Players around the world have been immersed in The Sims franchise for more than ten years, playing God and crafting stories of their own with virtual characters known as Sims. We grew up with the Goths, removing ladders from pools, raising Sims from infants to elders, and dealing with the spontaneity of story progression in three installments and countless expansions.
Electronic Arts and Maxis hope to shake things up after five years since the last installment was released with The Sims 4. New features have been introduced to reel new players in and keep loyal fans excited about the franchise. The developers have also promised to return the series to its roots and highlight the relationship between players and their Sims.
The Sims 4 does reinvent the equation with emotion states and more intelligent Sim AI to name a few. However, these features come at the cost of a couple of essential gameplay elements fans loved from past installments.
Is the trade-off worth it? I spent a week in Oasis Spring and Willow Creek to find out.
Create-a-Sim mode went through a complete overhaul and it’s a welcome change. Players can sculpt Sims by simply clicking and dragging on highlighted areas like the jaw, thighs, cheekbones, and arms. There are some areas that you can’t adjust, but there’s more than enough to make a unique Sim of your own.
The selection of clothing is limited and it feels bare even if it’s a base game. However, pairing individual items of clothing is more visually appealing this time around since there aren’t any more clipping issues. I really loved the styled looks feature and it’s extremely useful for players who don’t want to spend time dressing their Sims up. I just wish that there were more styled looks available than a handful or a more improved random outfit generator that doesn’t pair a winter coat with short shorts.
A lot of fans might be disappointed that the game does not allow players to create and save their own clothing patterns. I rarely use this feature, but I can see that this is one aspect that’s clearly well received and loved by players.
In terms of personality, we see the return of a couple familiar traits and the introduction of new ones as well. It’s really cool how the developers refined the system in this game. For example, a Sim with the noncommittal trait isn’t necessarily adverse to the idea of relationships. It just takes a longer time for them to commit, and they might even be the ones to “want” to be in a relationship or get married first. The Sim I had was very much eager to go steady, propose, and get married once all the relationship bars were filled up. It goes beyond just one dimension of the Sim’s life. It can also affect their work life when they’ve been stuck in the same position for a long period of time. Consequently, the diversity of how these traits function is truly a step-up towards adding a human element to Sims.
Additionally, you can also select the walk style of your Sims. They can be snooty with their noses up in the air, lazy with their shoulder slouched, or flirtatiously shaking their hips. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it works well in combination with a lot of other things Maxis added in the game.
It was revealed prior to the release of the game that toddlers wouldn’t be included in the base game of The Sims 4. The life stages available in the game are infant, child, teen, young adult, adult, and elder. I initially thought that I wouldn’t really mind the absence of toddlers, but I was wrong.
Toddlers played an essential role in enhancing player and Sim relationship in The Sims 3. I’m sure a lot of players have memories of desperately trying to juggle taking care of a kid, having a career, and a life in general. On top of necessities, you had to teach them how to walk, talk, and use the potty. Players could also read to their Sim’s toddlers to develop skills at an early age. While toddlers are a handful, it’ a challenge that ultimately ends up rewarding for players. I certainly hope that they do add toddlers in future expansions because it would be unfortunate if it can’t work with The Sims 4 in its entirety.
For most players, it’ll definitely feel like something is amiss when an infant suddenly transitions into a walking and talking child.
It’s totally possible to create a family from one Sim in CAS. You can create a child, sibling, and parent based on one Sim’s genetics. This feature is a neat addition for hasty players.
After creating my first Sims in The Sims 4, I was excited to see the two worlds available: Oasis Springs and Willow Creek. It was announced that each world would have multiple distinct neighborhoods. This prompted me to expect an area that’s as big as Sunset Valley and Bridgeport combined. Unfortunately, a neighborhood in The Sims 4 can be better defined as a section with 3 to 5 lots. It still isn’t much considering there are literally only a handful of sections in one world.
The community lots available are very limited and there isn’t much to do when Sims visit either. The hospital, school, city hall, and other rabbit holes are pretty much absent from the game as well. Travelling between lots isn’t as seamless as before because you now have to go through a loading screen each time. I will say that’s it loads in less than 10 seconds, but simply having it there breaks a player’s immersion. In The Sims 3, my Sims could jog from one end of the neighborhood to the other without interruption. I can’t even visit my next-door neighbor or the one in front of me without seeing a loading screen.
On the other hand, closing up the world does allow Maxis to implement other favorable features. You can travel between two worlds now and its inhabitants can as well. It’s also possible to only control one Sim out of five others in a household when only a single Sim visits a lot. For example, I can send Mortimer to the Caliente’s house and leave everyone else behind. I have the option of just controlling Mortimer or switching to Bella and the rest back at home. I can even tell the inactive Sims to build skills, maintain needs, and other actions while I’m busy mingling with my active Sim. It’s a neat feature that helps you manage controlling a huge household, but it’s not worth losing the seamless aspect.
I also found it disappointing that players won’t have the option of story progression. In my opinion, that’s of the best features in The Sims franchise. It wasn’t a perfect gameplay element, but it was very innovative and it contributed in bringing The Sims to life. It was a huge improvement from the first two The Sims game where everyone outside your controlled household is stuck in a time vacuum.
