Perhaps one day an enterprising developer will find a way to get Sims characters onto iPods, in a similar way to Bandai’s once-market-leading Tamagotchi travelling pets. People will on day be able to take their Sims on holiday: meanwhile, there’s The Sims Vacation.
This fourth expansion pack for the phenomenally successful The Sims series offers gamers the chance to send Sims to Resort Island on a selection of three holiday experiences: sun and sea; forests; and winter snow. As with previous expansions, Vacation offers more options, objects,
simulations and interactions. All a Sim needs is wanderlust, and $500 to pay the cab fare. Every family member must come along, but, unlike real life, there’s no need to worry about jobs or homes while away.
Destinations are available in two flavours – the expensive resort, full of money-spending opportunities such as a posh beach or skiing village; and the budget location for the backpacking Sim on walkabout – Sims stay in tents in the cheaper locations. One criticism here:
the budget areas are small, offering fewer
opportunities for exploration, and fewer facilities. Players can build their own areas,
though the smaller spaces don’t offer enough room to build anything spectacular. Players can demolish areas to make space to build their own.
Each resort has its own mascot – and each of these appears incredibly sinister – the evil-looking archer, the freaky hammerhead shark, and demonic-looking icicle man/Yeti. Extensive testing has failed to make one mascot go psycho, but it’s only a matter of time. New areas are also fully
populated with non-player characters, with which playing characters can interact. These are deployed automatically when you place staffed objects in the build mode.
In larger resorts, Sims stay in lodges and hotels, checking into these at the main desk. An hour before checkout time, the game asks if they want to stay another day. Luxury.
Money-spending opportunities include funfair style games, outdoor barbecues, postcard shops and rental shacks, where Sims can hire fishing tackle, picnic baskets, bows and arrows and metal detectors.
Sims use metal detectors and fishing rods to look for treasure – some is worth money. Frequently found "treasures" include old boots and other junk, which become holiday souvenirs. Rental shacks rent igloos and tents for the budget holidaymaker.
The Sims funfair offers a chance to win prizes in the form of tokens, which can be exchanged for holiday souvenirs, including quartz skulls and stuffed penguins. As well as giving them to friends, Sims can buy special shelving for souvenirs when they get home – presumably to impress neighbours with their lack of taste. If a player fails to collect enough tokens for a souvenir, they can hang onto them, collecting more next time they go on hols.
There’s yet another way to build relationships – characters can send postcards to chosen friends.
As well as their extensive bad-taste souvenir collection, players will find a host of objects designed to add fun – and frustration – to life in the Neighbourhood. These include a dartboard, pinball machine, and bath/shower combination, new beds, decorative items and funfair games. My
personal favourite is the heart-shaped hot tub – like the heart-shaped bed, this is one of the only places love-struck Sims can get intimate. Maxis – original designer of the game – have always kept Sim intimacy under strict control, with occasionally tragic results. For example, when a player takes a Sim and its date to Vacation Island, the date will not perform certain interactions, including sleeping in bed. They’ll stand till they drop.
There’s new dangers, too – Jimi Hendrix Sim was most upset when a passing pickpocket brought his happy holiday to an abrupt end, absconding with all his cash.
Until now, I’ve been running The Sims happily on my 300MHz, 192MB RAM Tangerine iBook; performance got shaky when Hot Date was installed, but the Mac
couldn’t cope at all with Vacation. It kept
quitting. To play this Expansion Pack in
conjunction with others available, players will need to get hold of the best Mac they can, or perhaps more RAM. It performs excellently on my LCD iMac, however.
Like previous Expansion Packs, Vacation can extend the playable life of the original title, easing some of the frustrations of the original, while adding entertaining new features that help the game come alive. As long as Maxis keeps extending, rather than repeating, the formula, the game will
remain popular, though I’ve a feeling The Sims Unleashed (currently available for PC, which lets Sims characters keep pets) could be the last update to gather any real credibility. On a technical side, the parent title, with all the expansion packs added, will stretch any Mac – including Power Macs – to the limit. Be warned, if you plan installing this on an older, slower Mac,
you’d be better off saving for a new machine instead. On the whole, it’s another very enjoyable gaming experience that breathes more life into this surprisingly long-lasting favourite.
This review appeared in the Expo 2002 issue