Crispy Gamer

The Sims 2: Bon Voyage (PC)

Unless you?ve been living under a rock for the past decade or so, you?ve no doubt seen -- or played -- Electronic Arts? mega-successful Sims series, which has not only spawned two main games (The Sims and The Sims 2) but countless expansion packs for each of these bestselling PC titles.

You know the drill: Gameplay involves micromanaging little simulated people known as ?sims,? each with his or her own personality, desires and motives. The game might be considered a virtual soap opera, if you will, in which the sims can pursue a number of career paths, interact with other characters (including flirty neighbors) and decorate a house from top to bottom with new wallpaper, furniture, appliances and so on.

Good news for fans of these games -- the latest expansion is one of the best to date, as it transports your sims to faraway places, allows them to mingle with fun (and sometimes bizarre) new people and then bring home collectible keepsakes for your home.

The Sims 2: Bon Voyage includes three unique vacation venues for your sims, each housing multiple areas and activities to engage in: Twikki Island, a lush tropical paradise laced with hotels, pools and pristine beaches; Three Lakes, a rustic mountaintop spot where you can camp out with nature and explore the Great Outdoors; and Tazemizu Village, a serene spot in the Far East with its bonsai trees, tea gardens and mahjongg tables.

Simply pick the type of getaway you?re in the mood for, pick up the phone or log into a vacation Web site on your PC, and select ?Book Vacation.? The trip-planning screen lets you select the length of time you?re going away, which sims are coming along, and how much it?ll set you back.

And don?t worry about leaving your abode to go on one of these dream vacations, as time will stand still back at home -- meaning you won?t miss a day at the office or forget to feed your dog (if you have The Sims 2: Pets expansion pack installed)! One small caveat: If you?re leaving children behind you will need to hire a nanny ahead of time to take care of them. But what won?t halt is the need to take care of your sims? needs in a number of departments -- which are Hygiene, Hunger, Social, Energy, Bladder, Comfort and Fun -- so if you have enough Simoleons (the currency in the game), be sure to select the finer establishments if you can, such as better hotels with TVs, hot tubs, showers and 24-hour room service. Oh, and did I mention there?s a spa on some of these premises? Make sure to keep your sims? needs in the green (as opposed to yellow or red) to ensure a good time.

For each of the different vacations on which you can embark, you can visit nearby tourist areas where your sims can shop for unique goodies, meet locals, or check out a recreational activity for your family. Examples of the latter include parasailing, looting an abandoned pirate ship for treasure, walking through ancient ruins, roasting marshmallows on a campfire, or learning how to bow properly from kimono-wearing Japanese women. You can approach another group of vacationers to do something together, which will help make for a memorable holiday -- and don?t forget to take photos of your new friends (or have them take shots of your family) with the new in-game camera that saves snapshots of your experiences (a great idea!). You can also sample some of the local foods, be it barbeque, indigenous fruit or Asian delicacies.

When it?s time to leave you can bring home all your found or purchased souvenirs. Plus, after completing a positive trip you can choose from one of a few bonuses to apply back at home, such as an increase in productivity, learning skills faster, or an additional slot for your sims? stuff. Lean a new dance and teach it to your neighbor. Buy unique jewelry and give it to your mistress (ahem). Tell your card-playing buds you saw Big Foot (if they?ll believe you). Decorate your pad with a palm tree souvenir. You get the idea.

Have some extra Simoleons? Consider buying vacation property in one (or all) of these three locales. How cool would it be to pick up a cabin in the mountains, and then decorate it any which way you like?

Aside from some long load screens and sometimes awkward camera angles (an issue with the main The Sims 2 game, too), there?s not much to complain about after playing The Sims 2: Bon Voyage. Sure, some might balk at the fact you need a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM version of The Sims 2 to play (or a copy of The Sims 2 Special DVD Edition, The Sims 2 Holiday Edition or The Sims 2 Deluxe), but the wide assortment of locations, activities and goodies you can acquire ensures many, many hours of additional fun for your beloved sims, and for under $30 it?s certainly the cheapest vacation you can take.

This review was based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.