It's been three years since we first got a taste of Sunset Valley with The Sims 3. Since then, our little pixelated pals have traveled to France, Egypt and China, learned new skills, started families, raised pets and discovered hidden talents - but now it's time for them to get their freak on, with the release of The Sims 3: Supernatural.
These days, no game is complete without the undead paying a visit. We've seen ghosts and vampires in The Sims before, but they were mainly a matter of chance. Supernatural puts the little people's fate directly in your hands from the character creation screen. Want a ghost? Click a button (and choose how they died - that sort of thing is important!) How about a fairy, witch, werewolf or a vampire? If you have Showtime installed, you can even create a genie, if that's your thing.
I've been spending time getting to know my beautiful gypsy werewolf, which the random name generator labelled Dane. Dane lives in Moonlight Falls, the new location added with Supernatural. She could have lived in Sunset Valley, but Moonlight Falls already has the sort of facilities a young supernatural adult could want - there's an elixir store, and a supernatural hangout, where Dane can feel a little more at home.
She spends her days getting frocked up (thanks to the new "proper" personality trait), working as a test subject in the lab, and reading books on handiness. At night though - and, actually, often during the day too - Dane starts to feel a bit funny, and in a lovely bit of animation ripped straight from Hollywood, she twists and morphs into a kinda ugly-lookin' lycanthrope. While in this form, she stalks, hunts and scares, finding collectibles and scratching up the furniture. This new skill is great fun to begin with, but the novelty wears off quicker than the character learns to cope with her transitions, meaning there's inevitably a few mis-timed shapeshifts - one which nearly cost Dane her job.
Other supernatural 'races' have their own perils - vampires aren't too keen on sunlight, witches weren't born with broom-riding skills, and let's just say you don't want to see a fairy get too close to a lamp...
Even as a long-time Sims fan, I have to admit to a little eye-rolling when EA announced the theme of this expansion. "Too much Twilight", I thought, "too much attention spent on the Winchester brothers."
...but after spending a little time with it, The Sims 3: Supernatural is more than the simple cash-in I'd written it off as. The new characters actually make a sort of sense, and add a definite level of variety to the game. After three years, even in a sandbox title like The Sims 3, gamers are starting to get fatigued, so it's nice to have some extra bits and pieces to play with.
That said, Supernatural has its faults.
There's one obvious, undead figure that you cannot create, the inevitable zombie. These shuffling corpses do make an appearance in the new township of Moonlight Falls, but they're not necessarily a highlight. Added as uncontrollable NPCs, the zombies climb out of the ground to cause havok, destroying everything they can get their rotting hands on. EA would like you to use in-game techniques to stop them: A witch's spell, some fairy dust, or perhaps the limited edition Plants vs. Zombies peashooter. That said, gamers I spoke to were so frustrated with the zombie plague that they simply resorted to using cheat codes to zap them away.
Supernatural is the most buggy Sims experience I've had to date. I suffered significant clipping issues that saw characters half-appearing inside walls. The innovative new "phases of the moon" feature had a nasty tendency to freeze (leaving my township in the throes of lunacy), or not progress properly. Other things didn't seem quite right, the way edges don't quite meet up on cheap, imitation merchandise. While there were only little, niggly things wrong - and they were issues that are likely to be fixed with patches - somehow it just felt like it lacked the polish of expansions like Showtime and Generations.
But still, Supernatural is packed with content. There's a new skill, a new job, new personality traits and new clothes, as well as the new character types. People who've dedicated their time to carefully creating ghosts and vampires (originally added in the Late Night expansion) can now skip the whole awkward death part and just click a few buttons in Create-A-Sim. Alchemy is fantastic, and something I'd like to explore further. I'm just not sure I want to revisit Moonlight Falls until after a patch release.
I like video games and music and cups of tea and noodles and beagles and colour-cycling LEDs.
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Jimmy the Geek