A cult-favorite People Simulator fun for an entire family.
Like most Will Wright 'games', the Sims is a construction kit; a toy. You're given a set of basics and told to play make believe. Anyone who played with building blocks, chemistry sets, or even created complex stories for their toys will instantly love this game. There's no defined goals, no ending.
Part of the addictive nature of the Sims is the fact that it's open ended. When my co-workers caught the Sims bug, one played a number of very straight laced familes, while another created a house only a drugged-out artist could love and proceeded to be the town bum, eventually having his wife leave him and his kids sent to military academy. A third created an Austin Powers Sim who lived with seven women...and tried to keep relationships going with all of them without causing a fight. On the web come stories of everything from militia type compounds to insane asylums to one demented soul who kept his neighbors in glass rooms. What other game gives you this much flexibility?
The graphics are beautiful and functional, and give the game a nice balance between 'cute enough for kids' and 'serious enough for adults'. The Sims wear various clothes, can play with little electric trains (that actually run on the table), watch TV, or lounge around in the hot tub.
The interface is simple and intuitive. The first time I played this was on a friend's PC and figured out all the commands without any assistance. This makes for both a game you can sit your children in front of and not have to test their patience training them...and a relaxing game to pass time with without having to think too much about where everything is.
For anyone who's ever harbored a deep, hidden desire to be an architect and/or interior designer, this game gives you plenty of options to play with. Maxis has been putting out new goodies for their registered customers on a nearly weekly basis, making this a never ending toolkit.
Last, but not least, is the community that the game has inspired. From the office banter (there was a point where we'd share what our Sims did the previous night!) to the thousands of fans online, there's a giant fan base that just loves to share anecdotes and home made add-ons. Your Sims will never want for anything new because there's now thousands of various types of clothes, wall paper, carpet, and even furniture/items.
Although the Sims can technically take care of themselves if left alone, they merely survive, if possible. They don't really try to make themselves happy or excessively relaxed and you will often find unattended Sims leaving messes about the house and falling asleep wherever convenient (like a dog!). The micromanagement required sometimes is extreme and since many of the duties are as repetitious as they are in real life, it becomes tedious.
The pacing may also be an annoyance. There are multiple speeds the game can be played (some people who don't read the manual may never realize this) and it is almost essential that you speed up and slow down the game in order to enjoy it. Some tasks (like making dinner) can take an excessive amount of time (often near a Sim hour to make breakfast...almost twice as long for dinner) and while the Sim may be enjoying himself watching TV, you're not really enjoying yourself watching him sitting there humming away. During these times you need to speed the clock up. But no sooner than you run at the increased speed does something vital happen, such as a friend you wanted to have visit knocking on your Sim's door, or the Sim deciding to make another meal and setting the kitchen ablaze, throwing you back into normal speed. For many, the speed changes become second nature, but it's odd pacing at first, and annoying forever to some.
Your Sim's job is, unfortunately, done behind the scenes, so there's little to do while they're away at work or school. Perhaps Maxis will come out with an expansion pack called 'Sims at Work', although it would have to be much more expansive; currently the only action you get to see is your neighborhood. Like living on some commune miles away from anyone else, the only Sims your Sim meets are those who live a block away. Random outsiders would have been nice.
Some would add that a lack of multiplayer ruins part of the game. I disagree if only because I could just see an online Sims neighborhood with people walling each other in their houses, stealing from each other, and generally causing whatever mischeive they can. I'd rather keep my social experiments self-contained and controlled.
No pets (well, aside from the original fish and the newer caged animals)! Perhaps Wright and crew felt the user had enough babysitting to do, but it would've been fun to have had a dog or cat as a family member...even with the same stats of 'Neatness', 'Outgoing', etc...
The Bottom Line
Waaaaay back when computers running at 2MHz were considered fast, there was a game from Activision called 'Little Computer People', in which you 'adopted' a person who lived in your PC and watched him live. Anyone remembering and loving that game will fall instantly for the Sims.
The Sims is a house-building/social interactivity toy that allows you to build up a neighborhood, populate it, and watch the neighbors interact. It's fun and addictive for a long time and may be a nice educational tool to teach kids how much effort goes into maintaining a healthy, happy lifestyle while bringing in a decent income (if a family member is thinking about having a baby without putting much thought into it, allow them to play the Sims and let their Sims have a baby. It'll show them how much work it is).