Developer: EA Maxis
Platform: Windows, OS X
Real life simulators, god games, digital dollhouses – call them what you will, these genres have been fulfilling our desires to build, experience and then completely screw up the lives of others for years (these ‘others’ being tiny virtual beings, who are subject to our will). The real success of this genre depends upon how accurately the game in question can recreate real world situations, enter The Sims. This series of ‘digital dollhouses’ has become the benchmark name in real life simulators and few titles can match its depth of customisation and exploration into the lives of virtual people quite like The Sims.
Those of you who spent their childhoods decorating dollhouses, building high-tech spy bases out of Lego and forcing Barbie and Action Man to have awkward inanimate sex, should feel right at home in The Sims (especially for that last part).
Every release since the very first Sims, be it an expansion or full title, has sought to refine and streamline that world building process to allow us all to indulge in our home making (and breaking) desires. While EA came close to realising that fully immersive world with the release of the previous title The Sims 3, the reality of a loading screen free Sims became quite resource heavy and most PCs – bar the beefiest of gaming rigs – struggled to run it.
For such a popular game this steep hardware entry point was a pretty bizarre move, and EA wisely chose to address this with the sequel. With the Sims 4 EA have tried to scale back the game and make it accessible for everyone whilst still trying to retain everything which made the Sims 3 fun.
The result isn’t so much a step forward for the series, but more a step to the side.
Despite the fact that you can now build homes with three floors in the Sims 4, EA haven’t really added a lot of new gameplay elements into this latest entry. Instead the team have chosen to focus upon improving the mechanics that were already in place. By bulking out the home building, character creations and Sim personalities it feels as though EA themselves believe they may have creatively peaked and can merely improve upon the game mechanics already in place.
While there is nothing wrong with refining good gameplay mechanics, it feels like there are too few new additions to convert those fans who are still heavily invested in the Sims 3 – and far too many omissions to placate them. If anything some of the improvements that have been included in The Sims 4 may only work to dissuade older players from making the jump to this latest title. The bewildering array of Sim aspirations and character traits was first introduced in the Sims 3 and was a hotly debated mechanic because much of the player base said it detracted from other areas of the game such as family planning and home building. Well, regardless of your opinion on the mechanic its here to stay, and the Sims 4 now features dozens of aspirations and character traits, offering an endless number of combinations between them.
For those new players who may not have encountered these mechanics before, the aspirations are the life goal which you pick for your Sim, and each Sim can also be assigned two character traits which will define how they act and behave in the world. For instance, you may pick a single father who is both materialistic and hot-headed but aspires to be a gourmet chef moving into a lovely lake view condo. Sound boring? Then make his life a little interesting by creating him a flirtatious and nerdy daughter who one day wants to become a pro athlete. There are millions of fun family set-ups for you to create, and personally we think that being able to introduce even whackier relationships is a positive change.
As well as whackier and more believable Sims, the level of customization ready to unleash on the character models has also been completely blown open. There are three levels of Sim pimping available to you, the first allows you to make minor tweaks to body shape, gender and age and the second lets you alter your Sim’s various outfits – right down to picking the sock colour of that infamous sock/sandal and tight shorts combo. The final layer however, is where players will undoubtedly be spending the most time. In the Sims 4 you can alter every minute detail on your Sims face, offering players the best chance yet to have their own face rendered near identically to the real world equivalent.
While all this customization could have been a little daunting to new players, thankfully the game does a good job of easing you in gently with easy to follow tutorials. These excellent tutorials have also been introduced with the build mode, and although the build mode has never been as extensive as it is in the Sims 4, it doesn’t take long to wrap your head around the mass amount of building options available. The handy new inclusion of a search bar is also appreciated, and makes finding those ideal bed cushions for the pool house master bedroom a synch. A problem that has haunted all of our dreams.
The most interesting addition to the game is the new gallery feature which allows you to upload and download Sims, families and houses. So if you’re lacking in inspiration on how to decorate the upstairs gym (and let’s be honest who isn’t?) then gallery mode may just have the answers.
Unfortunately there are areas where The Sims 4 appears to have taken a step backward. The return of multiple loading screens between, cities, neighbourhoods and even just crossing the street, create a rather claustrophobic atmosphere. Having to sit through a loading screen every time you want to go flirt with the neighbour’s house maid, quickly results in you simply never leaving the house. There are also bizarre omissions – children no longer have the toddler stage, and many basic appliances you’d find in the previous games have been removed, in an obvious move to sell them to the player in various ‘stuff pack’ DLC.
Ultimately the Sims 4 isn’t so much an improvement upon the Sims 3, but rather a refinement of the series that makes into an easier and more customisable game for both new and old players. The many mechanics that the Sims features from in-depth home building to guiding your own Sims into becoming culinary success, are all extensively supported, so no matter your play style the Sims 4 is ready to offer you the best real world building experience.
The Sims is still the best real life simulation game available at the moment, there isn’t another game out there that sees the player checking their tweets, playing smart phone games and watching funny cat videos all whilst answering the call of nature. If this level of invasive reality sim is more appealing to you than the building side of The Sims, then The Sims 4 is definitely worth buying. To older fans of the series though, a lof of what they love about the series will be missing from this title – and the knowledge that they will have to buy it back in DLC might be too much for them to stomach.
For new players the Sims 4 is the perfect entry into the series, but for now older players may want to stick with the creature comforts found in the Sims 3.