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Same old Sims

EA’s ‘The Sims Online.’

The most recent installment in the astoundingly successful Sims franchise, “The Sims Online,” is identical to the original games, only with the virtual neighborhood replaced by an online, persistent, massively multiplayer world. At first glance, the possibilities of such a design seem limitless: One can create not just homes, but restaurants, hotels, nightclubs, and so on. The greater your dreams, however, the more roommates you will need, since the game starts you off with only $10,000, which is just about enough to build a small room with four walls, a toilet, and maybe a bed.

It was a design choice, of course, to force players into dependence on one another, but it doesn’t make for a very fun game. While “The Sims” was open-ended and free-form, “The Sims Online” definitely has a “correct” way to play, and it’s this rigidity that drains out most of the fun. There are ways to make money by yourself, but who wants to spend a half-hour of game time watching a Sim “read” a book to learn the proper skills for selling wooden gnomes?

Cosmetically and controlwise, “The Sims Online” is exactly the same as “The Sims,” which is both a boon and a curse. The character stats, control scheme, and house-building tools are all familiar and easy to use for fans of the series, but the now three-year-old graphics engine is showing its age. And considering how dated the graphics are, it’s frustrating to find so much lag and slowdown on the more densely-populated buildings.

The game comes with a key chain, a magnet, and a great soundtrack, which I found myself playing more often than the game proper. I give “The Sims Online” high marks for good intentions, but I recommend most people wait for either a sequel or a significant enough patch that will replace the current drawbacks with gameplay that is actually fun.

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