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Friday | December 9, 2016
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The Sims: Castaway Stories (PC)

The Sims: Castaway Stories (PC)

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The Sims: Castaway Stories is the latest in the long line of releases for this money making franchise. This time however it is a stand alone title, meaning you won’t need to already own The Sims, The Sims 2 or The Sims: Life Stories to play it. The game is however based on the Sims 2, but is the first game to feel different to its predecessors.

Castaway Stories follows the same principal of Life Stories, that being Electronic Arts finally realised that these games were much too resource heavy and stripped out some of the requirements, meaning they now don’t need a Quad Core 3ghz PC and 8800 ultra to run even moderately well. I have tested this by running the game on several PC’s right down to one which barely met EA’s minimum requirements and the experience was quite pleasant. That’s a first.

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As always, you take control of a bunch of virtual people running their everyday virtual lives and you can let them roam free or take control of their actions, exactly like before. This time however we are blessed with a very different environment, a “Lost” style tropical island scenario with no means of escape. This time people aren’t fighting to get a job or to get a house, they are all trying to stay alive. Instead of office workers or clerks, we have hunters and gatherers. You can also buy items just like prior titles in this genre.

I have been playing Sims since the original was released some time ago and this title is very unique in the setting. I found it really appealing to have to go out into the wilderness to get resources, then to convert them into useful objects all the while trying to maintain the survivors mood meters so they didn’t die. You aren’t working to an “end” in Castaway Stories, there is no rescue ship to call upon, It’s just all about survival.

To elevate the repetitiveness and to follow the whole concept of “stories” the game has a single scenario that follows one Sim’s adventures on the island. After choosing the character the story unfolds … being shipwrecked on an island with no hope for escape. On your own the beginning of the game focuses on staying alive while being attacked by monkeys and other creatures, however as the story progresses you find that you are in the middle of a diabolical plot involving magic staves and a so called “fountain of youth”. Yeah, it is not a ground breaking storyline and it won’t be in the running for any game awards at the end of the year but the core mechanics of the Sims titles have always revolved around the act of managing the people under your control. You can chalk the first few hours or so as being a tutorial.

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The goals you are set out are relatively varied and there are no bugs with the interface which so often leaves the player wondering what exactly he or she is meant to be doing. I don’t want to detail too much of the story, even if it is at times rather convoluted, however once it is completed you have the option to continue playing the game freely with the Sims characters involved.

The story has its fair share of problems, the main one being length. It is approximately 9-10 hours long and the more experienced Sims players could possibly get that down to 7 or 8. In this case, the main strength of the game is also its main weakness, everything is held on the island, which really in the grand scheme of things just isn’t that large.

While the story isn’t particuarly strong, there are also in game problems with characters sometimes ignoring your requests, particularly if their mood isn’t favourable. This wouldn’t be annoying in a free style play mode, but in story mode there are several times when it seems almost trial and error to complete a specific mission. An example? Well one time I asked my Sim to collect an object, as he was in a bad mood due to tiredness he refused, ignored the order then proceeded to wander over and collect the object anyway ! The mission log at this stage had disappeared with the game not acknowledging the task, so the game needed to be restarted as the story was stopped. I have said it before, but game studios releasing these games, really do need to start being more thorough with their play testing. It is game destroying bugs like this that make or break a title.

A simple tip would be to ensure your Sim is always happy and smiling, but it is not always an easy task! Sims energy drains very quickly and you find yourself having to stop the story on a regular basis just to let him have some sleep or to take a shower. Sure, real people do this, but not every 25 minutes. It just ruins the flow of the whole game.

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This unfortunately isn’t the only issue with the game, there are not enough objects and cool things to do on the island. The Sims has always been founded on the customisations and options to mix and match objects, however this time it just feels really limited. Once I had completed the frustrating single player mission campaign I literally just gave up on the free style mode, there just wasn’t enough variety to keep me engrossed and entertained.

More game problems rear their ugly head again with a lack of play testing. In order to play this freeform mode the game requires you to play the story to at least halfway so you can acquire a phone and hatchet (for cutting wood).  This means if you play freeform you have to restart the game and lose your Sims from the story mode. You are left with limited choices, either play Story mode for 4 to 5 hours to get the necessary objects for freeform mode or play with the same Story Mode characters after you complete the story and ignore freeform mode.

The graphics are starting to show their age now as well, the engine is outdated and not particularly well coded or optimised, this is particularly noticeable in sections of the game with a lot of objects such as trees. Even on a reasonable modern day gaming rig you will see frame rate drops and for some reason on my ATI 3870 graphics card I noticed a few weird glitches from time to time.

The audio is thankfully better with some catchy tunes such as the main island theme to set the mood. The ambient jungle noises are also very in theme with the game and work well.

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Closing Thoughts

The Sims: Castaway Stories is probably the most diverse stylised game ever in the Sims series, even if it is powered by the original Sims 2 engine. The survival style setting on a tropical island works well and certainly breathes some life into franchise. Shortcomings are apparent however, there are some very annoying core gameplay problems and the engine while effective, is showing its age with frame rate issues rearing their ugly head from time to time.

All in all however it is a reasonably entertaining title for fans of the series and a pleasant enough diversion, be aware however that there really is only around ten hours of story mode gameplay and the free roam mode is rather lacking, especially when compared to the core Sims games.

Gameplay
70/100
Sims fans will enjoy the title however the depth just really isn’t there after the story mode is completed.
Graphics
67/100
The engine is in serious need of an overhaul, textures are shoddy, frame rate bounces around and EA need to start investing money to improve this.
Audio
75/100
The music is fun and the sound effects work well in the whole tropical island theme. Nothing groundbreaking however.
Value
72/100
Around ten hours of play and perhaps some time in the free style game, however even for Sims fanatics the appeal will be limited.
Overall
(not an average)
70/100
A moderately enjoyable game with an interesting and fairly original concept. The execution could have been better and it is nothing more than an average title.

About Author

Stuart Davidson

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