I don’t think I’ve ever heard as much negative hype about a game leading up to its release than I did with the Sims 4. Almost everything I read about it was to do with the countless removal of features from past iterations in the series, or the endless bugs that apparently rendered it completely unplayable. As someone who hasn’t really invested much time in any of the Sims games after the very first, the removal of toddlers wasn’t something that particularly bothered me. Even so, after spending a bunch of time in this entry as a relative newcomer to the series, I found the pre-release negativity to be wholly without grounding–the Sims 4 not only works, but works brilliantly. There’s just something about creating your character and have them do all the things you know you should but are too lazy to do in real life, like get a job you actually enjoy or go jogging once a day. Not many other games are capable of causing an existential crisis by realising that my character has developed the same body type as me in real life.
When I say “works brilliantly,” I don’t just mean runs without being too buggy–that’s something that should just be assumed of a new release, not something that the audience should be thankful for. I’m not about to give Maxis a standing ovation for shipping a product that actually works. In this context, “works brilliantly” means that the revamped user interface is infinitely more responsive and intuitive than it was in its predecessor. Everything just, well, “works.” I never found myself clicking around the menus trying to find something, as even with my limited Sims experience, I instinctively knew how everything worked. Except for rotating objects in buy mode. Why can we only rotate one way? It’s a minor gripe, sure, but shit does it get annoying.
Additionally, build mode is a bit of a chore this time around. Rooms are independent objects defined as an area enclosed by walls–in theory, this works, but in practice, expanding rooms by deleting and moving sections of wall can be a nightmare if the room system doesn’t detect the re-enclosure of the area. Ceilings are another thing I didn’t completely grasp, as every deck I made seemed to also produce a ceiling and I could not, for the life of me, work out how to get rid of it. I feel like a lot of the complexity and flexibility of build mode is to cater to people who are far more creative than myself. For those of us who are pretty shit, expect to do a lot of trial and error before you actually come to a result you’re happy with. Even then, with its inherent complexity, there are still some simple aspects that aren’t present that even I would love to see included, such as split-level houses, curved walls, basements, and even just landings in staircases (or spiral staircases).
One of the most contentious talking points with regards to the Sims 4 is the reversion from the open world design of its predecessor to a much more closed off, single neighbourhood environment. I’m sure there’ll be a lot of people who loved how open the world in the Sims 3 was, but I much prefer being able to direct my family within their house without my computer constantly processing everything else that’s going on in the entire world. The game shouldn’t have to chug along because some kid on the other side of the in-game world is trying to eat his cereal. I do miss the sim progression that was present in the Sims 3, however. There was something special about seeing Poops McGee, the first Sim you ever created, jog past your new family’s mansion every now and then, or seeing the fourth generation of the Dicks family just wandering around.
To be fair, the Sims feel more “human” in the Sims 4. They can multitask now! Is your Sim feeling a bit lonely but experiencing explosive diarrhea that’s preventing them from going out? Simple! Call your buddies from the toilet! Watch TV while talking, watch TV while eating, watch TV while pooping (if you’re posh enough to put a plasma screen in the bathroom)–the possibilities really are endless. It may not seem like much, but it goes a long way in making your Sims feel incredibly more realistic. Also contributing to the increased humanity of the Sims is the addition of “moodlets,” which are exploitable moods (such as happy, flirty, energised, or sad) caused by external influences. A condition for being promoted, for example, might be to go to work while confident, which you can trigger by brushing your teeth right before hopping into the carpool. It’s a neat, innovative new feature that really adds life and emotion to your Sims’ day to day routine.
If there’s one area in which customisation is lacking, it’s in colour palettes. Whether on couches or clothing, there really isn’t that many options when it comes to selecting what colours you want to be looking at. One of my favourite male tops in the Sims 4 is a plain t-shirt with a keffiyeh on top. Thing is, though, that you’re only limited to about 8 colour combinations. If you want a royal blue shirt with a grey keffiyeh, you’re in luck; but you want a purple top? Or want to make that scarf yellow? Too bad. Even just with plain t-shirts–why is there no option to customise the colours we’re wearing? Character customisation as a whole is somewhat disappointing in the Sims 4. Apart from the cheesy blue and green skin tones, there’s really not much you can do to set your Sim distinctly apart from the rest of the neighbourhood. The selection of hairstyles on offer really is abysmal; it feels like I’m back in the Sims 1 and having to scroll through about fifteen preset “head” choices.
I have a similar issue with furnishings–even through there are a relatively large number of colours for wallpaper and whatnot, there’s no customisability. I can’t think to myself “hmm, I like this shade of blue but I’d much rather it just a tad darker” and then darken it. If it’s not just how you want it, then that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. Coming from the infinite possibilities that Create-a-Style in the Sims 3 and Medieval offered, the Sims 4 seems severely limited.
To be fair, this will only seriously impact your enjoyment if you’re the sort of person who relishes meticulously tweaking every aspect of their Sims’ home. If it’s been removed to improve how well the game actually runs, then I’m all for it. Its predecessor was one of the worst running piles of crap in the history of video games. That goes to show how fantastic the Sims franchise is, just in concept–I’ve got a friend whose neighbourhood on the Sims 3 often drops down to 3 or 4 frames per second, and she still plays it for hours on end. Sometimes it crashes and she loses all her progress, and yet she soldiers on.
That brings me to one last thing that I just don’t understand. Why was the Sims 4 not released on Mac at the same time as PC? Surely EA/Maxis know that a huge amount of their market use OS X. I sort of get the desire to release as soon as it’s completed, but surely, sales wise, they would have been better off releasing for both platforms simultaneously? I mean, I’m not a marketing guru so I have no idea, it just seems like a bit of an oversight. Maybe the PC is being used as a bit of a test market? Already we’ve seen tons of new content added–pools, ghosts, eye colours–maybe the PC release was just to inspect the waters, and when the game is actually finished being tweaked, it’ll see the life of day on OS X?
In any case, the decision to step up from the Sims 3 to the Sims 4 largely depends on what you get out of the former. If you enjoyed the grand scale of the Sims 3, with its open world and the infinite number of things to do; and you weren’t all that bothered by the fact that it ran like arse, then maybe hold off on its successor until a bit more content has been added, at least. If, like me, you’re not all that fussed about the open world and the poor performance of the Sims 3 prevented you from enjoying it, then this game is absolutely for you. On the fence? As long as you’re not in an unhealthy relationship with the open world, I really do recommend the Sims 4. The addition of free content is a surprisingly kind move from EA/Maxis–I know the first thought a lot of us had when pools weren’t included in the main game was “ah fuck, they’re going to rob us with a paid expansion pack.” Honestly, I really enjoyed the time I spent (and will continue to spend) in the Sims 4, and am really looking forward to future updates. Given all the shit I heard about this game before its release, I did not expect to be sitting here writing a positive review, but here we are.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of The Sims 4 by EA Australia.