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Bustin’ Out

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For those of you unfamiliar with the Sims, the game was originally a spin-off of the venerable civil-engineering favorite, Sim City. In Sim City, you were challenged with creating a modern metropolis and responsible for maintaining every nuance of its function — from the water supply to the police department — while watching your population grow, and dealing with problems as they arose. Then, somebody at Maxis had an epiphany “hey!, if everyone’s having so much fun building cities for imaginary people, imagine how much fun they’d have micromanaging the very lives of its citizens!” Thus was born “The Sims,” the game where you get to be God for a few fictional characters, controlling each and every aspect of their lives as you decorate their houses, hone their personal skills and find them a career.

There is a wonderful built-in sense of humor to the Sims’ world, and the title is playable to the point of addiction. It’s no wonder that the original “The Sims” quickly became one of the best-selling video games of all time; you can’t beat real life for entertainment. Situations come up like accidental stove fires started by kitchen-clueless Sims (it’s worth the insurance claim just to watch them freak out), a thief dressed like the Hamburglar who sneaks in the window to steal objects of value at night and all manner of absurd social static that comes up when something isn’t exactly right in the Sims’ world.

Getting started with your Sim is fairly straightforward in “The Sims: Bustin’ Out”… first, you have to create a Sim. The editing environment is fantastic; you’ll be surprised how quickly and with how much detail you can build a game character… and how similar you can make your Sim look to someone you know. Basically, you select part of the face, and then flip through a catalog of possible mouth-nose-eye combos; the clothing ensemble works the same way. The Sim is also assigned personality attributes at this point; character preferences and natural abilities which will all come into play later on.

Once you’re done creating this man (or woman) in your own image, you must save your character to a Memory Card. It’s important to note here that it’s basically a one-character-one-card situation; the character is stored along with his or her inventory of purchased items and Simoleans (the Sim currency). You can transport your character with you on the card, so the next time you go to visit a real-world friend just plug in your card and introduce your Sim to your friend’s game world. One interesting addition to Bustin’ Out is the ability to trade property; say, for example, I have a cookwise Emeril Sim who just received new scuba gear for his birthday; I can now trade that gear to your diving-enthusiast Sim Cousteau in exchange for a new cooking pot — and aren’t we both happy then! See, the capitalist system even works on a game console.

Once created, your Sim begins in a dance club, meets a few people and rudely awakens from a daydream to find himself (or herself) living at home with the parents. Aside from your mother constantly wondering aloud what she did to deserve such a bum of a kid (doesn’t that bring back the memories!), life at home is really pretty sweet. Your energy doesn’t go down as long as you’re at home and you don’t have to go to work, which leaves you lots of free time to develop important skills that will come in handy later when you cut those apron strings and strike out into the big, big world. Hint-hint: stay home and build up a good set of skills before you leave; it’s easier because, aside from dealing with your parents, you’ll have plenty of time on your hands that you would ordinarily have to waste at your job (wow, this game just gets more realistic all the time!).

The animated controls and the general feel of the game are one of the first things a new player will notice. Veterans will note that actual movement around the house is similar to the previous version; select the area where you want your Sim to go — or select an object on which to perform a task — and the character will get up and begin to go about his or her day. The beautifully rendered graphics are a real step up from the previous version, with an abundance of new features that old players will enjoy and new players will adapt to easily. You’ll definitely want to read the book on this one, though, as there are several things you’ll need to know and be aware of before getting started.

The interaction between characters is really the lifeblood of this game; personal involvement with other players and non-players in the game is the source of all controversies. The Sims’ language is an endearing dialect called “Simlish,” sort of a language-but-not-a-language where you can tell the characters’ emotions by the way they pronounce the non-words. When they speak to one another, the topics of conversation are illustrated in little thought balloons above their heads, along with little green ‘pluses’ or red ‘minuses’ depending on their feelings about the other person. My wife, who is a huge Sim player from way back, imitates Simlish all the time; Bustin’ Out features new intonations that keep Simlish fresh. The environment sound effects, while we’re on the topic, are outstanding and well-engineered; the subtle sounds of the Sims going about their everyday lives create the realism that gives this game so much appeal.

