The original The Sims received a whopping seven expansions, and now The Sims 2 receives its first pack in the form of The Sims 2 University. Cynics might argue that this is all overkill, but when a game is a huge creative and commercial success like The Sims 2, who wouldn't want more?
The Sims 2 University sure gives you more. You get a whole new young adult life stage, plus a new influence system, new careers, new interactions, new items and decorating schemes, and, of course, a whole new experience: university life (or at least, university life American-style). That new life experience is something of a letdown, but the new items and strategic options more than make up for it.
Even if the university-lifestyle angle doesn't appeal to you, you'll still get plenty of features that apply to the core game, too. There's a new influence system that lets your sims make other characters do their bidding, from sprucing up the yard to picking a fight with someone to playing with a sibling. Your sims gain influence points by fulfilling "wants," which is akin to how the existing aspiration system works. Now, many familiar goals, like a sim's child making good grades, grant both aspiration and influence points.
The new features in The Sims 2 University aren't just about points and strategies. There's a lot of stuff that's just plain fun. Tired of the same old TV shows and stereo tunes? Now there's a new sim sports channel, for example, so your sims can laze away on a Sunday afternoon, munching chips and watching the game.
Speaking of music, your sims can now play cool new instruments. You can buy an electric upright bass, a drum kit, and a guitar, replete with effects pedal board, and more. As ever, the animations for the new items are a kick to watch, so you'll see show-off guitarists playing behind their backs and drummers flipping their sticks into the air midsong. Oddly and inexplicably, child sims can't use these neat new instruments. (So much for starting your own sims Partridge Family.)
As for the university portion of The Sims 2 University, the pressure cooker of rigorous course schedules and intense studying is replaced by fairly easy academic demands, though balancing those with a social life is realistically challenging. The alcohol-fueled adult antics that many students use to unwind are replaced by drinking juice and pulling lame, PG-rated pranks.
The Sims 2 University ships with three ready-made universities, each with its own layout and vibe, though the differences are mainly just cosmetic. You can basically do the same things at any of them, and you can access any of these universities (or ones of your own creation) from your existing sims neighbourhoods.
So how do young sims go off to university? There are three methods. You can pick ready-made young adult sims, fashion your own college-age sims using the usual "create a sim" method, or take existing teen sims from your families and send them packing. The option of sending a teen to college creates new strategic concerns. First of all, it's the only way to enter the young adult life stage, which seems unfair and makes little sense. It's also the only way to enter certain new careers, which, on the other hand, makes perfect sense. If you decide you want those benefits, timing becomes an issue. Do you want to keep your teen sim in the house as long as possible to build skills? Or do you pack the kid off to college as soon as he or she becomes a teen to free up space in the house for new sims?
Once at college, sims will find campuses organised by the same principle as sim neighbourhoods. Each campus is divided into separate areas, like dorms, libraries, student unions, and gyms, and these can only be visited by calling a taxi. In other words, they're like a collection of isolated community lots. That brings us to one of The Sims 2 University's major flaws. The community-lot implementation in the core game is already a big hassle. To go to a lot, you have to make your sim call a taxi. Then you have to wait for the taxi to arrive. Then the sim has to get in, sit through a loading screen, pick a destination, sit through another loading screen, and then repeat the process in reverse order when returning home. In other words, the core game discourages you from making sims leave their homes, and the expansion discourages you from making them leave their campus lodgings.
Nevertheless, the dorms are always hopping with activity - though that can cause major slowdowns - and sims are always dropping by private residences unannounced. Your sim might be sitting down to a refreshing meal after class, and suddenly the school mascot will barge in, followed by a streaker. Your sims will get to meet their professors, too. In fact, they can schmooze with them to improve grades, and they can even sleep with them.
Eventually, you'll need to declare a major from among 11 choices, and once you graduate, you can start career tracks partway through instead of at the lowly beginnings. Just as importantly, graduating sims can get into exclusive new careers, including those involving the paranormal, show business, art, and natural science. The last choice seems a bit redundant, given the existing scientist career, but the others are welcome additions. All feature colorful new career-reward objects that can perform amazing feats, like bringing sims back from the dead.
But the basic Sims 2 formula of focusing on home life doesn't translate too well to the university experience. University is about becoming an independent adult and doing adult things, but The Sims 2 University presents a bland version of life at a university. In its cartoony way, The Sims 2 gets to the core of everyday home life, but The Sims 2 University skirts around a lot of the core of uni life.
Nevertheless, The Sims 2 University is still a big success in other ways. Players who love the strategy and management elements of The Sims 2 will find loads of intriguing new options and challenges as they lead their sims to fame and fortune. A deceptively deep strategy game just got deeper.
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