The Sims 4 Review
After fourteen years, more than 175 million copies sold, and numerous expansions, the world’s bestselling PC game of all time has returned with Electronic Art’s release of The Sims 4. The first of fall 2014’s most anticipated was available worldwide September 4th, and isn’t just a pleasant addition to the franchise, but also a launch pad for what seems to be a very promising direction in the series.
Let me start off by saying that I am an avid Simmer. The Sims is the first video game I truly fell in love with, and has been a part of my life since I was just ten years old. With so many memories and sentimentality involved, I felt it was my duty as a fan to give The Sims 4 a try, even when I was completely unimpressed with the initial release photos. It wasn’t so much the new look of the Sims I disliked (they’re essentially revamped, Pixar-esque versions of The Sims 2 characters) so much as the hesitance I had due to the catastrophe that was my Sims 3 experience. Even with a computer that met the system requirements, I was plagued with technical issues, inexplicable lag, glitches, and load times that killed any desire to play by the time the world actually appeared on my screen. Although The Sims 3 was good in theory, the poor execution resulted in a game that was ultimately pretty to look at and tinker with, but lacked the longevity of the nonlinear, sandbox style of play that is quintessentially The Sims.
Fast forward a summer of rather limited teasers from EA, a free demo showcasing the new Create-a-Sim, and a solid tie between complete revolt and uncontainable ecstasy among the community, and I’m at my computer, watching the plumbob that is the modest new load screen appear for the first time. I’m shocked to discover that my laptop – which is your average 4GB Toshiba Satellite – has me in game in less than 30 seconds. I’m taken to a menu with charming clips of Sims getting themselves into trouble, and when I select a new game, am brought to Create-a-Sim. This is one of The Sims 4’s two most striking features, worthy of praise in its own right. EA has clearly developed this mode with not just longtime fans, but also first timers in mind. Gone are the days when you have to tab through different menus of categorized sliders. Now, a simple click-and-drag interface allows you to mold your Sims like clay, sculpting them into your own visions of pixelated perfection. From the width of their waist, the way they walk, the curve of their eyebrows, even the size of their feet, bringing characters to virtual life has never been easier.
After I’ve made my first two test Sims, I assign them three traits from a list of over thirty. Many from The Sims 3 have been carried over, but a few new additions include the sports loving, fist bumping “Bro” and video game addicted “Geek”. Depending on which aspiration you choose for your Sim, a fourth bonus trait to help them achieve their lifelong goal will also be added. While traits are nice, they’re rather simple. I found that most player’s tend to develop an affinity for a specific few, and after a while, they lose their whimsy. I believe this is where the gameplay in The Sims 3 fell flat for me. After a few Sim days, unique trait interactions didn’t feel quite so original, and the predictable outcome of social interactions became tedious and uninspiring. That’s all changed in The Sims 4, thanks to the brand new emotion system that has completely surpassed any and all expectations I may have had.
Regardless of what your Sim is doing, they are now influenced by their mood and environment. What I initially feared would be a mundane pattern of watching my Sim cycle through states of exaggerated happiness and bouts of melodramatic depression has turned out to be a feature that’s restored my interest in the entire game. I am amazed at just how deeply the effect of the emotions span. One of my Sims, though exhausted after a late night out with a friend, trudged sleepily toward her bedroom with a wide smile on her face – because she was “happy” after spending quality time with a loved one.
In the presence of her crush, she became “flirty”, and subsequently everything she did had a frisky touch. Her normal tone of voice took on a sweet, enticing lilt. When the stereo was turned on and she and her date began to dance, she deviated from her usual moves to a more seductive sway of the hips, and cast him coy grins as they chatted over the music. This multitasking capability with EA calls SmartSim adds a remarkable sense of realism that creates an enticing, natural flow that no other installment of the series has had. Even with load screens between lots and the toddler life stage having been omitted, EA has pulled off an excellent feat in producing a game that has a smoothness that starts at the technical level with a user friendly, simple interface, and carries on through interaction and animations. Day-to-day living in The Sims is exciting again, because your Sims aren’t just moving through each day; they’re experiencing it. If someone is unhappy due to a breakup, they may lash out at a friend and in turn, send that Sim into an angry rage. New love can take a Sim that’s been meandering about depressed and raise him to an exalted level of inspiration. A normally happy Sim whose been angered by something around her may push her lover away when he comes in for a kiss, which in turn hurts him and causes him to react negatively when she tries to make up for it.
I haven’t felt this enveloped in the game since The Sims 2, and it isn’t just fun to play, but also to watch. I love seeing my Sims perform small yet intelligent tasks, like making breakfast in the kitchen and then heading into the study to chat with a family member who is on the computer writing a letter to their pen pal in Sunset Valley. Sims will talk to one another about their day while one prepares dinner and the other watches TV nearby. They’ll move closer to one another as conversation progresses. Now, they’ll even just sit together on the bed and have a chat about their work or recent happenings. There are several animations that contrast with the realism, such as a puff of pink smoke materializing out of thin air when one Sim blows a kiss to another. It isn’t necessarily a con, so much as a bit of an oddity among characters who are acting so lifelike. However, I give EA credit for the occasional peculiar animation – it’s a throwback to the jovial, lighthearted Sims 2 days, and that silly, quirky humor really is what makes up the heart of The Sims.
While the gameplay is entertaining and revitalized, there are a few setbacks. The new build mode that enables you to pick up and move entire rooms, raise and lower foundations of already constructed houses, and even adjust the height of walls, is partnered with a Buy Mode that is filled with modern new furnishings, but lacks some key pieces such as a dish washer. There is an abundance of some objects like clutter and décor, and almost every object is available in a large variety of colors and designs, but others that you naturally expect with a game like this are just nonexistent. The inability to recolor the bedding and frame separately was also an annoyance, but with future DLC and patches, it’s possible that could change.
The exclusion of “normal” careers such as medicine and law enforcement is also a drag, because they seem to have been omitted solely for the purpose of showcasing the new Sims 4 exclusive careers such as entertainer (which relies heavily upon the mastery of the new comedy skill) and astronaut. The limitations in the game, however, to seem to leave open room for growth. This feels intentional on EA’s behalf, as if it’s an attempt to make future expansions all the more appealing. Players already anticipate the arrival of swimming pools, which are sure to be included in a seasonal themed EP, and toddlers will more than likely join the game when a generations/family based expansion hits the market. While these negatives didn’t necessarily hinder my ability to enjoy the game, they are relevant enough to make The Sims 4 a bit of a stretch to purchase for its current price of 69.90€.
Ultimately, EA has made it clear that they are not looking to compensate for previous games’ flaws with The Sims 4. Instead, this game is a blank canvas. It offers plenty of fun and possibility as is, but it’s evident upon that this is just the foundation of a solid vision; the first chapter in what is hopefully going to be a revolutionized era of The Sims.