The Urbz: Sims in the City
When I first heard about The Urbz: Sims in the City, I thought it was a new and clever way of Maxis to make even more money. When I saw that cunning little text “part of the Sims family” on the box, I knew for sure I was dealing with a quick spin-off. That’s probably the reason I was so surprised, this ‘urban subculture’-simulation isn’t bad at all, on the contrary!
To start with, a lot of simulation-elements from the original were removed in The Urbz, making it more of a game. It’s not possible to build a house, nor decorate it in any meaningful way. Pretty logical, because you won’t be spending a lot of time in it anyway. Also, say goodbye to a solid career and it’s a no no if you want to raise a family. It’s all about reputation, or ‘rep’. The more rep, the more friends, the more possibilities, the more neighborhoods to go to. Basically, you ‘unlock’ new levels, which wasn’t possible in The Sims.
Gaining rep is pretty easy. It’s just palling up with everybody you come across. There’s a broad selection of social interactions for you to pick from and use. Not everybody has the same interests, but due to color codes you can easily see what action will have what effect. Expect a positive reaction to a green action, take a guess with a yellow one and don’t even try the red-colored. Although this system is handy and makes sure gaining rep isn’t too difficult, there aren’t a lot of green actions available. This causes that you’ll sometimes watch the same ‘social-animation’ over and over again. After you’ve seen your character break dance for six times in a row it isn’t as cool anymore. Luckily you’ll gain a ‘sociobooster’ once in a while, which is basically a more effective move to use. It’s also needed to complete some missions.
There are nine different areas in The Urbz, each with their different subculture and inhabitants. Because they all have a different style, you’ll have to use different social moves with them and -more important- adjust. If you start in a Hells Angels-like neighborhood it’s obvious to wear dark clothes. But the next area can be skater-dominated, so it’s necessary to switch to baggy pants or whateverthe local store is selling. There’s quite a lot to change about yourself: hairstyle, hat, top, pants, shoes, tattoos and even piercings. It’s a shame to see that every category contains only three choices per culture, which isn’t much. Whenever going to another neighborhood, it’s recommended to change your outfit. Not so fun if you know the loading times to do that can take up to twenty seconds. Thank god you’re not obligated to switch areas.
Although there aren’t any permanent jobs, you can do a temporary one. Every neighborhood has its own job. It doesn’t matter if it’s packaging weasels or making firework, the principle is the same; pressing a button combination as fast as possible. Every career exists in three levels. To unlock the next one, you must improve your skills. This is done by buying strange looking machinery and exercising on them. The mission here is even more simple: non-stop shoving the X-button. Argueing about the complexity of the mini games is impossible; they’re clearly meant for another audience.
Time to dicuss the biggest flaw: the missions. Every area has exactly the same missions. Fair enough, it’s with another object or it revolves around another person, but the way to finish them is the same every time. When entering a new area, it’s starting a basic routine: talking to the inhabitants, gaining some friends, learning some new moves. When your rep is high enough, you’re allowed in the nightclub, where a new sociobooster can be found. With that sociobooster you can chase away a ‘meanie’ and become even more popular. Every now and then you can make some money with the local job. A simple concept, but due to those new moves and completely differing environments, it never gets bored. Though that doesn’t take away I would’ve liked some more variation with missions.
This Urbz runs on the same engine as the console versions of The Sims, but looks more cartoony. All characters look unique and it’s always fun to explore a new area. Sure, the framerate drops every now and then, but not so drastically it bugged me. Every subculture looks like one big cliché, and that’s friggin’ funny sometimes.
Have you played The Sims yet? Very likely, so you’ll know the ‘simlish’ language. The mumble is incomprehensible so let’s just ignore it for now. As to be expected, every culture has its own music genre. Some genres like lounche and techno sound really good, but there’s also bad music. All the vocal tracks have been translated to simlish. It’s unbelievable until you hear it with your own ears, but listening to a Rock track in gibberish is irritating, really irritating. After you’ve heard the sim-version of Shut Up for the tenth time, that Mute-button on your remote is starting to look very handy.
The Urbz: Sims in the City tries hard to separate itself from its bigger brother, and succeeds in that goal for a great deal. The original concept and the cliché subcultures will keep you busy for several hours. Too bad the game has some flaws that decrease the replay value. Long loading times, no variation in missions and the sometimes irritating music cause that you won’t be replaying the game any time soon. But everybody in search for an afternoon of brainless fun, will love this sim. But do keep the target group in mind a bit.