The Sims 4 has been rustling up ire from fans of the franchise for many months now, especially with the omission of core features including toddlers and pools which should have been considered standard for any Sims game. Irrespective of the decision for not including them, I instead found a different issue with the game which every base game has suffered since The Sims 2. With Electronic Arts and the Sims production team putting so much into TS3 with its eleven expansion packs, going back to the core “Sims” experience for a third time has resulted in things becoming duller more quickly than previous base games.
One moment you have a large cache of custom content and can take your Sims to multiple venues around town, the world and in time, the next you are stuck with the same basic assortment of venues and creating the same sort of homes as before. Right off the bat I will say that it is far too early to determine how successful The Sims 4 will be, at least until we have had a few expansion packs released for it and fresh custom content coming out for it by the Sims community.
[section label=”Create a Sim”]
Getting Hands on in Create a Sim
Before you even make it to the neighbourhood screen, TS4 jumps you straight into what has clearly become the pride and joy of the development team… the new and improved Create a Sim mode they have been showing off for the greater part of a year now. To their credit, there is a lot to be proud about as well, with this easily being the most robust CaS produced for a Sims game yet. No longer is CaS just limited to fiddling with a bunch of sliders and clicking on images when editing a face. Can’t get that nose the way you like it? Just click your mouse over it and start dragging! Aside from a few aspects such as eye colour, it is possible to create a Sims entire face and body through the power of your mouse, without needing to click on a single menu.
CaS as you would expect comes populated with a wealth of clothing and hair styles, with a good range of distinct modern designs to make each Sim unique. Unfortunately EA/Maxis opted to drop the Create a Style (CaST) system introduced in The Sims 3, meaning that players have less control over the designs of their Sims clothing than before. However most clothing included in-game comes with a variety of different coloured and themed designs, with custom content no doubt going to expand that range shortly. The removal of the custom hair/highlights colour wheel is less understandable, and in my opinion should be reintroduced at the earliest convenience.
Despite initial impressions of being “cartoonier” than previous games, it was easily to produce Sims that far surpassed the quality of TS2 and TS3. But I insist you don’t just take my word for it. A reduced-functionality demo of The Sims 4 Create-a-Sim is now available for download via Origin at no charge, with all Sims made in it transferable over to the full game.
[section label=”Worlds in The Sims 4″]
It’s a Closed World After All!
One of the major draws to The Sims 3 was that it allowed gamers to feel a real sense of “community” when playing with their selected Sims. For the first time ever there was no limitation on where your Sims could be, and without any loading screen they could walk down to the shops, go to a rabbithole they called their workplace or pop over to another house and say hello. Many of the expansion packs took advantage of this system, and despite some frustrating loading times associated with it after several years, gigabytes of custom content and expansion packs down the track… it was one of the best directions that the series had taken. There were a few issues with this however, particularly that the game failed to populate an area with more than 4-5 Sims at any one time.
The Sims 4 plays the middle-man between TS2 and TS3, where Sims are not just confined to a single lot in their neighbourhood, but are not given the freedom to roam around the world at will. Each of the two worlds included in The Sims 4 comes with approximately 25 lots broken down into various neighbourhoods containing between 1-5 lots each. The lot sizes are not customizable, but can be re-classed as one of about ten different lot types ranging from residential to a nightclub (Yes, simplified “juice” bars are finally included in the base game). When on a particular lot, Sims are free to explore the area around their house, including any public areas (eg. small parks) associated with the neighbourhood. However as only one lot can be active at one time, a small loading screen is required to visit any other lot, whether it is in another neighbourhood or your next-door neighbour.
Deciding to remove the complete open world neighbourhood has its own pros and cons. For one, long loading times are a thing of the past and you can easily go from loading the game up on Origin to controlling your household in well under a minute. Load times between lots isn’t all doom and gloom either, with (On my moderately spec’ed computer) loading times taking <10 seconds. The population problem on community lots is no longer an issue, with any lot your Sims visits either already populated or soon to become bustling with dozens of patrons. This actually becomes a hindrance at times, as it is possible to go to the local gym and find that every machine is being used. It is hard to deny that the neighbourhoods all evidently had a lot of work put into making them look fantastic, filled with fauna, activities and different footpaths for your Sims and ‘townies’ to use at their leisure. JUST don’t try pressing the TAB button and scrolling out of the playable boundaries…. the illusion of perfect towns can be shattered when you see that the far away backdrops are 2D and the homes are just simple props.
