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The Sims 4 Review
I have distinct memories of my first time observing The Sims. I was over at a friend’s house, watching him craft a tiny digital home for tiny digital people, and I was invariably turned into one of those people. I remember this moment so vividly because I was almost immediately engrossed in the act of playing god-writ-small, more so than any other game I’d played to date - and, possibly, because my avatar decided to relieve himself in the hallway of his home because he couldn’t reach the toilet. Such things happen in The Sims.
The Sims 4 feels like The Sims. And The Sims 2. And, to a lesser extent, The Sims 3. This is not necessarily a good thing.
The format of this iteration of the franchise really hasn’t changed at all. Setting down roots in a neighbourhood of temperamental avatars, you create a customized family, build them a house, buy them a lot of stuff, enrol them at a job, and set ‘em loose. Watch mayhem unfold. If you want your sims to act like sane, rational people, you tell them what to do; if you want to watch them soil themselves and transform their homes into pig sties, you let the little creeps try to manage on their own. Either measure is amusing in its own way.
This is not to say that The Sims 4 feels exactly the same as its predecessors. Easily its most impressive feature, one that the first three Sims games will never match, is Create a Sim. Maxis has outdone itself in designing this game’s character editor. The idea is the same as ever, but the ability to sculpt unique sims to very exact specifications with little effort almost makes Create a Sim a game in and of itself. The process is dangerously addictive, and so intuitive that it explains itself within seconds of opening a new character. I recommend downloading the Create a Sim demo and giving it a try, even if you’re still on the fence about purchasing the full game.
The Sims 4’s other major innovation is the emotions system. EA touted emotions as the reason to upgrade to The Sims 4, and to an extent emotions are fairly impressive. Your sim starts off neutral, will become Happy if speaking to someone they like, downgrades to Tense when something goes badly at work, jumps to Embarrassed if they walk in on someone using the bathroom… most of the time these progressions are logical, and you can use them to your advantage in advancing a sim’s skills. That said, emotions aren’t that different from previous offerings, and they can sometimes be so finicky as to get irritating. Is it really so depressing that someone left a half-full coffee cup on the kitchen table?
So that’s the new stuff. What’s left? I’m sad to report… not a whole lot. And that’s the problem with The Sims 4: you run out of things to do really quickly.
Develop a family. Purchase a lot. Build a house. Enrol your little dudes in Careers. Wait around while they go to work. Spend their hard-earned money on toilets and towels and walls. Press sims into falling in love. Form new families. Have children. Kick the children out of the house once they age. Repeat the process.
Yep. Everything you’ve done before, you can do again! Yay! Great! Fan… fantastic.
There’s only so much material to enjoy in The Sims 4 before you hit a wall of repetition. The world just isn’t big enough to support more than a dozen or so hours of game play before it starts to get boring. Take the communities as an example: there are only two of them, each one boasting a slew of neighbours and five public locations for your sims to visit. Everything you can do at these restaurants, gyms, parks, museums, and clubs, you can pretty much do at home too. The main difference is that there are more people milling around, creating more opportunities for social interaction between sims. Watching sims gab and react to one another is nice, but, again, it gets tedious after a while.
The reason for this may be the apparent streamlining worked into The Sims 4. Many of the activities that might otherwise provide extra flavour to your sims are gone, providing more instant satisfaction. Careers are functionally identical to each other, and interaction between bosses and coworkers is gone; getting a job is relegated to a simple click of a menu button; modes of transportation have disappeared; travel between lots is down to a loading screen. Even the hardships of raising a baby, which in this iteration look fantastically generic, can be instantly bypassed by Aging Up the baby seconds after it is born. Nor, so far as I’ve seen, is there any chance of an infant being stolen away from your sims if they act neglectful.
What’s more, elements you may take for granted as part of The Sims experience are no longer present in The Sims 4. Pools? Gone. Toddlers? Gone. Newspapers? Gone. Story progression for other families? Gone. Open world? Gone. Colour wheel? Gone. Basements? Gone. A lot of other stuff? Gone, gone, gone. These singular items on their own aren’t so bad, but when you tally up everything removed for The Sims 4 you start to realize that this is a shell of your previous experiences with the franchise. I’m particularly annoyed by the lack of ghosts, as free-floating phantasms defined many of my most memorable experiences in The Sims 2 and The Sims 3.
Will they be back? Will any of these things be back? Almost certainly - in the form of DLC. DLC that we’ll have to buy. DLC that should be in the core game, but has probably been chopped away for future releases. I’m fine with downloadable content that enhances an existing experience, but in this case Sims players will simply have to pay a lot more for roughly the same experience from The Sims 2 or The Sims 3. Hurrah for bleeding wallets dry!
Don’t get me wrong, The Sims 4 is not a bad game. There are hints that it could be the best of the series. The menus are intuitive, the game play is pretty slick, the emotions system will be fantastic with some tweaking, and the game runs so well. Aside from occasional pathing problems bugs are few and far between, and the lag created by The Sims 3’s open world scheme has disappeared. But The Sims 4 is an incomplete game at this stage, lacking the nuance that made previous titles so fun, and it will probably take a few expansion packs before this version gets caught up with franchise standards. It’s certainly not worth a full $60.