It also helps that your Sims now have more personality, and I mean something that goes beyond a silly name, a whacky shirt and some exaggerated tics. The upgraded Create a Sim feature makes it easy to create a Sim who looks like you want him or her to look (or like you or the people you know if you like that sort of thing). Sims can also be assigned traits, ranging from clumsy to brave to ambitious to flirty to slob to downright evil. All Sims have them, and even while you're telling them where to go and what to do they'll exercise their traits, getting themselves into trouble, causing grief for other Sims or generally making things that little bit more interesting. In short, the Sims seem to be evolving from the rather dull digital puppets of the original into more convincing and engaging virtual actors, and The Sims 3 is a major leap in the right direction.
In terms of community features, The Sims 3 seems to be taking some ideas from Maxis' work on Spore, with more of an emphasis on users creating and sharing their own content this time around, whether it's a new hairstyle, new clothes or a new piece of furniture. You're even free to upload your own screenshots and videos, which can be edited using the Web-based ‘Create a Movie' facility. There's already a huge selection of stuff to download from The Exchange, while Maxis created alternatives can be purchased from the Store for Sim Points. You get £6 worth with the game, and can buy more should you want to later on.
Graphically, Maxis has clearly leaned towards accessibility more than visual excellence; The Sims 3 looks cute and colourful and there's a fair amount of detail to the Sims and their environments. While the models have been kept deliberately simple, there's some great use of lighting and surface effects to add richness and lustre. However, the style is very much more cartoon than gritty realism, and you won't have any problem playing the game on a fairly modest PC. Frankly, it doesn't really matter. The Sims 3 doesn't need Crysis-style photorealism to drag you in; it simply needs interesting personalities, entertaining activities and storyline hooks to keep you involved, and really, it's up to you to provide these yourself. The great thing is that this won't be a challenge.