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Contest Winner
Well, we've judged all the entries we've received for our 'write a review' competition. They were all good, so congratulations to all of you who entered.. however, there can only be the one winner. That winner is Andy Tate, who wrote the review that you can find below. Congratulations! Watch out for more competitions in the near future..
'SIMply' the best, or 'Too SIMilar'?
A review by Andy Tate

If you are a SIMS Addict, then the official expansion pack is an item worth considering. I do not recommend this outright as a 'must buy' because it depends what you are looking for, but if you were looking for what I was looking for, then you will not be disappointed.

Very few games have had me hooked and "The Sims" is the best of them. I play other games for a change of pace and some variety but I keep coming back to my neighbourhoods to see how far I can advance my families and what new objects and textures I can create or download for them. So, when I heard that 'the best game of Y2K' was getting an expansion pack, I waited in eager anticipation for what Will next had in store for us.

In the morning post on the scheduled release date, 'Livin' It Up' as the expansion pack was titled in England arrived. Installation problems aside, which even baffled EA Support, I was not disappointed with the enhanced version of the game.

In the space of one long gaming session to have a look at the new features, there have several intriguing incidents in one neighbourhood alone...

  • A golf caddy died by a genie's spell backfiring. His four poster bed caught fire and he was caught in the resulting conflagration. As he lived alone, he did not have any housemates to try and make a deal with death.
  • Down the street, a beta tester had to miss a day at work when he drank the wrong potion from the chemistry set.
  • Around the corner, one petulant visitor wiped out the owner's line of garden gnomes while their typesetting owner was busy spraying cockroaches whilst being relentlessly followed by a clown.

I have now been playing the game for less than a week and I am now wondering where I would have been without this Expansion.

Unlike 'SimCity 3000 Unlimited/World Edition', which had a new introductory video to highlight some of the changes, the one with 'Livin' It Up' is still the same. After going through the similar blue loading sequence, the game opens onto what initially looks like the default neighbourhood but with slight differences. The interface has gone through some minor changes. Firstly, in the top left hand corner there was a selector switch allowing you to easily switch between neighbourhoods. Secondly, there is an import
family icon between the bulldozer and quit icons that make it easy to move your transfers in.

There are five neighbourhoods initially available but only the first two have any houses on them. The second contains three houses utilising the different decors that the game has and has the Mashuga family already living in a pseudo-Vegas style house and one following a career that is unique to 'Livin' Large' being a Psychic Phone Friend. However, instead of using an existing family, the first thing I wanted to do was to create my own family and household in order to see what was new.

When you create a family, you will first notice the new skins. Many of these come from downloads from the Sims Official Site but there are many new ones including some user-created skins that have appeared elsewhere. Also, there are new meshes to play with in SimSkinner. For the download completist, The MTV Skins have not been included so it might be worth downloading these. After all, who can't resist having Elwood in one of your neighbourhoods.

Once you have your family, have selected a plot and already built the shell of your new home, your first encounter will likely be the architectural changes. There are 9 new types of window and 7 new types of door. There are also new wall and floor textures that cover the new architectural themes of the game, but user-designed textures in these styles have been done before on and are generally cheaper! There are not any new roof textures, which I found surprising, or the option to have gable-ended roofs that still show up in the introductory video , but have not lost any sleep over.

A quick note on textures, though. With 'The Sims', there was a limit to the amount of user-designed wall and floor textures that you could have and if you were over this limit, the game often loaded some of their original textures instead when re-opening a house - Jefferson Coffered Wall Treatment and Berber Peach Carpet in my case. This minor irritation meant you had to
redecorate to keep your plot. However, this limit has been increased with the expansion. I have loaded in over 230 wall textures and 200 floor textures and these have been loaded in correctly every time. Nice one, Maxis!

When your house is built, you will want to fill it with furniture. With 'Livin' It Up', Maxis have included what they call the 'best of the web' bringing almost all of the objects from 'Sim Day' are now included. I have only found the Flamingo Light and the different waste bins to be missing. Again, for those who miss them, these can be downloaded from the Official Site. The new objects make up for this.

