The Sims. You don't play it, right? And you don't know anyone who plays it. Yet it's one of the most successful gaming franchises of all time, and has something that's unusual for such a broad-appeal video game – a surprisingly positive, vibrant community.
The supposition that most "real" gamers make is that The Sims is largely played by female non-gamers, but that's not true at all. Reality is, The Sims' audience is pretty much split 50-50 along gender lines. Sure, it's true that it is indeed enjoyed by many who fall into the "non-gamer" category, but it's also true that The Sims is a guilty pleasure of millions who are also entertained by the likes of Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty.
That's because The Sims is as much a toy and amusement as it is a game. It's a creative tool and true sandbox in the sense that it's not just an environment in which you can explore and do whatever you want – you can basically build whatever sandbox it is you want to play in, and fill it with characters you find interesting, or want to experiment with. And I can well imagine anyone who enjoys experimenting with The Sims is very likely going to enjoy its next add-on pack, The Sims 3: Into the Future.
This is the game's 11th expansion, and this time around adds time travel, a new area called Oasis Landing, a smorgasbord of futuristic new items to the Sims universe, and "Plumbots" – new robotic buddies that are similar to servos and simbots. Into the Future's "Create-A-Bot" tool enables you to build your very own small army of bots and load them with a variety of different emotion chips. Which, at least in my demo, can result in such utterly bizarre consequences as a bot being so terrified of Sims that it leaves a splodge of oil when approached by one. There's plenty of scope for visual customization, and I imagine that the Sims Exchange will soon be bulging with downloads of robots that don't look entirely unlike famous robots from all manner of pop culture sources.
As you might expect, Into The Future is packed with all sorts of futuristic items, fashions and styling options, from the mundane to the outright crazy.
The time traveling aspect of the game is the thing that really grabbed my attention. It enables you to do exactly what is says on the box, and send your Sims forward in time to the futuristic Oasis Landing, where you can build a house of the future, and equip it with such things as a sonic shower, cryo chambers and food replicators (which of course you can learn to program). There's a whole new wardrobe of futuristic clothing and styling options, and a variety of transportation devices, such as jetpacks, hoverboards, and, for the supremely lazy, a teleportation device that a Sim can use to zap themselves around the landscape, so they can instantly visit its new features, such as a mysterious crashed space ship.
While that might sound fairly interesting, things start getting outright strange if you decide to act out all your favorite time-travel-anomaly-fantasies by visiting your Sims' future descendants, and then travel back in time and start messing around with their past. Fortunately, the results don't quite cause a chain reaction that would unravel the very fabric of the space-time continuum and destroy the entire universe, but some entertaining things can and will happen. Just be careful you don't end up erasing your future Sims descendants from existence.
Another concept I enjoyed was the fact that you have three different future templates to work around. First, there's a truly utopian future where everything is good. Then there's a more "normal" future, with its ups and downs. And finally – the one that I found most intriguing – there's a dystopian future where things are definitely not okay, and you might find your Sims doing things like eating bugs. Yes. I said that.
So plenty of stuff for Sims fans to get their teeth into when the expansion launches later on next month... and I promise not to tell anyone if you just happen to be one of them.