The idea of being stranded on a deserted tropical island would be an alarming situation for most people, especially if you've seen the Tom Hanks film, Cast Away. But for fans of The Sims, it's an opportunity to have a little fun exploring, making new friends, living off the land and discovering secrets...
Paradise lost and found
The Sims 2 Castaway is all about going back to basics for your on-screen avatar after being shipwrecked on a desert island. While previous games in the hugely successful life simulation series have revolved around luxury and coping with day-to-day business, Castaway strips things down to the essentials and throws you into a sandpit of survival. How will you find food? Heat? Shelter?
Thankfully, your Sim is a resourceful soul. Once you've chosen rudimentary skills, a personality and a look to make the virtual person as distinctive as you want, your customised Sim is given a list of goals to accomplish in order to start a new life. Each of these tasks are tied into the personal needs of your Sim, such as the desire to build a comfortable home, socially interact, have a good meal, stay clean or just keep entertained.
All these motives can be fulfilled via the island's rich assets, with vines and bamboo available for construction, stray monkeys and other humans to befriend, wildlife to trap and consume, and materials to make clothing, art and other diversions from. However, everything has to be done within the capabilities of the Sim, who may not be able to climb trees or create a good fire without practice. Not to mention their mood - a tired and hungry Sim is unlikely to attempt anything you ask without you keeping it happy first. Don't forget the toilet breaks, either...
There's a slight period of adjustment as the rhythm of the game is fairly unique compared to other Sims titles. Its opening sections involve a heavy emphasis on foraging and collecting while maintaining the happiness of your character instead of the more typical Sims ethos of just being able to buy goods and revel in mod-con entertainment.
However the flip side of this is that the game is extremely rewarding. Spearing your first fish or discovering something new on the island comes with a strong sense of pride because you feel you've earned it. This accompanies the shipwrecked theme and tone well given it's a game about learning to appreciate what our Sims - and we as players - often take for granted. It's a fine example of very subtle storytelling through gameplay.
Castaway also does a great job of conveying a suitable atmosphere, with its colourful range of jungles, beaches, caves and indigenous flora and fauna. It's helped by the little touches that make your Sim truly part of its environment, as hair grows straggly and unkempt, clothes become torn and dirty, and belly fat slowly disappears through the necessities of survival.
The Sims 2 Castaway is a pleasing diversion from the norm. Its varied objective-based gameplay is nicely mixed with a sense of discovery and the unexpected, making it a distinctively different game experience. With a slow burning addiction that will have you caring for your little castaway's well-being and future, Electronic Arts' newest life simulation is a more than worthy excursion to get truly carried away and lost in.