Singles 2: Triple Trouble
When buying a game like Singles 2, you can expect two types of reactions from the clerk behind the register. The compassionate type tilts his head to the side with a pitying “Aw, this shy kid thinks he can learn the intricacies of love with a computer game” look, while the matter-of-fact guy will shake his head reprovingly for you favouring a massive amount of pink pixels over the vastness of The Sims 2. Fortunately, I do not have to worry about trivialities such as social contact, as everything is delivered at home. I could not escape it, though, as the postman had a suspicious grin when he handed me the package, so I guess the government can cut the time for their rounds even more – they still have the time to hold packages against the light.
What the previous paragraph refers to, is the hype developer Rotobee tries to gather: nobody dares to match the complete concept of The Sims 2, so they pick a path Electronic Arts does not dare to tread because of the ratings, and make a new game out of it. This is not necessarily a shameless act, as long as there is an audience for it. When EA launched The Sims Online, the rules were bent in astonishing ways. There was prostitution, extortion, money schemes, racism… which hardly could be prevented. Accounts got banned, and users complained they were simply using the environment Maxis provided. Singles 2 serves the audience that wants to take romance and relationships further: in the bedroom, and without blurred out parts.
The first Singles game proved it was a bit more than just a gimmick. Overall, it was not as extensive as The Sims, but the focus on relationships introduced a different kind of gameplay, although I could not shake off the feeling I was merely playing an expansion pack. In 2005, only a year later, Singles 2 positions itself between the friendly Sims 2 and the extravagant spin-off 7 Sins: a cosy environment, but a more mature – the focus on relationships has been broadened, although it never becomes decadent. The subtitle reads “Triple Trouble” or three-cornered relationships, which leaves plenty of room for at least eight sequels with a increasing number of participants until “Singles 10: Gangbang”.
The Story Mode, the most important part of the game, is centered around different kinds of relationships. In the short introduction film, we meet Josh and Anna. Their commitments has gone on the rocks and after some quarrelling, they decide to take different roads. You choose a character and then move to a new apartment, where, by accident, one of your roommates is your ex-lover, while the other one sparks some interest as well. It has trouble written all over it, but from there, it is up to you. The first mission is to get the two lovers back together. Meanwhile, all the basic actions are introduced: cleaning the house, repairing appliances, decorating the rooms, looking for a job, flirting with the other roommate… The progress can be followed through a number of meters at the bottom of the screen. They represent the basic desires of your singles. You have to eat regularly, take care of hygiene, sleep well, mix work with entertainment, provide comfort, and build romances and friendships. If you neglect a certain aspect, the character becomes irritated and all attempts at a reasonable relationship will be futile.
The interface and the controls are a shameless copy of The Sims 2. If you are familiar with the game, you will not have problems with the menus or the navigation. Since relationships are the main point of interest, you spend most of the time communicating with the other inhabitants. The conversations are based around four themes: fun, friendship, romance and relationships. Moving on in the game means you have to keep an eye on the different needs and adjust your actions accordingly. Providing luxury and comfort is a sure hit, but a present and some kind words will also get you far. Progress is awarded with experience points that can be exchanged to improve technical or relational abilities.
In the beginning, the amount of different actions can seem a little disorienting. Time is ticking away, and next to your day job, there are many trivial actions to keep you occupied: washing-up, decorating the house, doing the laundry, running naked through the rooms of ill-tempered roommates… there is hardly time to pay attention to the other characters. By gaining experience points to improve your abilities, you can cut back on work and spend more time on the entertaining aspects. When you finish the first mission – bringing the loved ones back together – you are free to pursue any relationship you desire. If the roommates seem boring, you can hang out at the local bar to meet new people and bring them to your apartment. When the flirting is convincing, you can start a romance and move to the more private areas of the house for voyeurish close-ups of the bedroom action. Afterwards, the biggest challenge is to keep the relationship going, basically by devoting all your time to your partner. Even here, playing computer games all night long is not considered an act of romance. Bummer.
The visual aspects have not been improved much since the first game. The graphics looks crisp and detailed, but they cannot top The Sims 2 (again). Clipping problems occur occasionally. When you zoom through a character, you will only see a hovering mouth. Another nuisance is the spoken language itself. It is no surprise that the Singles chatter in an incomprehensible language, but identical actions trigger the same lines over and over again. Adventure gamers may be familiar with this; there was a time you heard “These items cannot be combined together” during every single action, and Singles 2 suffers from the same problem. It pulls you out of the game when a flirting command always shows the same animations and sounds. The background music is cheerful and light-hearted; it has a sense of superficial romantic tension that reminds of Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball.
Aside from the regular storyline, you can also play a number of free scenarios. They each have a distinct starting location, such as a backyard, a penthouse, or a regular apartment, with specific characters, customs and desires, which requires a unique approach. Not all locations are available right away; you need to unlock them by finishing the main storyline and completing certain missions. The different settings offer a welcome chance, but once you adapt to the desires of the characters, it soon boils down to the same gameplay.
Despite the improvements and new features, Singles 2 does not offer enough change to justify a standalone sequel. The game only focuses on a small part of what The Sims 2 offers, and remains unable to introduce original gameplay elements. Of course, the mature action, the game’s main sales argument, is a welcome and realistic addition, but it offers very little gameplay value. When a game is about relationships, I want to be immersed and feel compassionate, but it is all about statistics and repeated actions. If the developer had looked at recent projects such Façade, they could have simulated real relationships, through active conversations with intelligent AI and a mood that changes along with your words as well as with your behaviour. That would have been an interesting challenge where efforts are really rewarded, while Singles 2 only rarely gives you the feeling that the characters do not follow straightforward routines.
Singles 2 is a polished and entertaining game that can keep you occupied for a while, but it lacks additional depth to offer an alternative for The Sims 2, especially as the concept is just a stripped-down version. The relationships are expanded in interesting ways, for a more mature audience, but the novelty does not last long, and the game does not offer the originality and twists needed to capture your attention for a longer time.