I do not have the space to describe the new objects but there is new seating, surfaces, decorative cookers, electronics, appliances, decorative items and miscellaneous. However, there are other items not previously pointed out that are worth worthy of mention...

  • For those in the game who want have sex, the Vibromatic Heart Bed is the closest you will get with the 'Play in Bed' action! Two Sims strip off, get into bed and play around under the sheets. This action increases Fun but reduces Energy. That sounds about right.
  • For Mystic Meg, she can look into her crystal ball for some cryptic message that are as obtuse as the ones on 3-2-1. If you do what it says correctly, you get rewarded and penalised if you don't.
  • For musicians, the guitar and grand piano help you improve your creativity skills and host a rock concert or recital for your friends ... once you are any good.
  • For 1967 Cult TV Classic 'The Prisoner' fans, to go with your lava lamps there is now a white egg chair.
  • For the DIY enthusiast, the Kraftking Woodworking Table helps you increase your mechanical skill by learning the local craft of manufacturing exploding garden gnomes. This can be a nice little earner at higher skill levels.
  • For the real couch potato with money to burn, Servo is a robot who will do those chores you do not have the time with. It can do the cleaning, do household repairs, do the gardening and cook, but don't expect cordon bleu.
  • For the UFOlogist, the Horrowitz 'Star Track' (was there a pun intended here, Maxis?) Backyard Telescope helps you increase your logic skills at the risk of being abducted by aliens.

Once you have your house built, it is time to find a job and the Expansion has five more choices. These are Journalist, Paranormal, Hacker, Slacker and Musician. Apart from these addition career paths, there is no change here. The car pool comes and picks you up, you go to work, you come home. I had hoped for the option for some of these career paths to be able to work from home. For instance, I had viewed a hacker as sitting at his own PC hooked into the internet working irregular hours instead of being picked up by a car pool to go to a regular job. In fact, he doesn't even need a computer at home.

The in-game interface remains visually the same. However, there does seem to be more Help available. The web page interface has changed for the better. Although I had no complaints about the original design, this one appears sharper and clearer and gives a thumbnail sheet of your family snapshots.

Apart from the already mentioned, there are some subtle changes in gameplay that add to the game's shelf life. You can try to cut a deal with death when one of your family dies with various effects, and if you are depressed and happen to have that 'Tragic Clown' picture on your wall, SimCity's version of Krusty the Klown comes around to entertain you when you are feeling down. If I were a Sim, I would rather dive into the swimming pool and remove the ladder myself.

As I said at the beginning, for the SIMS Addict this is an Expansion Pack worth serious consideration. I did not say it was a "must buy". There are no radical changes in gameplay. For instance..

  • There is no way of setting up a wake-up routine for someone e.g. toilet, shower, clean up, serve breakfast.
  • There is no designating bedrooms for specific people.
  • There is no calling a taxi if you miss the car pool.
  • There are no visitors from other neighbourhoods.
  • There are no chat rooms on the computer to improve someone's social skills.
  • There is no extra zoom level.
  • There are no gable-end roofs (Has anybody got the idea I really wanted
    something in this expansion?)

In conclusion, this is a very good expansion as i t contained a lot of extras to add to the game. For the person who has not yet even bought a copy of 'The Sims', I would recommend that they buy both at once. For the experienced player, it can look as though the improvements are not much of a change from the original. It is up to you to make up your own mind.

Graphics: 70 - No improvements in the quality, but more to look at.
Sound: 75 - New sounds for the new objects. Dag dag.
Gameplay: 80 - Increased texture limit, new objects and actions... but it could have been more
Interface: 85 - Good neighbourhood selector, better webpage creator

Overall: 77%

If Maxis ever read this, thanks for the expansion but can you please bring out a patch for ... well, if you've read this review, you'll know by now. If not, it's in the introductory video but not in the game. 'The Sims 2' perhaps? Anyway, I have really enjoyed the new items and events that the game has.. but I would have liked it to be more.

Written at 22:16 on Monday 2 October 2000 by Andy.

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