Oh my god, the stove is on fire! What do you do? What do you do!? Quickly, dig the doorknob out of the sandbox, take it to the shed, use it fix the door, open the door to the shed, find the fire extinguisher, take it to the kitchen and put the fire out. Whew! That was easy, wasn’t it?
For a game that is supposed to simulate real life, Virtual Families (the latest in the Virtual Villagers series) sometimes makes very little sense. However, the nonsense is annoying instead of whimsical.
Virtual Families has you help your little people negotiate the daily grind of a suburban, home-bound existence. You begin by choosing your character which, unlike in other life simulation games like The Sims, you do not get to customize. You must instead choose your character from a list of predesigned little people. This takes a lot of the fun out of it.
Once chosen, your character is then placed in a spacious house, which they both live and work in. Like medieval serfs, they cannot leave their estate. You drag them around the house and yard, making them do chores, bathe, etc.
Can’t we eat out at a restaurant? We haven’t left the house in thirty years.
Some of the tasks, like pulling weeds, are very straightforward, requiring you to place your little person on the desired object and let them figure out what needs to be done with it. Other tasks, like putting out oven fires, are not quite so easy.
In addition to micromanaging the tasks your little person performs, you must run their personal life. Marriage proposals start coming to your character by e-mail almost immediately (just like in real life?). Once you choose a suitable mate for them, the following message appears on your screen:
‘How exciting ‘“ a new marriage! Hopefully they are a good fit for each other and will make a beautiful family together. Let’s get started on that and make a baby. Drag the adult male onto the adult female or vice versa.’
When you drag the characters together, if they are ‘in the mood’ they will begin to do a strange dance that causes a baby to appear. The adult female will then carry the baby around until it reaches toddlerhood, completely excluding the male from all child-related tasks and putting him in a sort of sperm-donor role. Unfortunately, this odd mating ritual is the only type of social interaction that the little people can really perform.
This game lacks much of the personalization and creativity of other life simulation games, like the The Sims. In Virtual Families you can’t design your person or choose their career. You also can’t design your home, but you can buy certain items for it like a swimming pool or pinball machine. A greater degree of customization would have made the game much more fun.
Additionally, the little people can only perform the kind of dreary tasks most people play video games to get away from. Your character is home-bound and can only do things related to the home like cooking, cleaning, and checking e-mail.
Quiet, everyone! The O’Reilly Factor is family hour!
Your little characters continue performing these humdrum chores even when you are not playing the game, which can be problematic. You can go to sleep with mom, dad and baby all happy, only to wake up and find that baby has grown up and moved out, while mom and dad have retired and have made a mess of the house.
These virtual people are rather dimwitted, and tend to break things and make a mess when you are not watching them (i.e. when your phone is off). This means most of the time you spend playing is devoted to making them happy again, building their health and energy levels back up and repairing the house.
Earlier Virtual Villagers games were more interesting, giving you an island to play with rather than just a modern home. This game is different than those that came before, but it is by no means better. Unless you absolutely love these kinds of games, try one of the others in this series instead.