The major issue is that while Maxis made it so characters can jump between different worlds at their leisure, 25 residential and community lots per world (For a total of 50) does not compare to the 100+ that players could add and build on in The Sims 2/3. Heck, it’s a little worrying when the developers only provided a few more lots than what The Sims: Unleashed had back in 2002. However, I wouldn’t rule out the worlds being expanded at some point, or additional worlds being introduced with many more lots available. At the very least with new worlds being introduced, it rules out issues presented in The Sims 3 where every expansion pack would present new lots which wouldn’t fit into already built worlds – and they can just build a (hopefully larger) world dedicated to the content of the expansion.
Time will tell if their decision for a semi-closed world was a smart or unwise decision.
[section label=”Live Mode”]
In the Life of a Sim
By reading this review, I am going to assume that you are aware of what a Sims game is traditionally supposed to be like, as very few fundamentals of “The Sims” experience has changed since TS2: you create your Sims, earn them enough money through jobs, build them a nice house and then help them begin a family. The biggest change to the experience is that Sims can now have emotions which dictate their social interactions, performance and general mood. Actions such as doing a certain activity or having someone walk in on them whilst on the loo can shift their emotion from the default “Fine” to “Happy”, “Uncomfortable” or one of many other emotions introduced in the base game. While more immersive when starting without a house decked out in decorative objects or items which can easily impact emotion, this new system adds a deep new layer to the game with tangible benefits/risks and not just a simple aesthetic/menu changes.
The second major change in The Sims 4 is the introduction of multitasking where, depending on the combination of actions, Sims can do up to three activities at once. Sims can now make dinner while talking with Sims around them, can change seats while reading a book to be near others, and can walk around with drink in hand while taking part in a social group of half a dozen Sims at once. The realism of TS4 goes up significantly with this one introduction, although it still needs a few tweaks to be perfect (As Sims like to ignore your commands when doing other activities).
Asides from the issue noted in the opening paragraphs of this review, the only major (albeit possibly insignificant) issue that I have is that Maxis have decided to forgo traditional career paths such as Medicine, Business and Science for at times elaborate, niche careers including Tech Guru, Secret Agent and Astronaut. Unless they are planning a University expansion pack straight up, I see no reason to not include them as reasonable careers.
[section label=”Build/Buy Mode”]
Building, Buying and then Demolishing!
Building homes has never been my forte in previous Sims games, and usually this would be the case here. However with Maxis finally introducing a decent version of the “Plans” system first introduced in The Sims 3, I decided to give it another shot. The improved feature provides players with a number of room designs that can be plopped down on a lot and then edited through manipulating the room dimensions. Unfortunately I struggled to produce a decent-looking house exclusively using this feature alone, but it was convenient as a starting point nevertheless. Also introduced is the ability to change wall heights between three different levels, change the Y-axis position of windows and the ability to pick up entire rooms / homes like you would objects for editing, rather than having to recreate a botched home.
Buy Mode on the other hand is an assortment of the same object types, designed to suit the new visual approach to The Sims 4. Knick-knacks are particularly prevalent, with many little decorative items that can be placed on tables, shelves and desks. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your play style), many of the better objects are locked until one of your Sims reach a certain tier of their career – with every career path having their own specific object. Do you like that VR-esque gaming machine? Better top the eSport career to be able to buy it! This is reminiscent of the console instalments, and does impact the free sandbox element of the game. But overall, the range of items is available comparable with other base games.
[section label=”Online Gallery”]
Sharing with the Community
With no website like thesims2.com or thesims3.com available for The Sims 4, all online content sharing and downloading is done through the new, easy to use, in-game Gallery Menu. With the click of a button and a few creative custom tags, players can share a single room, an entire lot or household with little frustration. Given that web downloads previously had to go through a convoluted portal system prior to starting up the game, having all content delivered in-game with no fuss was a welcome addition.
[section label=”Final Words”]
Final Words on The Sims 4
Despite omitting some features including the open sandbox world which many fans have considered to be a standard for “The Sims” franchise, The Sims 4 lays a solid groundwork for Maxis and Electronic Arts to work with over the next few years. It is hard to judge what to expect what the development team are planning to do in terms of expansion packs…. but let’s hope that they play their cards right and meet the expectations of fans.
But of course, four base games in and Maxis should have at least considered throwing Pets or Seasons as a bonus extra, to free up one obligatory expansion pack for something else. A complementary patch or two reintroducing content wouldn’t hurt either.