The Sims Freeplay

I've been playing The Sims in its various incarnations for most of the 14 years it's been around. When The Sims was first released in 2000, I became almost instantly addicted. The brainchild of Will Wright, of SimCity fame, The Sims was the first life-simulator: create a sim, give them a house, make them go to the bathroom, force them to eat, get a job, change their clothes. It was a video game based on all the crap we have to do in daily life, and it worked far better than the initial idea should have. After all, we already do all of these mundane things in our own life - who wants to play a video game about it? Yet, Wright and his team at Maxis were able to inject enough wit and playability into the idea to make it fun and rewarding. You could advance in your career and earn enough money to upgrade your home. Expansion packs came along that took The Sims into new, wacky, and sometimes strange territories, like witchcraft.

I became even more enamored with the series when it got its first major overhaul and launched The Sims 2. A third iteration and a number of expansion packs followed, leading to the release of The Sims 4, which is expected to hit retailers later this year.

In between all of this, though, came an interesting departure. With the rise of mobile devices and tablets, like the iPad and Kindle, a new arena of gaming opened up, and EA Mobile quickly realized that they could capitalize on a well-known brand. In 2011, The Sims Freeplay was released for iOS devices, and Android devices a few months later.

My wife started playing it on her iPad. I tried it briefly, a few years ago when it first released, and enjoyed it, but forgot about it for a while. It was fun watching her play and listen to her stories of what zany things were happening in SimVille, especially around Christmas, when Freeplay launched a holiday-themed mission requiring your sims to aid Santa Claus and the chance to win a reindeer.

After getting my Kindle HD for Christmas, I decided it was time to check back in on The Sims after an extended period of time away. I haven't played any iterations of the series since The Sims 3 launched, with the exception of some brief forays into the PS3 edition of Pets. After a month of playing, I've found myself quite addicted to Freeplay.

Like the PC versions of The Sims, Freeplay starts you off with a simple character creation and purchase of a home. The biggest difference between the mobile version from the PC series is the real-time aspect. In Freeplay, all actions are based on real-time, so when you send your sim to the bathroom it can take ten seconds to complete, then another five seconds to wash hands if you're a hygienic player. When employed (or in school, if your preteen or teenage sim is enrolled), the sims disappears for several hours a day and comes back home at the appointed time with some extra cash (Simoleons) and experience points. You can build up your town, adding structures like the town hall, a recreation center, schools, a fire station, parks, and so on. But, again, each structure takes a pre-determined amount of real-time to build, and can take anywhere from an hour to two days to complete.

As with previous iterations, Freeplay has that warm, familiar touch of humor. Sims can be insane and squawk like chickens when they are feeling fulfilled, and they can be tasked with a goal of turning a rival sim into a nemesis so that they can slap them. You can give your sims a villainous streak or make them a vigilante, or maybe a romantic, by choosing a personality during the character creation. Unfortunately, personality doesn't play into the game beyond some behaviors a sim will show off when left alone for a bit, and it certainly doesn't weigh in as heavily as The Sims 3. Having a villain in your town is rather meaningless since they aren't given any particularly villainous interactions or options, nor does personality make any inroads, or have any detriment, to particular careers. Tycoons won't make more in any given profession than any other sim, or be rewarded with anything extra. There are some slight differences in actions depending on a characters age, but again, nothing overly significant. Preteens can make prank phone calls, while teenagers get hungry and can spend an hour staring vacantly into the refrigerator.

There are a number of hobbies to explore in SimVille, with more to unlock as your sims progress. Sims who take up the fishing hobby are prone to being eaten by a big-mouthed bass. During a recent fishing challenge, hazardous waste was dumped into the park's lake and mutated the fish, which had to be caught. Of course, each mutant fish was named after the characters of Breaking Bad, like Blue Saulmon, Gustavo Finn, and the illusive Hi-Sim-Berg. But, sims can also figure skate or take up woodworking, and preteens can do either karate or ballet.

In some ways, Freeplay is a more stripped-down, back-to-basics approach of The Sims gameplay model, but it still works well and is surprisingly advanced, at least in comparison to the basic core version of The Sims prior to the addition of expansion titles. The developers, EA Mobile and Firemonkeys Studios, have been good about adding content and keeping the game feeling fresh. The real-time aspect of the game has even played in to real-world aspects, like holiday-themed missions. After the Christmas story, the sims had to prep for New Years and were rewarded with fireworks that they could set up around their house and help ring in 2014. As you collect experience points and level-up your sims, you are given new goals and missions to carry out in order to unlock new abilities, like having a baby, and then aging that child from an infant to a toddler, and up through the intermediary stages through adulthood. The game even periodically advertises upcoming missions when you level up, and gamers can look forward to The Island of Mystery, which adds it on bit of side-achievements to the game, or becoming a Ghostbuster at level 20! An update was recently issued that will allow players to turn their adult sims into elders, and added new hobbies and pet birds, and these additions should be unlocked for all on Feb. 5.

As a whole, The Sims family of games have been enjoyable to play, and Freeplay is little exception. It has all the customary essences of what Will Wright and Maxis developed and expanded upon over more than a decade, and it still feels fresh. The lite role-play aspects and the rewards that can be unlocked by gaining XP to advance through the levels offer enough gratification to keep one going, and the enticements of what future levels bring prevent the game from feeling too repetitive, even if it is a bit limited on options. The real-time nature of it works well, and to an extent even forces players to step away for a little while and check back later to ascertain the status and well-being of the sims. When you have an entire city of sims tied up in a 10-hour pumpkin pie baking spree, there's not much to do, but once you grind your way through to the next level, suddenly you have a plethora of activities to while away a few more hours with, or a series of goals to work through every week to earn keys to unlock surprise bonuses. More than anything, it's just easy fun and provides a very quick learning curve to draw players in rapidly, as a good mobile game should. The Sims Freeplay is a fun little life-simulator that lets you get away from the hectic routine of your daily life for a bit, and maybe even engage in a little wish-fulfillment. My reality may include a mighty fierce snowstorm and temps below freezing right now, so I can't go hang out in a pool and soak up the sun, but my sim sure as hell can!

Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.

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