Have You Played... The Sims 2?
Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.
The Sims [official site] are having a mid-life crisis. What started as an experimental house-building and life sim game has become something entirely different. The Sims 3 introduced experimentation of its own in the form of open world neighbourhoods, which met with mixed response, and The Sims 4 is a lighter, happier take on the formula, stripping back on neighbourhood features to focus on the Sims themselves.
Looking back, The Sims 2 may have been the game that found the sweet spot, with enough complexity to make every life a little different and with characters that weren't quite so removed from reality as the weird cartoons of later entries in the series.
The important thing to keep in mind when discussing The Sims is that it may be a life sim, but it is not simulating human life. That may have been the intent, to some degree, with the first game, but since then the Sims themselves have become a species. They're fictional creatures, loosely based on a certain type of suburban American, and they live (and die) by their own rules.
In The Sims 2, there are all kinds of supernatural gimmicks to support the aspirational core of the game. Money trees, anti-aging potions, a Grim Reaper willing to accept bribes – that sort of thing. Some of that carries over from the first game but some of it is new. On the whole, The Sims 2 is the first game but bigger and better, which marks it out as a different proposition to the apparently failed experiment that is The Sims 3.
I say 'apparently failed' because the simulated neighbourhoods have been removed for the most recent sequel, which once again focuses on single family units at any given time rather than trying to follow the antics of the wider world. The Sims 4 also removes some of the struggle, skipping much of the difficulty of child-raising and often seeing Sims stuck in an seemingly endless loop of joy and contentment.
Despite the improved creation tools of 4 and the bold invention of 3, The Sims 2 is still the ideal of this particular brand of life sim.