Back when The Sims first released in February 2000, no one could have predicted the huge impact it would have on not only the gaming scene, but also the players of the game 14 years later. Having sold close to 200 million units worldwide The Sims is one of the most successful video game franchises ever. From September 2nd 2014 The Sims franchise is about to be completely reworked with the release of the latest entry in the series, The Sims 4. Will The Sims 4 be able to establish its own identity in a series spanning endless games and add-ons? Or will it be a victim of the franchise’s momentous success?
The Sims 4 is set to shake up the series with the addition of many new features and elements to its gameplay. The developers of the game have reworked everything from the ground up to be as accessible, interesting, and most importantly, fun for both new and old players of The Sims. When you first load up the game you are met with a simple and clean main menu. You can select New Game which will take you directly into the games Create a Sim section. The same button with the universal “Play” symbol also doubles as the “Continue Game” if you have already played and saved a game previously. It’s still possible to start new games or load a different save by using the buttons located at the top left of the main menu.
When you first start a game and go into Create a Sim, it can feel a little daunting. With no sliders and no user interface (UI) just screaming for attention, it’s hard to know where to start. When I first start creating Sims I tend to start with a blank slate – I remove all the clothing and hair allowing me to see exactly what my changes are doing without clothes and hair getting in the way. After a little while of pushing and pulling at my Sim, a process I’m sure is uncomfortable for them, a somewhat decent Sim emerges. The creation process is made much easier because the game adapts to your view point. If you are up close and personal at your Sims face, they politely remain still while you tweak their features. Their facial expression also remains neutral in this stage too – no worrying about your Sim smiling when pulling at their mouth here!
For a base game, The Sims 4 includes a lot of clothing options for your Sims to wear right from the start. While there is no Create a Style tool in The Sims 4, each article of clothing comes in several pre-defined styles. The clothing options are also stylish and realistic. What you see your Sims wearing are clothes you would see people wearing in real life. There is also a nice variety of hairstyles too, and hats can be worn with any hairstyle too!
You’ll also set your Sims’ Aspiration and personality Traits in Create a Sim. There is a wide variety of each with Aspirations unlocking an additional Trait. Aspirations are long-term goals that your Sim wants to achieve in the gameplay of The Sims 4 and cover every aspect of life – family, fortune, knowledge and more. A Trait is the driving force of how your Sim will live on a day-to-day basis. Create an Outgoing Sim and watch as they want to chat to anyone and everyone they meet. Cheerful Sims want to tell jokes with other Sims and will advance in their Comedy Skill much quicker than say a Loner Sim who prefers their own company. Even though Adults can only have 3 Traits, your selection of them will result in a very unique Sim. In the gameplay Sims will perform actions on their own dictated by their Traits. It’s really quite something seeing a Loner Sim leave a busy party to sit on their bed away from everyone.
The gameplay in The Sims 4 is one of the most involved experiences I’ve had with a The Sims base game. Live Mode is where your Sims will live out their lives. They’ll get jobs, make friends, make enemies, have children, throw parties and eventually die. There is so much to do in this base game that even in my 100+ hours with the game I’ve not even scratched the surface of what’s here. When I’m playing I tend to stay focused on the family aspect in The Sims and The Sims 4 doesn’t fail to deliver in this area. I had initially started with a single Sim who eventually got married and had a baby. The process was fun. My Sim went on dates and had to complete little ” date challenges” to get a better score and unlock reward items. When the baby arrived it was a bit odd being restricted to interacting with her in one spot, especially considering Sims are the most mobile they have ever been in a The Sims game. It was also upsetting seeing the baby age right into a Child. There is not Toddler life stage in The Sims 4 and this left me feeling that the family aspect of The Sims 4 is a little unbalanced.
The Child life stage is a fun one to play with. The children are funny to watch as they poke fun at their elders, play with their toys (and poke themselves in the eye while doing so) and interacting with other Sims. Children really feel like children in The Sims 4 and most of the actions their elders can perform, children can perform too. It’s refreshing coming into The Sims 4 and looking forward to playing with the children because of all the activities they can take part in. They even have access to their own Aspirations that are unique to their ages that further encourage you, the player, to let the children be children. It’s when they age in to their teen years that things can get a little confusing.
Teens, Young Adults/Adults and Elders in The Sims 4 are all the same height. On paper this doesn’t seem like a bad thing, but when you’re playing it can get very confusing and often frustrating when you are playing with a teen. It can be difficult to differentiate between a teenager and adult. The only clue is if your teen can perform romantic interactions with the other Sim or not or the number of Trait slots in the relationship panel. While it’s a very minor thing, it is frustrating constantly having to introduce yourself to Sims in the hopes that they are also a teenager. An age indicator on a Sims name bubble when you hover over them would make things a lot easier for the player.
