In The Sims 3, you can make your digital paper dolls do oh-so-many things. You can negotiate their relationships, give them hobbies, teach them skills, and oh yes, take them on vacation. But initially, when you took them to work, you'd have to sit and wait as they clocked in and out of a non-descript building. Criminal work, journalism, science, it didn't matter, they all played the same. More importantly, for those precious hours of a Sim's life, you had almost no control over them.
The Sims 3: Ambitions changes all that. You can now micromanage your Sims' careers and futures, everything from how they interact with their co-workers to what projects they undertake. There are new jobs too. Sims can now join professions like stylist, architect, firefighters, private investigator, and ghost hunter. You can also become a self-employed inventor, sculptor, tattoo artist, painter, photographer, gardener, and angler. There's also a new educational career and the medicine career track has been expanded.
The various self-employed positions are usually lonely existences and therefore don't change the gameplay in fundamental ways. Playing as the self-employed writer in the original Sims 3 isn't far removed from being an inventor, for example.
But the professions, unlike the original "jobs," don't just require you to dump your character at "work" and wait for them to emerge from the building afterwards. You actually need to guide your character through the various skills they'll need to acquire (and thereby advance in their career) and often interact with world objects like fires, ghosts, and clues.
I initially had my character play as a private investigator. Of the new professions, this is the only one with funny mission dialogues: you'll often read people referred to as "dames" and see the occasional reference to 1930s hardboiled detective novels. But the missions themselves aren't nearly as exciting.
The initial PI missions include interviewing suspects, going through trash, and staking out areas. You'll make good use of the perceptive, genius, and logic traits with an investigator, but after I got beat up after trying to interrogate a witness, I had my character train in martial arts (a skill you can only unlock through Sims 3: World Adventures). I've since been told I just needed to upgrade my character's athletic ability, but you'd think that martial arts ability would make me a more intimidating private investigator.
While it was cool to rough up suspects for information, there's something lost by not being able to hold a gun, drink on the job, and chase down real felony-class criminals. Investigating the case of the missing mouthwash doesn't really spell "excitement" in my book.
So I switched my character to the ghost hunter profession. Out of the gate, this was a frustrating path to take. You only can get professional experience during specific hours and initially you don't receive any jobs. What you're supposed to do is unclear, though you're considered a Tarot Card Reader, which is a bit of a misnomer and doesn't have anything to do with what you need to learn. After stumbling around town, I figured out that you need to essentially level up your logic skill by playing chess or exploring the Internet. Alternatively, I just wandered the graveyard and interacted with spirits. It was a really boring and unfocused start to a career. It wasn't until I actually got to houses and caught spirits (a la Ghostbusters) and then sold them to the science lab that the professions actually brought me some enjoyment.
I also tried out the Firefighter position. This is the most game-altering profession in many ways because you can effectively live at the firehouse. Like the ghost hunter profession, you don't start out your career by doing what you've been hired to do. You initially need to socialise with your fellow firefighters (to build trust), improve your athletic ability and improve your mechanical abilities. This basically means you'll spend the majority of your time around the firehouse maintaining the fire alarm and truck, upgrading the appliances, and socialising with your co-workers (often by playing catch with a football).
After my Sim had become Firefighter of the year, received a mayor's commendation for her work in private investigation, and cleared out a dozen hauntings, she became a stylist. The stylist profession lets you build up your portfolio by styling a number of clients. The "makeover room" is essentially a limited character creator. You can change a client's hair, makeup and clothing. Even if you think your client looks great, at least initially they'll likely hate it. As you gain job experience, your clients will like what you do more.
Sadly Sims 3: Ambitions, like the previous expansion, is riddled with bugs. The most annoying bug I found was that the audio would cut out for minutes and then all of a sudden every sound that happened in the dead period would play, at the same time. It's as if the audio had been dammed and then all of a sudden that dam burst. I've also seen characters, mission objectives, or context-sensitive wishes disappear at the most inopportune times.
As much as the new professions flush out The Sims 3 to be a much more all-encompassing simulator, you're still unfortunately tethered to certain tasks thanks to the Sims bodily functions. I was fighting a large house fire at one point and it was a race against time to put out the fire before my Sim had to use the toilet. The Sims franchise has never given you a lack of things to do, the problem is that you never have time to do them. If your Sim is working a 9 to 5 job, it may be "realistic" for them to also need about 8 hours of sleep, time to shower, eat and clean up. But that doesn't make it fun. The game would be much improved if there were more hours in the day (or longer hours) and your Sims didn't need to eat and use the bathroom as often as infants.
Can you put a price on a good job? Would you rather toil in a nondescript building each day, or take on a more exciting, if less financially-sound job? Well, The Sims 3: Ambitions makes this last question easy: I can't recommend shelling out thirty or forty dollars to make the work aspect of your Sim's life more enjoyable. While it's fun to catch ghosts, put out fires, and give Mohawks to everyone in town, The Sims 3: Ambitions is still marred by bugs, a time-management system that makes playing a chore, and the feeling that you should be getting all of this as a free update. Expansions like Ambitions and World Adventures don't work as standalone games, and worse still, they make the flaws and frustrations of the original Sims 3 more glaring.