Way back in 2000 when I first started playing The Sims, the big joke was that Sims players were wasting their time living virtual lives when they could be living their own. That stigma faded over time — once MMORPGs made it big, there were bigger time wasters to fry.
But The Sims FreePlay [Free] hearkens back to those early days in more ways than one. For one thing, it’s more like the original than any of the other mobile titles. For another, this game plays in real time. That means when you take the time to send your Sim off to shower, you really could be doing it yourself. Never before has a game given me such an uncomfortable awareness of my own time-wasting — but the returns make it feel worthwhile.
By moving the game into real time, players are free to, well, not play on occasion. Freemium titles like this work on timers, and timers have to keep moving while you’re away. Since the game is all about micromanaging your Sims lives, imagine a 20 minute day — step out for an extended lunch in real life, and all your Sims would have starved away to nothing.
Instead, you can pop in to babysit them as little as once or twice a day, or as often as you want. It’s a lot like playing The Sims with autonomy turned off: your Sims will do nothing on their own. They will suffer, starve and humiliate themselves if you’re not there to care for them. Will they die? I couldn’t bring myself to let it go that far. Seeing their tiny, defeated frames as they stood there starving a few steps from a fridge was enough of a heart-breaker.
If you want your Sims to take on gainful employment, you’ll need to stop in a bit more often. Jobs also function in real time, so if you’re not able to play around, say, 8 am there will be certain jobs you’ll want to avoid. It’s awkward, but your Sims really don’t care — they lack interests, desires or skills, so one job is as good as the next.
That’s the fundamental problem of The Sims FreePlay: if every action is equally good, they all start to feel a bit pointless. You can send your Sim down for a quick nap that takes 4 minutes or a deep sleep that takes 8 hours, and the only difference is the amount of experience you’ll earn at the end of it. It’s streamlined gameplay that works exceptionally well for a freemium title, but feels a bit pointless when compared to the desktop titles.
Still, as a freemium game The Sim FreePlay works very well. Grinding for experience takes a back seat to entertainment. You can customize your Sims’ looks and outfits. You can play with their hearts, setting up love triangles and household-spanning affairs. You can set your Sims to gardening and play Farmville-lite. You can rebuild their homes and decorate with a decent selection of furniture and decor. Playing interior decorator is always my favorite part.
Of course, to buy furniture you need money. Your Sims can earn their simoleons by going to work, selling the fruits of their gardening labor and playing with their pets. Or you can skip all that and just buy them. You can also buy lifestyle points, which can be used to instantly complete timers or purchase some awesome furniture and houses. Lifestyle points can also be earned as you level up and complete missions.
Here’s the rub: simoleons and lifestyle points are expensive. The smallest simoleon packs you can buy are $4.99, and give you about enough cash to buy one shop in town. You can do it all yourself instead, but it’s going to be a long grind to buy homes to unlock all 16 Sims, open all the shops and build all the workplaces.
If you go into the game looking for the next great Sims title, you’ll be disappointed. The game is all surface without much underlying personality. But if you’re looking for a new freemium title to sink your teeth into, The Sims FreePlay offers so much fun and variety that you’ll barely notice the same old timers underpinning the works. That’s no small achievement. If you find yourself as hooked as I am, stop by our discussion thread and share your thoughts.