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Build your own ecosystem from the ground up and give life to creatures from the depths of your imagination. Design plants and animals right at the genetic level to influence how they look, act, and eventually evolve. Test their adaptive abilities by turning their environment into either a paradise where life is easy or a wasteland where only the strongest survive. Play with genetics, food webs, mutation, extinction and natural disasters to witness the effects on the gene pool, the ecosystem and life itself. It's up to you to keep your species off the endangered list.
  • Take on the gaming challenge of nine pre-set scenarios.
  • Design and conduct unlimited ecological experiments.
  • Manipulate genetic variables with a simple point and click.
  • Control land form, climate, time - even the laws of physics.
  • View multi-level maps and extensive graphs of your ecosystem.
~from the back of the box

As with the majority of the early Sim-Everything series from Maxis, SimLife: The Genetic Playground from 1992 takes some getting used to. These ambitious management games feature a large amount of data to pay attention to which can seem overwhelming to beginners but as you play, you realise that the game is essentially the playground that the subtitle suggests.

There are several objective-filled (ie don't kill everything) levels if you want to play those however you'll likely get the most enjoyment just ignoring those and randomly play about. With a title like SimLife, you'd expect a menagerie of flora and fauna to be available and there is a decent amount to choose from. Not all of them are found in the real world either as dragons or pegasi live alongside cockroaches and dogs. Creatures can evolve too, much like pokemon, to be able to fly or swim or eat spiders. These just happen randomly depending on the surroundings you've decided upon. Just place what you want on the map and watch the ecosystem play out. Maybe add a natural disaster such as an earthquake or civilization just for kicks. If that doesn't cut it, you can splice up some genomes and make your own Frankenstein of a creature.

There is a limit to this style of free-form play, and the ancient graphics (which weren't all that at the time either) don't help much. There's little to keep you interested beyond the novelty factor of small sprites jumping around the screen acting like life, and all of the more advanced settings that may add some spice or understanding are presented dryly in a bland series of icons, graphs and numbers.

Much like SimEarth, I found very little to keep me playing which is disappointing considering the very appealing premise. In fact, I'd very much like a series of modern remakes to give life to all the chaos and carnage you can imagine going on in front of you. Until then, I can only recommend it to those chasing nostalgia.

To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses DOSBox to bring the game to modern systems. Manual Included. Tested on Windows 10.

File Size: 33.8 Mb.  Install Size: 40.1 Mb.  Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ


SimLife: The Genetic Playground is © Maxis Software
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me

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  1. Definitely one of the strangest games of my childhood. I never quite really got a feel for what they were going for - it felt very sandbox-y and every ecosystem I tried to create would die off pretty much instantly.

    Possibly I was just because I was young, but it was difficult to really understand how all the systems interacted. I suspect the chaos theory nature of all the moving parts and random acts of evolution were probably always going to frustrate my attempts at playing God. With more patience and some properly thought out experimentation I might have gotten better results.

    I did manage to get a purely plant-based ecosystem to sustain itself once though. Not quite the excitment promised by the mystical creatures on the box! But then playing with the creature customisation tool was fun in its own way. Another unique piece of software from Maxis of a kind it seems nobody is really making any more.

    1. I agree. The only modern game that comes close that I can think of is Spore, but that's over a decade old now.

    2. One modern game I can think of that perhaps fits the bill is Birthdays: The Beginnings. I played the demo and can see why the reception was mixed; a combination of low-budget jankiness and that difficulty of having to make your own fun in the sandbox.