When you look back at your college years, what do you remember most fondly? Maybe you think about the all-night parties, the friendships and relationships forged, cramming for finals, dealing with roommates, and the satisfaction of finally earning your degree after all of that hard work. That typical experience is what EA and Maxis have created with University Life, the ninth expansion for The Sims 3. And while the developers have succeeded at incorporating many staples of attending college into The Sims 3, the expansion ends up feeling like an isolated experience instead of a cohesive addition to the core game.
In The Sims 3: University Life, any Sim with a high school diploma can enroll in college by choosing a major, the number of credits per term, and how many terms to take on. Upon arriving in the new college sub-city, your choice of residence includes the dorms, a sorority or frat house, or off-campus housing. You may have to deal with roommates, and cohabitating with strangers has the same benefits and negatives as real life--they might become your best friends or your worst enemies. It’s fun to have other Sims around that you’re not tasked with controlling, and dealing with unpredictable housemates might bring back fond memories of your own college roommates. Trying to balance your academic and social lives is made more challenging by the addition of three social groups: nerds, jocks, and rebels. Gaining influence with these groups can net you one of three dream jobs: video game developer, sports agent, or art appraiser. Gaining social influence requires hanging out with these groups, participating in their activities, and going to their hangouts, which leaves less time for studying and day jobs and creates an unfocused experience. The balance would work better if you didn’t lose influence relatively quickly, which can feel like a punishment.
The biggest problem with University Life is that its core content isn’t integrated very well with the rest of the game. While your college-bound Sims are living in the university town, you can’t access the rest of the household members in the main game. Perhaps this wouldn’t be an issue if you had total control over your Sims at all times, but because they disappear into school buildings for some classes, you’ll spend a good amount of each term speeding up time, waiting for something to do. You’ll return home after a semester or two to find that no time has passed back in your hometown. This makes college a strange, static state where no Sims age up, get married, or get pregnant.
College life might be the main draw of this expansion, but there are plenty of small additions that can be enjoyed on and off campus. The abundance of outfits fitting into the college and social group themes have lots of charming details that add personality to your Sims. There’s a bit of new furniture, like the space-saving Murphy bed, the game’s latest WooHoo spot (a cute addition, though “unreasonably small twin bed” might have been more true to life). Juice kegs make parties better, as well as raising your mood and jock influence. The smartphone is a welcome addition, providing skill-boosting activities like blogging and texting without taking up too much Sim time. Finally, Plant Sims make a return to the franchise, though they’re not as fun a life state as the supernatural and alien Sims seen in other expansions.
Of course, this wouldn’t be The Sims 3 without some odd bugs along the way. While University Life avoided the freezes and crashes of some other expansions, there were a few notable issues. Upon returning for a new semester, a Sim’s on-campus boyfriend had become a member of the family (not just a roommate--a controllable character). The only way to get rid of him was to have him drop out. For a short period, none of the controllable Sims could interact with others. Most frustratingly of all, one Sim was unable to return to college, meaning she couldn't complete her in-progress degree and thus rendering the expansion’s core content unplayable. While a less-than-ideal workaround allowed her to return to school, this aggravating glitch, on top of the expansion’s other issues, might make you want to drop out for good.
In many ways, The Sims 3: University Life does a great job of replicating those wild college years. However, what works in real life doesn’t always make for compelling gameplay. The classes, parties, finals, streaking, and keg stands are great touches, but that doesn’t change the fact that you’ll spend a lot of time with your finger on the speed up command, and your family at home may as well not exist in the meantime. Die-hard Sims fans will find plenty of ways to have fun during those weeks away at college, but once graduation’s over and the career path begins, University Life will become a distant memory.
This game was reviewed on the Mac.