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Livin' Large on AVault

Thursday, September 21, 2000 - 23:10

The Adrenaline Vault's Nick Stewart delivers a thorough and glowing review of The Sims Livin' Large. Check it out!

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The Sims Livin' Large Review

Review by: Nick Stewart
Published: September 18, 2000

The gaming industry, by its very nature, is constantly in flux. Genres rise and fall in popularity, long-standing companies are forced to shut their doors, while others succeed beyond their greatest expectations. Generally speaking, it’s tough to pin down any one phenomenon, or to predict any kind of future for this tumultuous business. Nevertheless, there are some things you can always count on, such as collector’s editions, gold editions and expansion packs. It thus hardly came as a surprise to anyone when Maxis announced that it planned to release an add-on disk for its breakaway “people simulator” hit, The Sims. Considering that the original is still doing extremely well on best-seller lists even a half-year after its release, one can only imagine that its expansion, The Sims: Livin’ Large, will see similar financial success.

One of The Sims‘ greatest qualities — and what is nearly guaranteed to ensure its longevity — is its ability to import unique elements directly into the “catalogues” that the virtual populace uses to decorate their homes. In fact, the sheer amount of fan sites dedicated to the proliferation of user-made walls, floors and skins stands as a testament to the fans’ desire to customize their creations as much as possible. With this in mind, it only seems natural that Maxis has infused Livin’ Large with a number of these additions, responding to some of the most prominent public requests. For example, themed “sets” are now available, allowing users to lend a highly specific tone to their Sims’ homes, in either Medieval, Vegas and Retro flavors. For example, should you wish to give your home the feel of truly being a castle, you could coat the outside of your domicile in grandiose granite, while the interior walls are covered with dungeon-like brickwork, capped off with a stark stone floor. If, on the other hand, you’re looking to give your Sims’ bedroom more than a touch of Vegas kitsch, you could surround the room with a leopard print wallpaper, along with an appropriately showy “solar flare” rug. Though appropriate skins aren’t always available, there are still a few that players may find that work within the concept of a given scenario; for example, the “mad scientist” face and clothing can be associated with the ‘castle’ motif to create a “lunatic on the hill” situation, while the Vegas-dwelling male can suit himself up in a purple leisure suit that shows off his ample chest hair. With several new skins accompanying the ones formerly only available on The Sims‘ website, players have an expanded aesthetic repertoire with which to flesh out their worlds.

Another major aspect of The Sims‘ appeal lies within a core element of its gameplay: objects. Fans were — and still are — able to download new objects created at the hands of Maxis staffers, available every so often on their official website. As such, no Sim expansion would feel complete without the inclusion of new items with which to amuse and torture your virtual populace, which Livin’ Large amply provides — more than 100, in fact. Many of these have been seen in some form or another, but have been given a visual makeover to complement the new themes: you may decide to endow your Sims’ campy jungle bedroom with some elephant-shaped endtables as well as couple of tiki torches to complete the look. Other motif-driven variations include a torch wall-light, an egg chair, an antique bathtub, a vibrating bed and countless other visually re-hashed sundries.

There are a few unique and standout items among this new batch, however. For instance, whenever Sims decide to gaze into the crystal ball, they receive cryptic information on how to improve their lives; shortly after mocking another person for playing some truly terrible guitar, my Sim consulted her mystical guide, which promptly informed her — in its own mysterious way — that she should be nicer to others. Other objects, while improving general skills like many existing items, carry additional factors. Using the woodworking table not only improves one’s mechanical skill, but also creates exploding garden gnomes. The telescope is a great way for Sims to have fun while improving their logic skills, though one night they might find themselves abducted by aliens, with their personality completely scrambled upon their return. Perhaps the most significant new item of the lot is the chemistry set. It, too, improves logic abilities, though it carries an extra factor: after using it for a time, Sims can randomly create one of eight different potions, each of which has a notably different effect. For example, one potion may completely rejuvenate your character’s energy and fun bars, while another may temporarily transform the user into Frankenstein, who then tromps about the house, destroying everything in sight. All in all, the host of new objects are more than enough to generate some truly bizarre scenarios for your hapless inhabitants.

Though there is certainly much to be gained — and lost — from The Sims‘ cast of NPCs, several new ones have tagged along for the ride in Livin’ Large. The genie, though technically an aspect of an object, qualifies as his own entity: whenever someone decides to clean that dusty old antique oil lamp that they bought from the SimStore, a large, purple mystical being spews forth in a cloud of smoke, ready to grant various wishes. Unfortunately for the user, genies aren’t all that good at what they do, and are only successful in their attempts a portion of the time: they can induce both love and hate in family and friends, and are also capable of creating expensive gifts, setting your house aflame, as well as a handful of other effects. Another item that will strike players as being its own character is the ultra-expensive robot, whose 15,000 dollar price tag may initially throw off potential buyers. Once purchased, however, the automaton takes on a life of its own as it cleans your house, cooks your food, repairs your broken objects, and even tries to cheer up its depressed owners by talking, entertaining and even dancing with them.

