A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this is an expansion to the popular life simulation game The Sims 2, and that the original is required in order to play. The base game remains the same, which means the Sims under players' control can still become sexually involved with other Sims, get into fights, and act in a variety of irresponsible ways (skip work, be rude to friends, have affairs). However, unsociable behavior comes with consequences. For example, your friends may stop liking you, and you can get fired from your job. The new content -- new hobbies such as tinkering with cars and playing video games -- is completely innocuous.
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What's it about?
The seventh expansion to The Sims 2, an uber-popular life simulator that's part of a franchise that has sold over one-hundred million copies to date, THE SIMS 2: FREE TIME offers players the ability to indulge their Sims' leisurely interests. It provides a wide variety of new hobbies for Sims to take up, from bird watching to novel writing, and ensures that players have enough time to pursue these activities. Also new is the Lifetime Aspiration Meter, which provides Sims with special goals. If these goals are met, Sims earn Aspiration Points, which can be spent on a variety of benefits that make it easier to, say, make friends or get away with skipping a day of work. The more benefits the player unlocks, the more free time his or her Sims have to pursue their hobbies.
Is it any good?
Free Time isn't exactly a paradigm shift for The Sims 2, but it's a substantial improvement for players new to the game. Rookies to the series often find themselves spending all of their time simply trying to keep their Sims washed and fed, but thanks to the new hobbies exclusive to this expansion, it becomes easier for Sims to start enjoying themselves right away. As they become experienced with their hobbies, they start to enter the "zone," which allows them to spend more time enjoying themselves and less time worrying about relieving their bladders or getting some shuteye. The Lifetime Aspiration Meter is an equally compelling addition. It helps focus your Sims' activities by providing goals, and results in rewards that further increase your Sims' spare time. Other adjuncts, including the ability to take friends with your from one stage of your Sims' lives to their next and improved parenting skills (no more guessing what the crying baby needs), sweeten the pot enough to make this expansion a very worthwhile Sims 2 add-on.
Of course, now nearly four years old, the core game is starting to show its age. The Sims are still pleasant enough to look at, and their animations are just as funny as ever, but the game's inanimate objects -- including furniture, houses, and outdoor terrain -- are beginning to look quaint compared to similar objects in other PC games. The good news is that the minimum hardware requirements are now so low that almost any computer purchased in the last couple of years can run the game very well. Still, as far as graphics are concerned, next year's release of The Sims 3 can't come fast enough.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the odd appeal of playing a game that essentially mimics one's real life. What makes paying virtual bills, going to a virtual job, and cleaning a virtual house more palatable than doing these things in real life? Do you like the expansion pack's focus on providing your Sims an opportunity to indulge their epicurean side? Of the game's new leisurely activities, which is your favorite?
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