The Sims 3 allowed us to play God by spectating on our creations with a little intervention from time to time. Sims outside your active household go on with their lives and are mostly guided by their aspirations and traits. Neighbors could get married, have a baby, get a job, gain a promotion, get fired, or even die while you play one family. It’s the spontaneity that adds to the realism even if it doesn’t make sense. A meteor fell on a Sim or an unplanned pregnancy happens. Life throws these curveballs and it was fun to see it reflected in the game. Sometimes it’s also fun to see what your creations will do when left to their own devices.
The Sims 4 has the option to toggle aging on and off for uncontrolled households, but they won’t go about on their lives on their own. The absence of story progression is a huge step backwards as it breaks cohesion and dynamicity of the worlds.
On the bright side, there’s a lot to love with the gameplay of The Sims 4. Sims are more intelligent and intuitive this time around. The emotion states are not a gimmick. Traits guide how Sims feel and respond about certain situations. After a break-up, my Sim would constantly cry in bed for long periods of time and the animations itself conveyed the feeling. Other Sims could cheer them up, but certain events could trigger certain emotion states more frequently.
Certain interactions are only available during certain emotion states. Sims would only get the chance to do the “passionate kiss” action if they were in a flirty mood. Venting to another Sim is only available if they are feeling tense. Interestingly, the emotion of the receiving party also plays a role. You surely don’t expect a sad Sim to flirt back after a casual pick-up line was thrown at them.
Sims have now learned how to multitask like people in real life. You could command Mortimer to practice writing on the computer while managing a conversation with Bella and his children. If I recall correctly, I think it’s even possible to use your phone and the toilet simultaneously like what people do in real life. I also really like how Sims move closer to one another whenever they engage in conversation. Sometimes they stand next to them or find a chair close by. This apparent consciousness of proximity brings Sims a step closer to attaining human qualities.
Relationships have different dimensions and there are two bars similar to The Sims 2. There’s one to gauge friendly relations and another for romantic involvement. It’s possible to be in a relationship with another Sim that you’re not even friends with. You can even be married to someone you hate and the relationship will be labeled as a “bad romance” that’s toxic. I had two romantically involved Sims who were soul mates and best friends forever at the same time.
You can have more than one boyfriend/girlfriend in The Sims 4 regardless if you’re married or not. Polygamy isn’t possible though so you can only have one spouse. However, that doesn’t detract on Maxis’ success in translating the complexities of defining a relationship into a video game.
Another feature in the game that comes from The Sims 2 is the “goal oriented” dates and events. Going on dates and parties is a lot more active and challenging since players need to achieve a main and sub-goal within a certain amount of time to have a successful social event. There are a variety of objectives and it varies on the event itself and its theme if applicable. Achieving the main goal and a few sub-goals nets a free household item. You won’t unlock an entirely new item, but simply win an item that’s already Buy Mode. I haven’t seen the option to “Invite the Headmaster” over yet, but hopefully we get to wine and dine the Headmaster so my Sims’ children could get into private school.
This is an element that I’m glad got reintroduced to the series especially since the last installment took it out. In The Sims 3, you would have no idea how your date or party is going on. It’s just all about keeping them entertained and fed. There weren’t any objectives or time limit to challenge players and keep things exciting.
Parties are also organized differently this time around. As soon as you plan one, it happens immediately after so you better be prepared. You can hire your Sims’ neighbors to be the mixologist, caterers, and entertainers in addition to the default townies. It’s a cool way of actually having the choice to hire Sims you know are skilled in a particular profession.
I also like how aspirations aren’t achieved by completing one sole and difficult objective. It’s segmented into different levels and there are sub-goals required to progress to the next one. While there’s one main goal in the end, it’s great to see it broken down and you can actually feel rewarded every step of the way. Jobs and promotions work the same way as well.
When it comes to Buy and Build mode, my sentiments are pretty much close to what I feel about the world in general. I understand that this is a base game, but the selection of items still feels limited like it’s relying on expansions. The Sims 4 should be able to stand on its own with enough items, but it fails to do so. However, I like how you can unlock certain objects as rewards by reaching the top of a certain career and other things.
I’m not much of a builder when it comes to The Sims, but I can say that Maxis did a good job in implementing styled and pre-designed rooms for fast and easy building. It’s as simple as choosing a specific style and just drag and drop the kitchen, living room, dining room, and bedrooms in your desired area. This is certainly an answered prayer to players who don’t spend an ungodly amount of time building houses. It definitely cuts down half the time you would normally spend in Build Mode.
The Sims 4 is ultimately a big gamble because it strips a lot of great features from past installments to make room for new ones. While the recent additions are fresh and innovative, the impact isn’t as groundbreaking since there’s a large hole of missing features that’s pulling it down. Maxis might have returned a few elements from past games, but that’s mainly it.
Most fans like myself expect The Sims 4 to be a culmination of all the great things from the past three installments and new game changing features. However, Maxis seems to be changing things completely in a way that seems to feel like it is a reboot that completely forgot about its history.
The Sims 4 isn’t the greatest, but it’s not terrible either. As a long-time fan of the franchise, I’m disappointed by how much they stripped down the game. However, the new additions ranging from emotion states to relationship complexities sets up an interesting foundation for future expansion packs. The Sims 4 might just be warming up for another long ride.
8.5 out of 10
A copy of the game was purchased by the reviewer. The Sims 4 is published by EA Games and retails for $59.99