Not all new characters are positive, though; the Tragic Clown perhaps stands as one of the most unfortunate sights within the game. Visiting your household whenever the residents are sufficiently miserable, this clown originally has the intent to improve the overall mood, but in fact succeeds at ruining it completely. Not only does he appear depressed and tired, but he constantly whines and cries, occasionally spitting or breaking into violent fits of smoker’s cough. Even his attempts at joyous tricks fall horrendously flat: producing a dove out of nowhere is seemingly a good idea, but it’s not long before the bird dies, leaving the clown to shove it back in his pockets. Unfortunately for your Sims, he can’t be ejected from the house like a regular guest, as he can stay for days on end, only leaving once the mood has improved. Attempting to construct walls around him at night won’t work either, as he employs a portable hole to transport himself to wherever he wishes — usually the bedroom, where he constantly keeps your Sims from sleeping by harassing them with broken balloon animals and other irritating noises. Still, despite his problems, he fails to stand as the most significant new character; that honor goes to Death itself. Instead of simply dying a simple demise, your Sims must now be officially sent off to the afterlife by the Grim Reaper, who makes his way to your home at the appropriate time. All is not necessarily lost in such cases, though: surviving Sims can plead with him to spare the lives of the soon-to-be deceased, which can have one of several results including a flat-out refusal, the resurrection of the character in question, or even the transformation of the victim into a zombie. This newfound opposition tends to appear at the most unexpected times, and, as you would expect, can totally throw off a character’s day.

Players looking to give Sims meaning to their lives through employment will find much to like within Livin’ Large, as five new career paths have been added. Is your character tired of playing doctor? Have him trade in his stethoscope for a guitar, and join the Musician stream as a street performer. With time — and the usual skills boosts and friend acquisitions — he might rise to be a lounge singer, and maybe even a rock star. Should your Sim be more logically-inclined, have him take up a position as a beta tester within the Hacker field. If his ambitions lie elsewhere, you can submit him to the rigors of deadlines and writer’s block within the field of Journalism, or alternatively you can exercise his psychic energies within the realm of the Paranormal. Of course, if all this sounds like too much work, you can even kick back and relax, making money while being a Slacker, taking up positions as a golf caddy, or a lifeguard. With fifty new positions in all, would-be professionals have a lot to keep them occupied for quite some time.

Graphics: 4.5 Stars
Maxis’ artists didn’t disappoint with their work on The Sims, and they pull through once again with Livin’ Large. All the new items are exceptionally well-done, with each one exuding a highly specific tone. For example, the vibrating bed, which comes complete with a heart-shaped headboard, looks to be straight out of a cheap hotel, while the rounded contours and sleek design of the robot’s housing station convey a definite high-tech feel. Even minor items, such as a golden boxer-clad statue of David, which just screams pure kitsch, feel completely appropriate for their “set,” and work perfectly within their context. Considering the impressive quantity of high-quality user-made skins floating around the Internet, it’s good to see that Maxis has included some of the absolute best, lending further fodder for the ever-popular snapshot stories; from the sheen of a Roman centurion’s breastplate to the frilly fringes of a Shakespearean tunic, there’s a lot to enjoy. The new jobs have received a similar treatment, with impressive skins accompanying Sims to their new realms of employment: a wedding singer dutifully wears a powder-blue tuxedo to his engagements, while the penultimate hacker gets to suit up in a bevy of futuristic technological gadgets. The new characters are perhaps the “best-dressed” of all, though, with their obvious effort having been spent on their particular nuances. The genie, for example, looks to be straight out of an Arabian tale, with his deep purple flesh, golden jewelry as well as his lone ponytail and goatee. The Tragic Clown’s suit is shoddy and torn, with his shirt stained and the seat of his pants literally tearing open. Of course, there’s also Death, whose appropriately skeletal and scythe-wielding form will strike fear into your Sims’ hearts. The visuals are all excellently done, and are every bit as enjoyable as those from the original game.

Interface: 4 Stars
There isn’t much to comment upon within this criterion, considering that Livin’ Large does little that would necessitate new informational layouts. What it does, however, is improve upon the existing features, rendering them more comprehensive and user-friendly. Instead of having to wrestle with directories to insert downloaded families into your neighborhood, a single click of the Import button will allow you to easily access and manipulate the virtual inhabitants of the appropriate folder. Additionally, helpful tips now accompany certain construction aspects, such as wallpaper and columns, instructing you on the extent of their abilities, and how to use them efficiently. Extras like these are few and far between, but are greatly appreciated nonetheless.

