I fired up “The Sims: Bustin’ Out” to see what the fuss was about. With so many copies of “The Sims” sold for PC, I figured I’d get in on this and see what exactly people have been playing so much of for so long. The first thing I noticed was the size of the memory file is 1.4MB for a single save, so it would be wise to have a second memory card. The following is a day-by-day account of my life as a Sim:

Day 1: I have just created my new sim, and named her Sara Maxine. Sara is an attractive redhead, with sharp-looking classes and a killer fashion sense, or as near to one as a heterosexual guy can get. Sara is a fun-loving Aquarius who is about to go out into the world, make her fortune as world-famous actress, and live a life of luxury. Sara arrived at her mom’s house only to find her dad (one Malcolm Landgrabb) running off with all the cash. The divorce must have been a messy one, and apparently women only have property rights in the real world, thus Sara starts broke. It could be worse. She could be a mall clown. Wait, according to the paper that’s what I have to start as to be an actress. Ah, glamour shall soon be mine. Before Sara can go anywhere, she has to use the bathroom. Seeing a digitized covering over my sim as she uses the facilities is not something I was prepared for, but thank you Maxis for covering it up ala “Cops.” Since Sara was a fun-loving girl, she needed to dance so mom and I cranked up some tunes, and apparently I got some cash for dancing. Hmmm, could stripping be far off?

These are some of the tasks Sara is faced with from the outset. She needs to find a job, move into her own place, get on a career path, and learn to interact with her fellow sims. All of this will presumably lead to a better, healthier relationship between Sara and the Sim world.

Day 2: I’ve moved Sara out of her mom’s house despite their garbled protests (I swear the dialog in “Bustin’ Out” sounds like a ’50’s Japanese B-movie), and I was soon rooming with Sara’s friend Mindy. But Daddy-Dearest thought it’d be funny if he trashed all the appliances in the new house, and made off with even more money. I wondered how much a hit team would cost, then figured it might be an unlockable. I joke and laugh with Mindy, then entertain her by whipping out some balls and juggling, since Sara seems to have a couple of balls in her bustier. Not surprising, actually, but let’s move on to the fact that this netted me some money, and some new features like the ability to Gossip.

Just what Sara needed: The ability to talk even longer in gibberish. Sara decides she needs to eat, so it’s off to the kitchen we go, then on to take a shower, then on to use the facilities again, then further gossiping with Mindy, then bedtime since my glamorous mall clown job starts tomorrow. Yeah!

Day 3: After waking up Sara (mental note: Breathe Right strips), she eats breakfast and makes the bus wait 20 minutes. I run out to the bus and head to work. Simultaneously, time speeds up and slows to a crawl. In the game, the time is flying by. In the real world, I’m looking at the game and watching the sims wind sprint about their days (if only my mailman moved as fast as the one in the game), but Sara is nowhere to be found. Hours go by, until finally it gets to be “later” and the bus returns Sara home. She’s brought some cash with her, but not enough to pay off the loan shark so I’m going to have to remain a working girl.

After messing around in the house and trying to fix the dang toaster for almost an hour, I hear someone knock at the door. I talk with them, gossip, entertain (thank God for those balls in the bustier), and while my personality rating is going up, there’s just so much entertaining Sara can do before she has to go wee-wee. I make her use the facilities then go to sleep. I decide to repeat this for a few days to see what happens.

Day 10: I’ve started to get suicidally bored. I go to the bathroom, talk to people, eat lunch/dinner, and so forth in the real world, but at no time do I consider it “fun.” Not to mention I can’t just yank three balls out and entertain someone by juggling whenever I feel like it, nor do I get paid for gossiping. So I decide Sara needs to kick things into high gear, and being the completely immature guy I am, I have Sara seduce her roommate Mindy. After some tickling and hugging it’s on to the make-out, baby. They go to sleep, dream of each other, and it’s on to a new day.

Day 14: I’ve only been promoted to Kiddie Show Sidekick, probably because I haven’t been applying my people skills. So I seduce another girl who shows up on my doorstep at 9:30 p.m. Mindy, oddly, doesn’t pay much attention. The new girl must not appreciate my sense of humor because after a few jokes (presumably of the low-brow variety) she leaves with a low opinion of me. Sara’s not that bad a kisser, I swear! I can also hear the buzzing of flies, so I track it down and find that the toilet needs cleaning. I do so, then Mindy comes in and starts juggling for my amusement. Who’s the Sidekick around here, wench? Step off!

Day 20: I’ve managed to repair the toaster so Sara’s mechanic skills have improved, and I can call a repair man in the future. I’ve had her seduce a guy who came by because there was jack all else to do. She’s danced to every type of beat there is on the radio (and I’ll admit there are some decent ones). She also called Mom and asked her over for dinner. Hopefully she’ll take the news of Mindy and I sleeping together well, but since I’ve had Sara grab some action with anyone who came through the door, this behavior is probably old news to Mom.

I did trade in the ol’ scooter for a decent car, so now I can get around town without having to hide my face. Maybe I’m just not thinking about it philosophically enough, but I never change directions when I want to go to someone’s house. Everything is apparently in a straight line, and were I stoned I might find that reasonable. Sara never has to turn around when she wants to go somewhere. Nope, she just hops into her vehicle of choice and drives forward for a couple of minutes, and there she is at her destination. It doesn’t seem to matter if she just left her house to go to her mom’s then back again. Day 21: It’s around this time that I actually start focusing on the graphics in the game since there’s little else to hold my interest. The sims are well-animated, with the moments of their daily routines very well done. When the sims jabber back and forth, they move their arms convincingly, they will put more weight on one foot over the other, and in general behave in a believable way. The environments are neat to look at, and it’s nice to have the option to set the amount of wall thickness by hitting the Circle button. As your sim progresses, you can move into larger and swankier digs and can purchase furniture and items for your pad. You can also throw parties, and the animation is very slick and smooth overall.

