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The Sims 2 Pets

For: PSP   Also on: DS, GameBoy, Mobile, N-Gage

Too slow for new tricks

Product: The Sims 2 Pets | Developer: Maxis | Publisher: Electronic Arts | Format: PSP | Genre: Casual, Simulation, Virtual Pet/ Toy | Players: 1 | Version: Europe
by Ed Fear
The Sims 2 Pets PSP, thumbnail 1
Good versus evil? Pah, everyone knows the real eternal struggle is between cats and dogs. It's one that'll go on forever, too: Garfield versus Snoopy, catnapping versus dogging, it's too hard to decide on a winner.

Thanks to Electronic Arts, though, you don't have to choose between moggy and mutt, as both are supported in The Sims 2 Pets. But an altogether different battle looms large here – man versus machine – and you'll be very much the loser.

Before we get to that, a brief overview of The Sims for those who've spent the 21st Century without the simoleans to buy a PC. 

Essentially a life simulator, The Sims tasks you with leading your game characters – the sims – to happiness, wealth and hot tubs, by ordering them about their everyday existence. Eat, clean, work, sleep; rinse and repeat as required.

Sounds boring, right? How could something so dull be as compelling as The Sims' astronomical sales figures suggest?

Perhaps because the fun lies not in the 'proper' path, but in playing with the rules and making your own tales. Create your friends then watch them fall in love with each other and bicker over a broken toilet. Dating, adultery, bigamy, mental breakdown, and a healthy dollop of death: The Sims was Desperate Housewives before it was even a twinkle in a fat cat TV executive's eye.

And unchained from the PC (and home consoles) for this, its second outing on PSP, it's surprising how well that core Sims experience survives.

Inevitably, concessions have been made in the transition to handheld, but while the cut-down environments look primitive, the sims themselves still have all the expressive charm required to win you over. Controlling your sims without the PC's mouse proves workable too, due an intelligent cursor, although its sluggish movement speed can make assigning multiple actions at once a chore.

But while your digital offspring still charm, there are other casualties in downsizing to PSP. House shapes and sizes are now pre-determined and must be unlocked – especially annoying when the starter homes are so small. Also scaled back is the sims' neighbourhood, which consists here of only five houses.

These may seem like small issues – and the PC version isn't really relevant when evaluating the enjoyment you can have on a bus – but each missing toy diminishes the potential fun to be had from the game's sandbox, and it's through these toys that The Sims has maintained its longevity and achieved its mega-sales.

What about the titular Pets? The truth is they don't really change the basics of the game. Restricted on PSP to cats and dogs, pets are essentially mini-Sims: they have their own (customisable) personalities and desires, but they're not directly controllable by the player. Fulfilling an animal's aspirations nets Pet Points, which can be spent in the downtown Pet Plaza on largely useless pet-related commodities like dog jackets and food treats. And that's about it.

While the pets do add variety to the game, the lack of direct control means that their needs can mostly only be met by intervention from a sim. As such, they feel more of a penalty than a welcome addition, since sims have always been busy enough without having to contend with dependents. Worse, pets require training before they stop irritating you, further complicating your sim's life without giving a huge amount back.

But there's a far bigger problem with The Sims 2 Pets than petulant pooches: slow loading. We clocked the game's start-up time at a whopping one minute and 40 seconds, not including any of the intro movies. And it doesn't stop there: you'll begrudge having to go to the Pet Plaza, thanks to a lengthy 30-second load. Even simply waking the PSP from sleep mode causes a ten-second freeze.

Worse still, the game loads frequently during play. We're not talking 'streaming' here, but full-on, game-freezing loads of up to five seconds, sometimes several times a minute. It's jerkier than watching a breakdancer's home video of an earthquake, and it shatters the experience so completely that it spoils everything the game does right and removes the incentive to explore its various pet-friendly consumable goodies and customisation menus.

Without the slow load times, this would be a commendable if condensed version of an enjoyable franchise. Facing facts, though, Electronic Arts might as well fill the box with wasps for the amount it'll sting anyone handing over good money to buy it.

Every year we're told that pets are for life and not just for Christmas, and a worthy warning it is, too. But when the beast is a shambling, wheezing wreck such as this, putting it down seems the only humane thing to do.
The Sims 2 Pets
Reviewer photo
Ed Fear | 4 January 2007
A capable game destroyed by inexcusable loading. Heavy petting has rarely been less appealing
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