The Sims 3: Ambitions for the PC screenshot.

The Sims 3: Ambitions for the PC screenshot. Credit: Handout

When "The Sims 3" launched and I loaded it up for the first time, I experienced a rather unpleasant revelation. I played around with "The Sims 3" for a little while, and while I liked what I saw, it also seemed like the game contained fewer items than its predecessor.

At the simplest and most obvious level, "The Sims 2" had three towns while "The Sims 3" had just one. Then I saved my game and checked out this "Store" thing they were advertising on the game launcher. What did I happen to see there? Enough extra items, hairstyles and bits of clothing to nearly double the number available in the game and you could buy all of them for roughly the same cost of the game! This was when I had that revelation I was talking about. "The Sims 3" isn't really a game, it's a tool used by EA to milk fans for as much as they can get.

At least that's what I thought until the first expansion, "The Sims 3: World Adventures," came out. For an expansion it added quite a lot; new skills, tons of new items, and two new cool and unique new towns... and a lame French village (I was promised an Eiffel Tower, not a Parisian suburb!). Nowhere near worth the $39.99 it sold for, but still a decent expansion and I enjoyed it. However when they came out with "The Sims 3: High-End Loft Stuff" (about 60 in-game items for over $20), that feeling started coming back. And now that I've played "Ambitions," it's here to stay.

"The Sims 3: Ambitions" has a lot of ambition and a lot of potential, but it fails to live up to any of it. What "Ambitions" delivers only makes you wish EA had done more with the material.

Normally in "The Sims 3," when a sim goes off to work, they simply disappear into a building for a few hours. Players control how hard characters work while there, but that's about it. What "Ambitions" promised to provide was control over your sims during those work hours. Rather than wait for sims to come home at 5 p.m., players could actually control them at work and have fun doing it. And to a certain extent this is what happens.

"Ambitions" adds six new jobs to the game: stylist, architect, doctor, ghost hunter, investigator and firefighter. As a stylist, you get to change the sims hair and clothes which you could also do by loading up the family in question and having them look at a mirror. Architects get to do the same thing, but to other houses. Once again it's something you can easily do in the normal game, it's just now your sims can get paid for it. The new doctor profession basically works the same way the old one did but, now you get to go do house calls on lazy folks who aren't really all that ill.

The investigator and firefighter professions are a bit more entertaining. A firefighter sim hangs out at the firehouse where you can interact with other firefighters, upgrade the fire engine and generally mess around (they have a trampoline!). If an alarm goes off, you race to the fire and put it out with a fire extinguisher. Your efforts are ranked and the faster you put out the fire, the better you do and the more work experience you earn.

As an investigator, your sim gets cases where you follow clues, talk to people and figure things out. These are pretty much simple "go here" quests like the ones from "World Adventures," but with a few more choices. My sim was on a case where a little girl hired him to find out which of her family members had stolen her mouthwash. A bit bland of a case I'll admit, but she was willing to pay over $100 bucks for it, so I took it. The trail led me to her father and I was given a few extra choices for interrogating him. I could question him, bribe him or I could beat him senseless till he gave up the info. So, of course, I beat up the schmuck and he confessed. Guess he'll never steal his daughter's mouthwash again.

Sadly, the new ghost hunter profession is the most disappointing of the lot. Your sim basically becomes a Ghostbuster and the job involves doing two things that should be really fun: investigating paranormal events and capturing ghosts. On ghost-capturing missions, you're called out to a house where you track down and zap ghosts. These aren't the normal "The Sims 3" ghosts (which look like transparent sims), but vague sheet wearing specters. And that's where the disappointment starts. You can't do a darn thing to normal ghosts.

My sim had a job one night that took him out to an actual haunted house, and there, wandering around the new fuzzy sheet apparitions, was a traditional ghost sim. I tried to zap him and nothing happened. I zapped the other ghosts and they all ended up in boxes in my inventory. Thus began my evil plan. See, in "Ambitions," you have three options for your trapped ghosts. You can sell them, put their traps on display or release them.

So I visited a neighbor's house and started releasing ghosts like crazy (he's a jerk and keeps hitting on my sim's wife), and you'll never believe what happened! Nothing. Rather than start haunting the house, the spirits just passed on the moment I popped open their boxes. I can't help but feel this was one missed opportunity. This mechanic could have given players the opportunity to mess around with ghost sims. You could have released them in people's houses to create more business, free them in the cemetery and make them permanent residents or dump all of them in the same house and build a haunted mansion.

