Eleven years ago, The Sims was released to critical acclaim and mainstream adulation, although it is not unfair to suggest that the gaming world has changed since then. Nintendo and Apple have brought social gaming to the masses in an unprecedented fashion, and 'casual' gaming has become a term unto itself, with populist hits as Farmville and Mafia Wars occupying territory which The Sims once called its own. 2009's The Sims 3 went some way to reinvigorating the franchise, offering up a more refined, accessible and compelling experience which did much to retain the relevancy of the stalwart series. Not unexpectedly, The Sims 3 is no stranger to its fair share of add-ons and expansions, with its most recent addition being The Sims 3: Pets, an update designed to bring furry friends to players' persistent, interactive microcosms, including dozens of breeds of dogs, cats and horses. As a cumulative expansion adding variety and texture to an already feature-rich experience, The Sims 3: Pets for PC made a lot of sense; the ability to customise pets and control them directly added a degree of depth and colour to proceedings, bringing new life to worlds which players had carefully cultivated over time. On Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, however, The Sims 3: Pets is a different sort of beast (if you'll pardon the pun... oh, go on!)
Unlike its PC counterpart, Pets is no mere expansion, but rather a re-release of The Sims 3 which originally launched on consoles late last year. Pets is, unfortunately and surprisingly, not compatible with save game files from the console iterations of the The Sims 3, and is a title to be played in isolation from its predecessor. For those hoping that Pets would mark the introduction of pets to the game worlds they have played, developed and enjoyed, the game will be somewhat problematic and, perhaps, disappointing. This is a new game to be started over from scratch, and treated on its own terms. This issue aside, Pets is largely identical in form and function to the console iterations of the Sims 3, which we found to be quite impressive in its faithful recreation of the PC experience on consoles. Players still create a set of lovable little people to guide through their virutal lifespan, taking time out to make significant life choices, such as whether to get married or have a child, and act out their more mundane activities, such as using the bathroom or cleaning the house. The extent to which players manage their Sims is ultimately a matter of discretion; those who wish to oversee the minutiae of their Sims' lives are welcome to do so, but it is equally possible to allow the virtual citizens to assume control of their own destinies. This flexibility to mould the scope and depth of the gameplay makes Pets ideal for players of all ages, and again represents one of primary virtues of the series. As was the case with the console iteration of The Sims 3, Pets does not begin to approach the visual fidelity or performance of its PC brethren, suffering from a chugging frame rate and jittery animations which detract from the otherwise-solid visual presentation which renders the dogs and cats in fine form and with considerable attention to detail.
In terms of the functions and specific advancements ushered in by the eponymous pets, there are a number of new powers and tasks at play. Creating a dog or cat of the one of the many breeds is very enjoyable, with many options for customisation available for players to tinker with. Creating a herd of cute, colourful animals to join your Sims' in their household remains one of the game's primary pleasures, as does taking direct control of the pets to explore, solve challenges and generally cause havoc within the game world. Each pet has its own desires and wishes to sate, and both cats and dogs each have skills to advance, although to be honest the options and number of ways players can interact with the pets is limited in scope when compared to the complexity of their human counterparts. Crucially, and perhaps tellingly, players need not even create a pet to enjoy the game, and could conceivably play the game in much the same way they enjoyed The Sims 3, minor console-interface quirks and all.
While the underlying game remains as charming and playable as always, The Sims 3: Pets is ultimately a minor revision of its predecessor with precious few new features to make up for the nagging sense of ennui occasioned by its standalone release. For those who have already played and enjoyed The Sims 3, Pets is utterly inconsequential. Others who may be jumping into the series for the first time would do well to experience the game on PC (which, incidentally, boasts horses which are absent from the console iteration), where the interface works best and where loading times are quick to non-existent. While the new-found capacity to introduce four-legged friends into the virtual world is charming enough, it is difficult to fathom why Electronic Arts did not consider making them the subject of downloadable content rather than a merely iterative, standalone retail product as they have done. Pets is still a rock-solid, charming game which is likely to be most appreciated by animal lovers and those looking for a way to jump into a Sims experience on consoles, but nobody will mistake it for anything other than a marginal update to a year-old game.