I’d say the game was like living in a Barbie house. All the appliances and furniture you buy resembles the plastic miniatures from Ken and Barbie’s Dream Home, which adds to the visual charm of “The Sims.” It’s a whole lot of cute, and every house and character has a unique personality. The visuals don’t tax the PS2 very much, but everything looks as bright and cheery as it should. The larger items you buy, such as a big screen TV, add to the swank, and are nicely drawn too. “The Sims: Bustin’ Out” won’t win any awads for graphical flair, but what is here is easy on the eyes, and the player can definitely appreciate the detail that is on display. Day 25: If I hear another one of those faux-jazz beats again I’ll strangle my roommate. So I switched over to Hip Hop and am instantly reminded why I stopped watching MTV so many years ago. I don’t consider the “cutting edge” music available in “The Sims: Bustin’ Out” fit for background noise, but since my sim Sara digs it so much and loves to dance, I have to suffer. You also have the option for Techno, so if club dancing is your thing, then this game has some tracks made just for you. I wonder if you can have your own MP3’s play on the PC version, because if so that would be exceptionally cool. It also would have been easier to watch Sara jive to some Moby or Fatboy Slim than the lame techno beats they have in-game.

The way the sims talk is through garbled jibberish while little pictures appear over their heads so you can guess what they’re talking about. I feel for the person who’s never seen a movie clapper and misses it when sims are talking about going out to the movies. There is laughter when you’ve amused someone, angry stomps when your sim tries to do something they’re not predisposed towards (like me having Sara try to repair the coffee maker), and mood-appropriate noises depending on how they feel.

Doorbells, cars, and appliances exploding all have their respective noises. It took me a long time to accept the dialog sounds of the sims, and that’s probably why I’m knocking it as hard as I am. Well, that and the music that ranges from lame to awful. I’m still not quite sure why Sara could get her groove on while my head was aching from the noise. I guess it’s finally time to pick up my cane and shoo those pesky kids off my lawn while I’m at it. This is where the PC has a definite advantage over the PS2. There are four main menus for your sim, and all of them are accessed by the thumb pad. Push one way and you can view your stats to see whether your sim needs a shower or to eat, push another and you can see your goals, and push another way and you can see all the people in your world and how they feel about you. Control of your sim is governed by a flashing cursor, which you move by using the left thumbstick. Once you move the cursor where you want your sim to go, you hit the X button and a little menu will pop up on the left-hand side of the screen asking you to confirm your choice. Should you move the cursor onto something like a telephone, a chair, or the stereo, you will have specific options available. What bothered me right from the start is how slow the cursor moves. It feels like you’re dragging dead weight from one side of the screen to the other, and once you’re where you want to be, you have to find the right thing to click on. I stumbled onto the telephone and a few other appliances because I honestly couldn’t see them through the walls, despite having them turned off.

The right thumbstick zooms the camera in and out as well as controlling rotation. If you select an action with the X button that you decide you want to cancel, you hit the triangle button. Under the Options menu, you can turn on “Free Will” which will let your sim wander about and lead their own life should you leave them unattended. In this case, hitting the square button will follow your sim. The R1 button will speed up time, and I can’t begin to say how much I was leaning on this button. Your sims will take their sweet time walking to and fro, and Heaven help you if they decide to stop and chat to another sim along the way. Maxis has sold umpteen bazillion copies of “The Sims” over the last few years, and “The Sims: Bustin’ Out” is supposed to bring a much-needed “party zone” atmosphere to it, but I don’t understand it. I may be dating myself here, but I remember pet rocks as a crazy fad, and a collection of Tamagochis with better graphics does not a great game make. Unlike a Tamagochi, I was unable to kill my sims through sheer neglect try though I may. Heck, I just wanted to watch the sim cops draw a sim chalk outline around my sim’s corpse, but that’s just me. Maybe it’s the fact that in “The Sims: Bustin’ Out” you have to work hard to accomplish everything you do in your daily life, and that angle just strikes me as dumb as dirt. I hate having to clean a toilet bowl in real life, so why the heck do I have to clean one in a game?

Sure it’s kind of fun to build a home up and decorate it, then see what your sim does to it. Mine just wandered around and gossiped to all of her friends, and the Heavenly Abode went to Hell via the express elevator.

Right now I’m letting Sara rot… no wait, I left Free Will on so she’s dancing to another annoying groove. Where’s my remote and the mute button? “The Sims: Bustin’ Out” is deeply valued as a drink holder for me. To use an Internet saying, your mileage may vary. As for me, my miles need to be refunded post haste and I want a one-way ticket out of simville right this second. Managing releationships where you can’t understand the sims, calling in a repairman for a clogged toilet, ordering a pizza, showering, using the bathroom, sleeping, and going to work do not collectively equal the best game I’ve ever played. There is a metric ton of options in the game for customizing your sim, for building and decorating your own home, and then seeing how your sim handles it. However, when your sim goes away to work the game just sits there and goes through the rest of the day without you. To this I say, ‘Huh?’ Who considered this fun, and more importantly how did multiple people consider this fun enough to warrant a full-blown sim saga?

If you want to mess around sandbox-style, there is a Free Build option you can unlock after about 30 seconds of play in the full game. In Free Build, you can create and save up to six sim families with up to four people per family, per memory card. You can only have one family per house, and can even have three homeless families. It’d be cool if the homeless could be like wandering gypsies, playing music and hosting out of the way festivals, but they just seemed to walk around aimlessly while I played.