Gameplay: 4 Stars
Part of The Sims‘ appeal was not only the ability to put semi-realistic cyber-folk through their daily paces, but the occasional opportunity to put them in some truly weird and bizarre circumstances. Livin’ Large takes this aspect to an extreme, allowing you the chance to expose your characters to a gloriously off-the-wall lifestyle, should you so desire. While newcomers to the game will certainly appreciate it, this concept perhaps holds the most value for its true target audience: those who once played the original for weeks and weeks on end, but have since grown apart from their virtual families. For example, your formerly sedate, successful and ultimately dull household of urban professionals can now undergo a truly radical lifestyle change, as you transform their home into a stereotypical slice of Vegas, complete with hideously corny wallpaper, rubber quilted doors and vibrating beds. These new wallpaper and floor tilesets work tremendously well with the appropriately themed objects, which are fantastic in and of themselves. The random elements brought about by the chemistry set and genie are equally appreciable, as they gleefully inject the welcome spice of chaos into your Sims’ lives, as does the do-or-die game of chance with Death. Along with small but significant extras such as the ability to maintain five distinct neighborhoods, there’s a lot to enjoy within the walls of Livin’ Large.

What might perhaps be the only somewhat sore spot to be found in this expansion pack lies within the new jobs. While they provide great alternatives to the more standard employment paths of the original, they don’t change much beyond what fans have come to expect; i.e. the necessary skill increases and higher friend counts. To be sure, it’s a lot of fun to see your Sim rise the ranks of fame to become a big-name rock star, but the process is bound to bring about large doses of déjà vu. Still, it’s a minor complaint, as the other creative elements are more than enough to rejuvenate your experience.

Multiplayer: As Livin’ Large features no multiplayer capabilities, this criterion has not been rated.

Sound FX: 4.5 Stars
One of The Sims‘ primary hallmarks was how it dealt with the potentially problematic speech of the virtual inhabitants, using a nonsensical language appropriately titled SimSpeak. The tone and tempo of the characters’ words easily gave away what they were trying to convey, and as such stood as a fantastic accomplishment of sound. The same holds true for Livin’ Large, as the vocals for the new characters and scenarios perfectly represent their intentions and personalities. The Tragic Clown continually emits a plaintive whine, trudging about your home as he hacks, coughs, spits, and audibly makes a nuisance of himself. The genie speaks in a grandiose tone, but is given such a comical tilt that it’s impossible to take him seriously — which reflects his distinct unreliability. Of course, it’s difficult to ignore the menacing, otherworldly growl that accompanies Death’s unfortunate activities. Although few of the objects have been given accompanying sounds, the ones that are equipped with noise follow in this vein of quality: a low, squealing hum follows the activation of a guitar amp, while various futuristic beeps and blips follow the robot wherever it goes. It’s another series of great effects, and complement the on-screen action almost perfectly.

Musical Score: As Livin’ Large features little in the way of additional music, this criterion has not been rated.

Intelligence & Difficulty: 4 Stars
At first glance, it might seem that Livin’ Large doesn’t really create any kind of situation that would lower or raise the level of difficulty; after all, most of the additions are basically just added features, and even those that present opportunities have random chances of succeeding or failing. Spending some time with your virtual household will change that perspective, however; take the Tragic Clown, for instance. Not only do you have to deal with your Sims’ misery, you must now attempt to improve their mood against the continually depressing effect of an ever-present nuisance. Simple sleep no longer succeeds, since the clown is guaranteed to wake them up, preventing them from getting their much-needed rest; consequently, your saddened characters will spend a lot of time sleeping face-first on the floor, which in turn will make it that much harder to cheer them up. Even basic laziness can pose a problem now, as dirty dishes or floors can attract roach infestations, which require minimal effort and a great deal of time to stomp or spray away. On the opposite end of the difficulty scale, your Sims now have a chance of surviving even the most dire cases of neglect, which pretty much allows you to set your family on auto-pilot, if you’re not actively looking to pursue a particular goal. Along the same lines, the multipurpose robot will simplify housework tenfold, saving you the money for maids, gardeners and pizza delivery while sparing you the long wait until each of them arrive. It’s an extremely handy feature that truly rewards Sims who have worked hard for their money, and makes life a lot easier for players; in fact, each of the new challenges counterbalance each other nicely, and are surprisingly enjoyable.

Overall: 4 Stars
While Livin’ Large doesn’t bring any truly ground-breaking renovations to the original experience of The Sims, it isn’t supposed to. As an expansion pack, it does its job admirably, bringing new skins, sets, themes, characters and jobs to the mix, while simplifying the interface and improving the quality of the sound. The new situations and scenarios brought about by the new additions are truly enjoyable, and are easily sufficient to cause former Sims addicts to suffer another relapse. In other words, Livin’ Large is something no self-respecting Sims fan should be without, and might just be enough to entice skeptics to hazard a try.

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