Ever since acquiring Maxis (the original makers of the Sims Franchise), Electronic Arts (EA) has managed to create and expound on a very viable, highly addictive computer game that has achieved a cult like following; turning it into a sub culture, complete with its very own vernacular that continues to capture the hearts, minds, imaginations and in some respects transcend societal lines in terms of staying fresh in shaping the human condition that is called life. However, the good thing about The Sims is that it continues to entertain and delight millions of fans across the hemisphere! After all, it’s a computer game!
Although, I am a devoted Sims 2 game player and I have quite a few of the expansion packs that seem to come out almost every other month, I was admittedly skeptical at first when presented the opportunity to do a review of the latest incarnation of the Sims namesake. However, after learning that this latest line of Sims game was indeed a standalone game, thus, offering a different twist on the Sims experience (I guess you could say that I was a bit bored in playing Sims 2), I whole heartedly jumped at the chance to sink my proverbial claws into the new Sims Castaway Stories pc game!The Sims Castaway Stories is a new concept in that it’s not part of the Sims 2 playing experience (hence it’s not an expansion pack either), and this game is played alone. In many ways, this game kind of reminds me of part reality show with its embedded theatrical story line coupled with a hint of Gilligan’s Island (old school) or the wildly popular “Lost” (new school) Television show.
This Windows based game (XP and Vista), incorporates all the usual Sims play that one has come to love and enjoy (in terms of intuitive game controls) but adds the suspense of having to fend for one self after being shipped wrecked on an island. Hence, Castaway introduces a totally new storyline and joins its other new stable mates of “stories” games such as The Sims Life Stories and The Sims Pet Stories.
EA touts Castaway, as being for the beginner Sims player who has never played a Sims game, but it’s also for the seasoned Sims gamer too. Clearly, EA is attempting to garner more fans without alienating their present fan base. The minimum hard ware requirements for Castaway are even toned down too: Windows XP or Vista, 1.8 GHz CPU or more, 512 MB RAM(1 GB for Vista) or more, 8x or faster DVD-ROM drive, 2.9 GB for XP and 15 GB for Vista (free space on hard drive) and a DirectX 9.0c compatible sound card.
Additionally, EA calls this game “Laptop Friendly”, because it was made to play on a laptop as well as a desktop pc. Case and point: The stories games are played in a windowed mode, which will allow one to minimize or play the game and still be able to multitask. I also like the fact, that you can close your laptop lid, and the game will automatically pause and save, and will resume your game upon lifting the lid of your laptop! This feature worked like a charm!
The premise is rather straight forward in that the story starts out with boarding a singles cruise ship in hopes of meeting that person of your dreams. Then the ship gets swallowed up in a storm and then a video sequence plays out where one awakens on an island. It’s worth pointing out that before the above video sequence begins, you have to choose a character. David Bennett is a free spirited rich young man and Jessica Knight is an aspiring journalist who decides that she needs to take a break from the hustle and bustle in search of her soul mate (believe it or not I chose Jessica Knight because I figured the female perspective would make a far more interesting story).
Castaway does offer an intuitive hands-on tutorial before jumping into the action and it does a rather good job of familiarizing first time Sims players in how to navigate around in the game. I was impressed with EA including a Quick Reference Guide that showed frequently used commands.
Once the story starts you are presented with two playing modes. The directed Story mode is actually something new to the Sims playing experience in that, you can watch the story unfold; complete with videos and tasks to complete to advance the Story. The other mode is classic Free play; seasoned Sims players are familiar with this mode that enables one to accomplish and discover tasks at your own pace (this mode does not have the video sequences). For the purpose of this review, I chose the directed Story mode (what can I say, I love the theatrics)! Upon successful completion of each task a new chapter ensues complete with video.
Navigating around in the game was a cinch, and all of the navigation controls with the mouse and the keyboard were the same as in previous Sims games. New comers to the game can activate the in-game tutorial anytime during regular game play that will give them pop-up bubbles on what keys to use, or how to use the mouse to click, hold, select and to perform different tasks. So, you’re never left in the dark as to how to proceed while playing the game. There’s one good advantage in playing in the directed Story mode and that is the emphasis is on completing a given task (for example, finding wood for and then finding fire to light the wood). However, one should be careful in paying attention to your Sims needs such as using the bathroom or finding shelter. As the story goes along, one is also introduced to villagers and there’s even a secret portal that will transport you to other lots in the village (but you have to advance quite a bit in the story or chapter for this).
After the novelty wore off of watching my Story unfold via video sequences, I was actually finding it rather difficult to complete tasks. However, in all fairness, the latter may have been my rustiness in having not played in awhile. Nonetheless, I finally opted for free mode (less the video sequence eye candy)! Also, free mode gives one the opportunity to create Sims from scratch.
All in all, I enjoyed my time with The Sims Castaway Stories and salute EA for taking a bold step in offering a new chronicle in the Sims series. Also, I couldn’t help but think, I was playing a slightly watered down version of The Sims with bonus footage (Sims lite, anyone)? However, the Sims Stories series may indeed appeal to gamers who like a bit of drama or fluff as part of their gaming repertoire. In the end, I found it to be the same Sims with a few added wrinkles.
The Good: Solid AI (artificial intelligence) in game play, toned down hardware requirements, can be played on a laptop, the windowed mode, the Quick Reference Guide print-out included with the game was a nice touch, the new directed Story mode and the reality TV feel of the game and the fast moving video sequences.
The Bad: The absence of the option to play the game in full mode.