The Sims is a weird series. For some people like us it’s played as a somewhat typical sandbox game. We make a household that’s a bit like real life and then we try to maximise everything. We get our dream careers, buy all the things and try to keep everyone happy. For others it’s a chance to make depraved dungeons and torment sims for eternity in new and creative ways. For others still it’s a chance to be as creative as possible, designing new furniture and houses for others to use. The joy of The Sims is that it doesn’t discriminate against any of these groups, but how will they fare in the latest installment, The Sims 4?
The first thing you’re likely to notice is that The Sims 4 appears incredibly limited compared to previous entries. It’s unfair to put it up against the colossal amounts of DLC available for all the other games, but even as a vanilla package it comes up short. The world is now split into a group of around 12 areas with each containing around 4-6 lots. To travel between each one there’s a loading screen and the overall world has never felt smaller. You don’t see vehicles driving about and it’s entirely possible to play the entire game and hardly ever go to some of the more interesting places like the bars and museums (a bit like real life). This also applies to items as the catalog of items to buy appears to be much reduced. This is somewhat disheartening at first although there’s still plenty enough to keep you happy creating your own style and houses.
The payoff for a reduced library of objects is increased interactivity and slightly more polish. Items are generally used in the way you’d expect and there’s more combinations than was previously the case. For example Sims will regularly sit at a computer while eating or chatting to other Sims, or all three at once. If someone is using the sink in the kitchen or it’s broken Sims will happily go and do the washing up in the bathroom. It can be cooky at times and there’s definitely still some bugs to be found (Sims will sometimes get up from their chairs to do things they don’t have to do and they have an uncanny ability to eat food from a table over four feet away without actually touching it) but when it works it makes interactions much more realistic and natural.
Graphically the game retains the cartoony style we’re used to from the series and looks markedly better than the last entry. For some reason textures outside look less impressive but busy interiors look really good and the new animations make group interactions entertaining to watch. Sims’ moods and needs show through their mannerisms so it’s always funny to watch a tired Sim who needs the loo struggle home after a night in the pub only to collapse on the sidewalk at 4am while his friends wander on oblivious.
As with most EA games at the moment, connectivity is a big part of The Sims and there is a shard gallery of houses and Sims that you can easily download into your own game. Maxis are constantly going through submissions and curating so every now and then you’ll get a little notification that something else has been recommended. It’s slightly trite but if you have a browse of the options there’s some really fun stuff on there.
The biggest improvement is with the AI. Sims appear to genuinely have unique personalities and their actions throughout the day have a real effect on their decision making. If you try to micromanage everything you’re going to be missing out on the best part, just sitting back and watching how the Sims cope. You need to push them to interact with strangers a little bit but other than that you can simply set things up and use them as some kind of slightly twisted and over the top psychological experiment. Make a pro-gamer then see how he tries to balance practice, keeping a house tidy and social demands. Make an investigative journalist and see what she can do when she runs out of people in the town to interview. Push an only child towards a life of crime because why not?
The Sims 4 is limited and still surprisingly buggy, but there is a really interesting game at its heart and once you get into it there’s a lot of fun to be had. Unfortunately it’s easy to see that long-time fans of the series are going to feel short-changed in much the same way as we were with Sim City. Hopefully Maxis can bring out some free updates and open it up a little bit more, but we’re not holding our breath.