Everyone has heard of The Sims, but The Sims 3 is the first time it’s been launched on the PS3, xBox 360 and Nintendo Wii.
In The Sims 3 you have to take out the recycling, go to work, exercise, make dinner - all for the benefit and well-being of a tiny pixelated person who doesn't even say thanks. But it's fun. There's something weirdly satisfying about hovering over a house, secretly guiding the lives of the inhabitants with a magical cursor.
The game's AI controls them, but left to their own devices they're likely to sleep all day, never wash and skip work. So you have to intervene and keep them healthy, happy and organised.
You begin by creating your Sims. You can make up to eight per household, customising their appearance, age, names and, crucially, their personality.
Each Sim has five slots for Traits that dictate what kind of person they'll be. You could create an athletic good Samaritan, an evil kleptomaniac, a genius who hates children or a thousand other combinations, and the end results are always entertaining thanks to the lively and expressive character models.
How you play is up to you. You could create a family with children; a bachelor; a young couple; an elderly couple in retirement. But you don't have to start a game with the intention of keeping your Sims happy. There's a lot of entertainment value in making their lives a misery, and the game gives you plenty of options to do so.
As you play you're given challenges, normally something your Sim desires, be it a promotion or a bigger TV. Complete them and you receive Karma points, which let you unleash supernatural powers. This could be cleaning and repairing everything in your house (to the delight of your Sim) or, alternatively, calling in a meteor strike on their home, destroying all their worldly possessions.
But there's more game in playing the 'right' way, guiding them from a low-paying job to being rich, fulfilled and successful. Part of this is making sure their surroundings are pleasant. You have remarkable control over your house, from the landscaping outside to the size and shape of every room. Carpets, wallpaper and furnishings are all customisable, and spending your Sim's earnings on newer and better appliances is a fast-track to happiness.
Your Sim has ever-changing Moodlets that are caused by a number of factors. If they're sleeping in a cheap bed they won't be well-rested and are likely to be irritated or cranky at work. If you haven't done the washing up and the room is full of dirty plates, their mood will be lowered. There are positive Moodlets too, though, like the satisfaction of a vigorous workout or having a relaxing shower.
But this is where the game's biggest problem lies. The game mirrors life perhaps too closely, and it's not long before controlling your Sim's destiny feels like hard work. When they go to bed you've no choice but to watch them snooze, which takes entirely too long, even with the game speed set to max. Same with when they go to work, over which you have no real control or interaction.
And the micro-management of keeping each Sim happy and content is largely tedious, requiring you to constantly nanny them and tend to their needs. It's the tiresome busywork that fills our actual lives that makes The Sims 3 often unbearably dull to play. There are some moments of excitement, like meeting a ghost, starting a fire in the kitchen or being burgled, but mostly it's just repetitive drudgery.
And in that respect, as a life simulator, it's depressingly authentic; an endlessly-looping cycle of tedium interspersed with brief moments of happiness and, eventually, death.
The Sims 3 launch date: Out now
The Sims 3 price: £25-£25 online