There are a few other interesting changes, and I'll talk about them in a bit, but as far as changes to the job system in "The Sims 3," that's where "Ambitions" ends. It adds a few new jobs (three interesting ones and three lame ones) but nothing is done to the pre-existing ones. There are no new detailed interactions with your criminal, scientist or chef characters while they're at work. You don't get to finally see the interiors of the science lab or military base. Nope, you get a handful of new "professions" and that's it. After paying $40 for this expansion, I felt a bit cheated. That's 40 dollars for an expansion. I paid that much for "World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King" and for my money Blizzard provided a new character class and a whole continent! Hell, "The Sims 3: World Adventures" added more content and it still wasn't worth the $40 they charged for it at launch.

"Ambitions" does provide a bit more content than just the new professions, but it doesn't make up for the $40 price tag. The two new skills are sculpting and inventing. Both initially work like painting in the original game in that you don't get to decide what your creations become. However as your sim invents or sculpts certain items they are added to a list and you can rebuild them whenever you'd like. Inventors need scrap metal and can either buy it or scrounge for it over at the junkyard. Sculptors have to buy their materials, but they to can go scrounging for metal if they want to start welding.

Most inventions are items that just sit there and do nothing, but a few are actually useful. The floor hygienator sprays sims with perfume when they pass by it, cleaning them a little, while the miner drills away at your lawn and pulls up precious gems and metals. My favorite part of the skill was the detonate ability. Inventors can basically blow stuff up in order to make more scrap metal, and the items don't have to belong to your sim. The city threatened to fine the heck out of me for it, but that didn't stop me from blowing up half of my neighbor's house (adulterous creep). My only regret is that the ability powers up slowly and sims have time to run away before items explode.

The rest of what "Ambitions" adds feels like content that should have been free with a patch. Sims now need to do laundry and every time they change clothes (to go to sleep or to the bathroom) they leave a pile of dirty laundry. To solve this problem you can buy your sims a washer and dryer or they can go to a laundromat to do the cleaning. The new real estate option gives you a bit more control over the venues you can buy. In "Sims 3" you could buy the local bookstore and it would provide you with some cash every now and then. Now you can fire workers, buy all sorts of properties like parks and book stores and upgrade what you own. For example, by adding new chairs to the community pool you just bought, you increase its value and its popularity. However, you can only upgrade buildings you can normally interact with (parks can be upgraded while hospitals cannot).

"Ambitions also comes with a new town, Twinbrook. A small, spread out community that stretches around the shores of a small lake. If you're not happy with the eight small, empty lots provided in Twinbrook, you can now add new lots to a town with just a few clicks. These, along with a few improvements to the user interface, are pretty handy improvements and add to the game's quality. However, in a time when companies like Valve and Blizzard are providing large chunks of DLC for free ("Left 4 Dead 2's" "The Passing" and WoW's "Uldaman"), I feel a bit cheated having to pay this much for minor changes to the game.

So what's the final verdict? A nice vague "meh". "The Sims 3: Ambitions" isn't a bad expansion, but that doesn't make it a good one, either. It introduces an exciting new game mechanic and then fails to actually put it to use. Rather than renovate the entire job system, they add a few new interactive professions, which just make the old ones look bad. Of the new ones only the firefighter, investigator and ghost hunter professions are really all that interesting, and even then you feel like they should have done more with them. The new skills and game mechanics are nice but they fail to make up for the failings of the rest of the expansion. This expansion is not worth $40, and would be stretching it even at $30. If you're a big fan of the series then wait until the price eventually drops down to $20 on Amazon, and the modders have caught up and fixed the bugs added by the mandatory patches.

If you're not a big fan, but you played a little of "The Sims 3" and you kind of liked it, then I'd recommend passing this one over. If you hate all of "The Sims" games and everything they stand for, I suggest you sit back and laugh as EA deprives the fanbase of their money once again.

If you must play "The Sims 3: Ambitions," then give it a try, but please wait until the price goes down. There's no way this game is worth $40.

http://www.crispygamer.com

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