Sims 2: Pets is the fourth full expansion for Sims 2, the game that just about everyone owns, even if many people might be a bit ashamed to admit it.  Developed by Maxis and published by Electronic Arts, the focus this time is on the animals that give our lives joy, from cats and dogs to birds and fish.  Not only does the game allow you the ability to create pets for your Sims, but your pets themselves can be stars of the show, to an extent. 

With Sims 2 being the ultimate cash cow for EA that The Sims was originally, the only question left is, is this the cat’s meow, or is it something that the dog dragged in?

Pets really doesn’t add a lot to the overall graphical environment of The Sims 2.  However, what it does add are pets.  The pets themselves are really the highlights of the show, featuring some absolutely stellar animations which really serve to bring the animals to life, enhancing the ‘cute’ factor.  If you’re a pet lover, it’ll be really easy to fall in love with these digital little balls of fluff.

Overall, the graphics are very solid, which is as expected for The Sims 2 and its expansions.  The little touches continue to astound.  As the game allows you to create your own pet with some degree of detail, you’re actually able to create specific patterns of fur for dogs and cats by basically starting with a base fur color or style, then layering different patterns over it, almost like you would in Photoshop or a similar graphics program.

In Pets, it’s not so much the big things that really shine in the graphics as much as it is all the little things that they’ve done right.

Not a whole lot of new material has been added to Sims 2: Pets as far as the sound or music goes.  While each animal type has very expressive sounds: cats will purr, hiss and meow; dogs will bark, whine and growl; and birds will chirp and even speak after training, outside of that, there’s not really a lot of focus on sound, other than maintaining the generally high quality of the overall sound in the game.

New music tracks have been added, which is quite refreshing.  This includes tracks by Pussycat Dolls and Flaming Lips, translated into Simlish, much as Black Eyed Peas did back in The Urbz.  While it’s nice to see popular tunes brought into The Sims 2, I’d almost rather have smaller bands be brought in here, since EA is already doing it through their sports titles.

Again, the controls really haven’t changed much since The Sims 2 came out, and Sims 2: Pets keeps what hasn’t been broken since the beginning.  The controls, essentially, haven’t changed.  If you’ve already got The Sims 2 or any of the expansions, you know the controls.

The big change, again, is the ability to create your own pet.  You can change any number of features on your pet, as the pet creation system is easily as robust as the Sim creation system.  In fact, it’s possibly a bit more robust with the ability to layer different looks atop each other.  Makes one wonder why they haven’t allowed for something similar with clothing.

What it really comes down to here is the old saying:  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  And it hasn’t been fixed, thankfully.

As with The Sims: Unleashed a number of years ago, Sims 2: Pets focuses almost entirely on those little (or not so little) balls of fluff that we humans tend to adore in many ways, while they tend to merely put up with us. 

While the game allows for the ownership of dogs, cats, birds and hamster-like critters called “womrats”, the game really focuses on dogs and cats more than anything else.  Birds and womrats tend to stay in their cages, waiting patiently to be fed.  True, birds can fly about sometimes, and you can teach birds to talk for a boost in your charisma, but really, with only six variations on each of the two compared to the highly robust creation system for dogs and cats, it’s almost a shame.

You can gain your new friend in a variety of ways, from picking up a stray animal, buying one in a shop, being given one, or just going and creating your own, which is really the most fun way to go.  When you go to create a pet, you go into an extremely detailed creation system, much like was used to create your sim way back when.  You’ll choose what type and gender of animal you want, and you can either choose from a variety of breeds, or just create your own, becoming as wild or strange as you want.  Say you want a siamese with purple fur and a green eye and a blue eye?  No problem. 

You can also pick traits for your animal to have, which is very important, as the game tends to treat the pets as a limited Sim for the purposes of the game.  They have their own personalities, and while they may not have their own goals or aspirations, they do react with other Sims (and their pets).  They’ll also create relationships, which can lead to litters of puppies and kittens covering the landscape. 

Some people consider their pets to be their children, and in Sims 2: Pets, they essentially are.  As with any Sim, you have to train your animal.  However, since you cannot directly control your pet, you have to train them indirectly with praise for something good or chastising them when they piddle on the rug….unless you want them to learn that particular trick.  You can also play with your pet or give them attention.  Simply having a pet around helps your social meter, and having a bird can also help your environment meter.  This can be very useful, but can also allow someone to be that old lady with all the cats, if that’s what you choose to do.  Eventually, through training, your pet will be as good (or as bad) as you choose to make them.

It’s not all just playing with your pet or training them, either.  Pets can hold down jobs, too!  You can have a K9, a movie star animal, or a number of other careers, which actually adds to your cash flow.  Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of pet-related goodies to buy, which is a shame.  There is, however, a Pet Shop that you can run if you also own Open for Business.  Still, with how much money people spend in the real world on pet accessories, it makes you wonder where the high-end market in the game is.

Lack of depth seems to be one of the problems with this title, as it seems that Maxis has spent all their energies on making the pets as realistic as possible and making everything about them shine, that they’ve left off some of the ‘fluff’, especially compared to the other three full expansions.  Granted, while there are two ‘mini-expansions’ full of household items and clothing, it would have been nice to have similar things here as well.

You can make money from your pets in other ways, by training or breeding them and selling the results.  In fact, as with the Sims themselves, your pets have their own DNA, which mix when breeding, and can create entirely new breeds of cats or dogs which you can then register in the Sim Registry.   Another quirk in the game is that, should you choose to pick a pet from the strays in the game, you should be careful, as some of them are werewolves, which can infect your Sim with Lycanthropy.  Unlike Nightlife, where turning into a vampire opens up an entirely new playstyle, the werewolf curse in Pets seems to be more a bit of goofy fun, which isn’t totally bad. 

Being the fourth expansion, the load times are starting to build up, especially on slower computers.  There are a number of cases where I found myself sitting in front of a loading screen for a minute or two at a stretch, waiting on an area to load due to the increased number of objects on the screen.  This isn’t so much a problem that Sims 2: Pets creates as it is one created by the sheer amount of data crammed into the game, four expansions and 2 mini-expansions, if you have them all (which many Sims 2 fans likely do). 

Also, for your average Sim, budgeting the time to train an animal, train their Sim (and family if any), maintain a job, possibly run a business, go out on dates or to the University….can be a bit unwieldy at times.  The owning of a pet can create a bit too much of a timesink…but the same can be said for having a pet in reality, as well.

To be honest, this isn’t the expansion that I would suggest that someone who has just gotten The Sims 2 (or Holiday edition), perhaps for Christmas, get.  Compared to Nightlife, University or Open for Business, there really isn’t enough overall content in the game to be worth the $30 drop at this point.

However, for those fans of Sims 2, who have everything so far…well, you probably already have the expansion.  If you don’t, though, you might as well, as it’s a good addition for the most part.  If you love pets in general, but were waiting on Sims 2 until pets were in the game…well, here you go.