The multitasking in The Sims 4 is amazing. Sims can, and will, perform many actions simultaneously. It can often be comical seeing what you can make your Sim do at the same time. I’ve had a Sim plan for a party on his cell phone while sitting on the toilet. If you take your Sim to one of the nightclubs, it’s not an uncommon occurrence to see your Sim sitting with a drink, chatting with a Sim at the next table and the Sim on the dance floor while watching another Sim give a comedy performance. Everything your Sims do seems natural, I’ve yet to have a “why would you even do that” moment while playing. Well, unless you count the selfies your Sim takes while sat on the toilet, but people do that in real life too so why shouldn’t a Sim?
The all-new Emotional system in The Sims 4 really makes you care for your Sims more than ever. You Sims can experience one of 15 emotional states at any given time and almost everything they do in the game will push them into an emotion. Your Sims can be Happy, Flirty, Angry, Focused and more. While we, as humans and players, may perceive certain emotions to be good or bad, The Sims 4 doesn’t. While your Sim is experiencing an emotion you may find that the normal tasks they perform are now done differently. Angry Sims will work out harder, take angry poops, fiercely kiss their romantic interest and more. Energized Sims will push themselves just that little more when working out. Flirty Sims are more open to romantic advances and can opt to take a “cold shower” when they get a bit too flirty. It doesn’t matter what your Sim is feeling, the game doesn’t punish you for having a Sim in a particular mood. In fact, the game WANTS you to put these Sims in different states! It really makes the game feel that much more alive and personified when your Sims are expressing themselves naturally.
The sound and music in the game is also the best in the series so far. When Sims are chatting in one room and you are viewing an adjacent room with the walls up, you can still hear those Sims conversing, but the voices are now muffled. The music you hear on the stereo systems sound like real songs. One of the songs, Again and Again, has an extremely catchy tune and I found myself searching online to see if this was a Simlish version of a real song. Sadly it wasn’t. But I think that that there is a real testament to the production value of the games soundtrack.
The music playing when you are in Build Mode the music is relaxing and energetic. But it’s not just a single track playing constantly. The music is adaptive to what you are doing and the section you are in. The best way to describe the effect in words is that the game has about 10 variations of the same song playing simultaneously and these different variations are played with different instruments. You will only hear one track at a time, but if you switch to a different tool or section, the music gently drifts over to a different track with no jarring transition. The music you hear becomes your own experience. I love building in The Sims, but I usually have my own music playing in the background and mute the game audio if I am going to build for extended periods of time. I don’t need to do this in the Sims 4 as the music and sound effects are a pleasure to listen to and simply fall into the background to create a level of ambiance while I go about filling my homes with as much clutter as I can find.
In The Sims 4, the Build and Buy Modes have been combined into Build Mode. It all functions the same way as players of the series are used to – you build and furnish your Sims homes – but it is all more streamlined and easier to use. Build Mode has been redesigned from the ground-up to be as accessible and easy to use by new and experienced builders alike. This is no small feat considering the variety of players and builders who play The Sims. New players and those not comfortable with building will probably start off by making use of the Styled Rooms feature which allows for the placement of pre-designed rooms. Included in the base game are 69 Styled Rooms, but this number can easily be increased tenfold by use of the in-game sharing system The Gallery.
The real fun of Build Mode though is creating homes yourself. This can be as easy or as complicated as you wish. Most of the old tools players are used to are still there, but there are also new tools available. You can place “blocks” of walls down and shape them as you wish. It can get a little confusing at times though. Placing just a single floor tile down on a first or second floor doesn’t work like it used to. You now have to place a block of floor tiles down in order for the game to “see” it as a floor. There is also no option to disable floors from automatically filling a room when you have enclosed the space. I tried building a modern home with an open upstairs landing leading to the bedrooms and bathroom but when it came to closing sections off with curved and straight fences the “open” floor suddenly became filled. There may be a way around this but after spending about 20 minutes trying to get around this limitation I became frustrated and scrapped the lot. This is a real shame as the tools available feel like they want you to build as you wish, but when you do go to build, the game puts certain restrictions on you.
