If you'd asked me one month ago to describe The Sims phenomenon, here are a few words and phrases I might have used: dull, repetitive, cash-machine, would-be interior designers, perfect game for people who feel Neighbours might be too dramatic. To be honest, I've never really found the time, the inclination or the energy to really get into the first two games, and even when I have played them for a few hours, it has been more out of a sense of obligation than anything else. I never enjoyed nor particularly hated the experience, much as I can't say I have ever enjoyed or hated watching Countdown or Bargain Hunt. After all, how much toilet training does one man want to get involved with?
So why am I now thinking of The Sims 3 in terms of fascinating, addictive, fun and absorbing? Why have I not minded the hours I've put into playing it when I have games like inFamous, Prototype and Red Faction: Guerrilla sitting on my desk? The answer is simple. With The Sims 3, the development team at Maxis has finally transformed The Sims from a love it/hate it software toy into a vastly enjoyable game. I nearly said ‘that anyone can enjoy', but on reflection that's not true. If you would rather spend time firing bullets or burning rubber than building relationships and chasing dreams, and if the thought of choosing furniture makes you break out in an angry rash, then The Sims 3 still won't be for you. In fact, it's such a time consuming game that it would be foolish to pretend otherwise. However, there are key things Maxis has done here that will make The Sims 3 even more appealing to an even broader audience.
The first is that The Sims 3 sees the series moving even further from a focus on your Sims' daily needs to a focus on their short-term and long-term wishes. At the start of a new game you can assign your initial Sim a lifetime goal - whether they want to become a leading surgeon or a local rock god, it's up to you to achieve it. It's all about taking baby steps: get them in the right career, help them get involved in the right activities, take the right classes and meet the right people and your chances improve. By constantly chasing relevant short-term goals, which appear for approval in your Sim's wishes panel, you take them one step further on their journey. As my budding writer, for instance, made his way up the Journalist career ladder and began earning big royalties from a number of salacious novels it's hard not to feel a sense of achievement. What's that you say? Put to Stud is selling even more than Between Satin Sheets? It all makes those late nights worthwhile.