The Very First Review Of Pets On

Monday, October 16, 2006 - 23:10

"... the 'Sims 2 Pets' add-on is the best yet, and breathes a fresh breath of air into the best-selling game as it enters its third year."


The Sims 2 Pets Review

by Libe Goad

Keep the cute, but lose the allergies and shedding, for a near-perfect pet simulation worthy of adoption.

Scientific research has shown that pets help people lead productive and well-rounded lives. In fact, the evidence has been so strong that the government subsidizes outreach programs that place pets with senior citizens, and doctors have been known to prescribe pets to depressed patients.

Knowing all that, it makes sense that a little furry Prozac should get injected into 'The Sims' -- the best-selling life-simulation game that lets you create and take control of virtual humans (who, like us, grow unhappy without proper love and affection). Instead of having your Sims call neighbors in the middle of the night for a quick social fix, they can just play with their cat, dog or bird for an easy status boost.

The new Sims expansion offers a nice variety of ways to adopt a critter. Players can use the house phone to call up the adoption agency and have one delivered, adopt a neighborhood stray or buy one at a pet store.

While it's nice to have options, it was the most rewarding to start from scratch -- create an entirely new family that includes pets or buy one from a store. This way, just as game lets players custom create human characters, pets can be created with almost as much customization -- including everything from predetermined breeds (including hip mixed breeds like Labradoodles and puggles), coat colors, minute facial and body details to the animal's overall personality by way of an astrological chart with predetermined characteristics. There are so many options here that it's safe to say that outside of using a taxidermist to keep Fluffy around forever, this is the best way to reanimate a childhood pet for your own slightly creepy enjoyment.

It was surprising to discover that only cats and dogs can be customized -- birds and hamster-like "womrats" only come in six varieties. It's not a major letdown, except for any amateur ornithologists hoping to create their own new breed of feathered friend.

After being created or adopted, the pets move into your house with the human Sims. Like real pets, they have basic needs to be tended to -- which may not be the easiest task for a beginning Simmer. Like regular Sims, pets must be fed, entertained and trained -- and all of this requires some dexterous multitasking, since the actual human Sims themselves are already like little pets and also require constant monitoring to make sure they go to the bathroom, eat, build friends and enhance job skills. Hell, most actual humans have a hard enough time meeting their own needs.

Unlike most real-life animals, Sims pets can actually be sent to work to contribute to the family purse. Dogs and cats can be hired as pet detectives or for commercial work and players can choose to have their cat or dog bring home the bacon while they spend their days playing 'SSX 3' and watching Jerry Springer reruns. Better keep the pets happy though, or, like other Sims, their bad attitude will earn them a pink slip faster than they can chase their own tails.

Outside the job factor, furry friends in the game are a surprisingly realistic portrayal of real-life pets -- especially when it comes to the bad behavior. Untrained cats and dogs will indiscriminately leave puddles on expensive living room carpets and will bite and rip up pricey furniture without a thought. At one point, one of our cats started ripping up a brand-spanking-new couch -- an experience so upsetting that it was hard not to reach for the spray bottle filled with water and shout, "No! Bad kitty!"

Fortunately, the game lets you hire trainers to keep Fido and Fluffy in line for a small fee. For families with big aspirations and extra cash, this is the way to go. Otherwise, training pets takes up a fair amount of a Sim's time -- also like real life -- and that time's usually better spent on self-improvement.

A few pet-related items have been added to the inventory -- including bowls, pet beds, chew bones, a catnip toy, litter box, bird and womrat cages, etc. There's also a few pre-made pet stores and parks that can be added to the neighborhood and visited later. Though, compared to other expansions this new inventory seems a bit on the light side; it would have been nice to see more options in each of these categories. No self-cleaning litterbox? No self-walking dog leashes? Don't forget that in real life, people can (and do) send their beloved critters to big bucks doggy day care centers, so extravagant pet accessories aren't too far-fetched.

EA plays the celebrity card and got Hilary Duff and her Chihuahua, Lola, on board to help promote the game. Duff appears as a playable character -- you can dress her and force her to interact with other pedestrian Sims. It's an amusing pop culture addition to the game, but hardly a selling point for anyone other than her teenaged fans or semi-perverted guys. Music-wise, the Pussycat Dolls and Flaming Lips contributed to the game by singing their hit singles in Simlish, which is cool, but ground already trod by acts like the Black Eyed Peas.

For anyone who's already addicted to the 'The Sims 2,' 'Pets' is an engaging add-on that keeps the game fresh. Who knows -- adding a virtual menagerie of pets to a Sims family just might offer the same mood-enhancement as a real-life pet, minus the shedding and allergies.


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