This isn’t to say that Build Mode isn’t fun to use, it really is! When you and the game ‘click’ together, the only limitation to what you can construct is your own imagination – or when you come to furnish the house. When it comes to filling the house with items you will really start to feel a bit restricted in what you can do. Most of the items in the game are catered towards modern or antique settings. This is understandable to an extent given the vastly different worlds that shipped with the game. But you will find yourself using the same items over and over again because there just isn’t enough variety of items. If you want to make a small, quaint starter home for your Sims (a home that is within your Sims budget when you first make the household), you will only really be able to use the cheap modern items. There isn’t really a range of different themes in the game. You can either have items which fit in with the more traditional Willow Creek (the lush, New Orleans styled world), or you are restricted to the more modern setting of Oasis Springs (the desert landscape world). Hopefully as the game expands we will see a much broader range of styles, but as it is the styles just aren’t for everyone.
The restrictions are also further placed on builders when it comes to the colour choices of the items. One of my largest fears of not having Create a Style in The Sims 4 was not having fully matching items. I was worried that different wood colours wouldn’t match and it would be difficult to mix and match different items. As it stands now I have to admit that these fears were going to be realised when I started building for myself. The cheapest double bed in the game comes with around 20 recolours of it, but trying to find a matching colour of dresser and night stand is a near nightmare, even though there are matching items in the same STYLE as the bed. Some come with forced, bold colours on the draws that you can’t remove either, so while you may somewhat get a matching colour you are left with an unsightly bold colour taunting you and your obsessive colour-coordinating ways. When you are able to find matching furniture for a room though, the looks you can pull off are truly beautiful.
The Gallery is an in-game system designed to allow players to quickly and easily share their creations with the rest of the world. Using the Gallery, players are able to share Households, full lots and their own Styled Rooms with others. While I tend to upload my own creations more than I download them, I have to mention the stability and handiness of it. While the game does a good job of keeping the world populated with Sims who don’t own a house, a lot of houses in my game remain empty (even with the setting activated to allow Sims to move into them on their own). When I start to feel that the worlds are starting to look a little too empty I can quickly press a button from Manage Worlds which takes me to the Gallery. I’ll search for a few households and plop them down into uninhabited residential lots. It’s a quick and smooth process and handy when you want to see Sims in your game with different personalities than you would usually use.
When it comes to rating The Sims 4, I don’t really know where to begin! The beauty of The Sims is that no two players will play the same. My way of playing may very well be completely different to how someone else plays. With this in mind I have to say that for me The Sims 4 is almost everything I was hoping it would be but didn’t expect it to be. Usually when a new The Sims base game releases I will play with it for a few hours and then return to the previous game until a few expansion packs have been released. This isn’t the case with The Sims 4. Already I have easily put in over 100 hours playing the game and not once have I felt bored or wanting to fire up The Sims 3. The Sims 4 has to be the most fleshed out base game we have received.
It is easy to concentrate on features that aren’t there (toddlers, open worlds and Create a Style being the main ones), but the stuff that is actually in the game is superb. The game is fast and stable. I played for about 14 hours solid the first day I was able to play it. Not once did the game lag or lock up for me, the game remained as smooth and stable as if I had just started playing. The game is also fun to play. I am actually finding myself preferring the more “closed” neighbourhood style of The Sims 4 to the open worlds of The Sims 3. This makes the game feel more about the Sims themselves and not about going off and exploring. It also makes the game world feel much more “alive” too – you will see Sims going for a jog, tending to the community garden and stopping to chat in the street.
It’s all these small and minor things that makes the game feel much more intimate than ever before. You quickly grow attached to your Sims and you want to take care of them. Especially when they enter the Sad emotional state. My third generation child had had a bad day at school and came home crying. He went straight to his bedroom and climbed under his sheets to cry. It was a heartbreaking moment for me, the player, to watch. I didn’t want him to feel bad and I was thinking of ways to make him feel better when the most curious thing happened. His stay-at-home dad entered his son’s bedroom and waited for him to get out of bed and gave him a hug and started telling him jokes until he wasn’t Sad any more, but in a Playful mood. This all happened without any intervention from me and there was power in that moment. It suddenly felt like these Sims aren’t just aware of their own emotions, but the emotions of their loved ones too and they want to help each other. I could sit and talk all day about all these little, subtle moments I see in the game because the game is just full of them.
If I did have to say if I felt The Sims 4 was worth the time and money to play it I would have to say that it is a definite yes. There are a few annoyances in the game such as the small worlds and mismatching items, but when it comes down to the base line The Sims 4 is a game dedicated to the lives of your Sims themselves. For a base game you will never run out of something to do or find. I do hope that given the love and care that the developers have put into The Sims 4 that when it comes to the inevitable expansion packs and stuff packs, that the same level of love and care is put into those too. The Sims 4 as a series is off to an incredibly strong start and I think that it is only going to improve over time.