Until recently, I’d only ever played the PC-version of the game, wherein there were several items available created by the online Simhead community. The fact that the PS2 console only has a limited amount of space for memory means that most of the objects in the game would have to be basically “on-board” within the game itself. Its premise is a concept familiar to most of us in our own lives: start out with basically nothing and work your way up the career ladder toward your goal of living the good life; the American Dream with a beautiful house-on-the-hill brimming with every possible home accoutrement and solution for modern living.

The game play format is such that your objectives are organized in a series of lists. First, a guy named Malcolm Landgrabb repossesses your scooter. “Repossessed my scooter? Thanks,” you’re thinking… until you realize that you have no mode of transportation without it. Former Sim players wouldn’t see this as a problem, being used to their limited world of one house, all the time. However, Bustin’ Out is just that, a world where the Sims can get out and enjoy the big beyond, with its dance clubs, cities and scenic vistas. As you progress in the game, you might find a roommate and start decking out your bachelor(ette) pad, making friends and striking out in the world. Here’s where the Bustin’ Out really takes us to the next level, where the world and the graphics are spectacular; the dance club alone features unbelievably creative textures and motif. But I don’t want to ruin the exploration part of it for anyone; you’ll just have to get out on your Vespa and putter off into the Sim sunset for yourself.

It’s hard to imagine, with Maxis’ attention to detail and character personality, just how far this game can ultimately go; it’s a self-contained digital world where the detail in the game is only limited by the console and its video renderer. What’s next, Sims shopping for better car insurance rates, plucking their eyebrows with virtual tweezers and throwing away freezer-burned virtual fish sticks? It could happen… until Sim Morpheus comes along and gets them to take the red pill.

The sights and sounds have become even more realistic. The character generator is wonderfully cool and easy to use; it’s entertaining just to see how much you can make new Sim characters look like your family and friends. Bustin’ Out reveals more of the Sim’s world by getting you out of the house and out on the town. The game is mechanically easy to play, tasks are obvious enough and the challenge is really up to you and how you want your Sim to succeed in the world.

The idea of weekends off from work during game play is a neat idea; after all, avoiding work is what video games were designed for from day one! You’ll notice that the game mercifully doesn’t follow the Sims to work, and for good reason; “The Sims Virtual Career” is not a title likely to show up on your retailer’s shelf any time soon. All we need to know is how long our characters were gone, and how much they made while they were there.

At times the controls get a bit fussy. There are certain aspects of the game which aren’t readily apparent and should be, and there are certain things that seem to have been changed within the new version that probably should’ve been left alone. Without a good look at the manual you’ll be confused. It’s this writer’s opinion that the best games should require very little physical text to get started… everything you need to know should either be obvious or at least available within the game environment, at your fingertips when needed and totally out of the way when not. Sports games, of course, not included.

Part of the magic of playing Sims is the galaxy of household accessories available for free online, most of which are created by your fellow Simheads who live, eat, sleep and breathe Sims. On the console this whole aspect of the game falls flat; even if you got online and downloaded new accessories you’d constantly be running out of room on your memory cards. Maxis has gone to great lengths to make Bustin’ Out as console-friendly as possible — and done a marvelous job at that — but for this reason the PC feels like the better Sim environment.

Reviewer’s Scoring Details

Gameplay: 8.5
Fun and interesting. The new dimensions of Sim play presented in “Bustin’ Out” take the game on the road where you’re going to have a lot more adventures.

Graphics: 8
Excellent . . . on par with anything we’ve seen lately. The PS2 offers a beautiful array of textures and lighting that add a lot of atmosphere to the game world. The outdoor scenes are especially impressive, with new environments and vistas that we’ve never seen in the Sim world.

Sound: 9
The Simlish language is hilarious . . . after all, they wouldn’t be much fun if the Sim people couldn’t talk, and the Sims love to come unglued and scream when something goes wrong. The ambient sounds are well-rendered and add a lot to the game.

Difficulty: 7
Easy to get started, with a beautifully immersive game environment that lets you build your body, your home and your life. The difficult thing is putting down the controller and getting back to your own life.

Concept: 10
One of the greatest video games of the modern era, up there with the best of them. Who would I be to question a format like that? Addictive because of its immersive game environment and endless array of possible game outcomes, with plenty of new additions to make the game fresh.

Multi Player: N/A

Value: 9
Dollar for dollar, one of the best buys you can get for playability, an absolute must-have for Sim fans. It’s an especially good choice for these winter months and upcoming rainy spring days when you’ll have a lot of time to spend on the couch.

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