, but they will slowly fill in the detail. It doesn’t happen all the time, but enough to be noticeable and more than just a one off.

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There also appears to be some issue with the stacking of tasks when in career mode, with the Sims often being told more than once to do a task. There haven’t been any crashes to desktop, though, and when I took my characters on a vacation to China through the World Adventures pack, they all came back alive. 

After so long apart, the world now feels a slightly better place now that my love affair with The Sims has been rekindled. Sure, I will always carry with me a slight suspicion that it might betray my loyalty once again at some point in the future. For now, though, I am willing to have faith that any of those little niggles will be smoothed out by a patch and the game itself will continue to go from strength to strength.

4 stars

The Sims 3: Ambitions is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.

Rating:

4 out of 5