I think I am getting emotional…
The hugely successful Sims franchise from Maxis and EA, which seems to be equally loved and hated by gamers, has finally reached its fourth iteration, providing yet again something for gamers to either be really excited about, or complain about.
Bringing new challenges and new ways to play the game, or at least to get involved in the lives of ever more complex virtual people, the undying fans will find plenty in The Sims 4 to ensure that they hand over their cash without a single doubt. For the Naysayers, the obvious exclusion of certain features, the diminishing of content which comes from going back to a core game, and the inevitable cash-in that comes with the expansions and content packs which are destined to embellish the core game, will feed the trolls for plenty of time to come. The closet Sim players will just be happy to whine about the bugs in the game, like we have never seen a bug before.
But the launch of The Sims 4 seemed to pass without too many problems. Many were referencing the debacle that was the SimCity launch, declaring that they would wait until the rush had passed before indulging in some Sims 4 action. I would imagine that they are happily playing the game right now, not that they would admit it.
In case you happen to have been living under a rock, or just glaze over at the mention of The Sims, they are life simulation games with a heavy dose of time management. Players are able to create their own Sim, or family of Sims, and then shape their life to whatever they choose, within the limitations of the game, whilst taking care of their needs. While they may be autonomous, often trying to take care of themselves, players will need to guide their Sim in certain directions to make them successful in whatever they do. Or they could just leave their Sim to do their own thing, often with comical results. Another option is Sim cruelty, allowing players to torment their Sims for their own amusement. The game is almost completely open and unending, so the choice is down to the player exactly how they play it.
Then there is the creative side of the game, with massive communities revolving around creating stories that involve their Sims, building beautiful houses or extensive content collections for the game. The Sims games have always reveled in their communities and the way they encourage players to share or join in.
So, onto the latest installment – The Sims 4.
As someone who, over the years, managed to gather and play with pretty much all of the additional content for The Sims 3, coming into The Sims 4 is quite a contrast. Sure, the loading time is infinitely quicker, but that is likely because there is so much missing, or at least feels like so much missing. I am sure that the loading time will gradually get longer as each expansion or stuff pack arrives.
Creating a Sim in The Sims 4 is a pleasant experience, with additional customization options over the previous game. Players can now drag and pull all manner of things to make their Sims look unique, which will please players who like to create Sims based on real people. There is a decent collection of clothing from the start, and plenty of different aspirations or traits to choose from in making their perfect playmate. It also has to be said that the Sims themselves look a lot better, both with graphical improvements and the way that they exhibit their emotions through body language and facial expressions.
But it is when you are ready to move in that the real lack of content becomes noticeable. There are two neighborhoods to choose from, which can be traveled between at will. But these neighborhoods seem so small and limiting. There seems to be not only less houses to buy and empty lots to build on, but also less community lots or places to visit. It all just seems smaller.
The lots, from the houses to the places the player will visit when trying to socialize, again look really nice, with another marked improvement over The Sims 3. There are also more options when it comes to interaction at the various lots, and more detail for the player to enjoy. But it is just so limited.
Much like everything else in our lives, The Sims 4 is more geared around communication and interaction with other Sims than previous games. No longer is a life of pleasant solitude an option. It doesn’t matter if the interactions are good, bad or downright evil, Sims want to interact with other Sims, and thanks to the new multitasking in The Sims 4, they will interact no matter what they are doing, whether the player wants them to or not. It is not just one on one either, with other Sims standing awkwardly to one side. Group discussions will sprout up almost anywhere, making attempts to get flirty with another Sim feel slightly wrong.
Sims now go through emotional states, rather than having to just deal with their needs. You shouldn’t send a Sim to work angry, so make them shout at the mirror or workout until they calm down. Take a thoughtful shower to be inspired and get that emotion. As the Sim experiences all of these new emotions, from being embarrassed to being energized, new interaction options will present themselves, like being able to cook Gummy Bear Pancakes when feeling playful or hide under their sheets when embarrassed. These new emotions present more options for the player, and they are quite good fun to discover.
Available career paths for the responsible Sim are a lot fewer due to the core nature of the game, but there are always other ways to make a living in the Sims. Players will now find that progressing through their chosen career path may be made easier by having their Sim in the right emotional state and having them complete daily tasks. However, for my own cooking Sim, trying to prepare four meals along with going to work and taking care of everything else was just too much. Progression still happens without completing these tasks or being in the right mood, it just takes a little longer.
Unlike learning skills, which seem to improve at an alarming rate. New skills such as video gaming and gourmet cooking join the staple skills from before, such as logic, painting and writing. However, there now seems to be more ways to improve these skills – telling a simple joke will increase the Sims comedy skill, and the charisma skill can be improved just be selecting the right interactions with other Sims. No more practicing speeches in front of the mirror for hours.
There are plenty of other tweaks and additions, such as collectibles that the player can find around town. The building mode has been made a bit easier, with pre-made rooms already to be popped into place so expanding your Sims living area need not result in a home Frankenstein’s monster would be proud of.
But it all just feels so much less. Playing with emotions is great, and learning new skills is a lot of fun. But before long it becomes just about the usual balance of preparing your Sim for work and making sure they don’t get lonely. The changes and additions are not huge, and coming from The Sims 3 with its wealth of content, it certainly feels like a downgrade. I remember feeling the same way coming from The Sims 2 to The Sims 3 core game, despite the huge jump in quality between those two.
The Sims 4 is a core game, devoid of any expansions or additional content. But it won’t stay that way for long and within a year I would imagine that The Sims 4 will look very different. It looks nicer than The Sims 3, and is much more involved, within its limitations. If you are a Sims fan, ask yourself how you would feel playing The Sims 3 without any additional content. If you can live with that, then you will undoubtedly enjoy The Sims 4 right now. If it would feel too limited, it may be best to wait a while. The Sims 4 is not the complete disappointment that many non-players would have you think, but it does feel like going back to the beginning. Sometimes starting again is no bad thing, and it will only get better.