Let me preface this: I didn’t play The Sims 3. The last Sims title I played (main series or spin off) was “Bustin’ Out,” over a decade ago. Therefore, I'm essentially new to the game. -- my perspective differs from series fans'. With that being said…
Even if you don’t like video games, you’ll like The Sims 4.
When EA’s Maxis studio released the first Sims game in 2000, they introduced the world to personal life simulation. Maxis made up a language (Simlish) for the characters to speak and allowed them to interact with each other in ways real human beings did.
Fourteen years and numerous spin off titles later, we have The Sims 4, the fourth title in the main series (expansion packs and side games don’t count). So what’s changed?
Well, everything and nothing.
Fundamentally, The Sims 4 is the same game its predecessors were. The differences aren’t so much changing the core elements of the game, but they’re supposed to build on and diversify the experience. Does the new Sims do that? Well...
You’ve always been able to create your own avatars (“Sims,” as they are). Sure, The Sims 4 lets you do that too - but I’m hard pressed to think of any character creation system as robust as this one. Five minutes of your time will net you a decently accurate doppelganger if you deem that “enough,” but if you’re patient, the possibilities are nearly infinite.
And it’s not like the tool is difficult to use or understand - you literally just click and drag. There’s no spreadsheet, no math. Just an interactive canvas.
Plus, you can upload created Sims to the gallery, so anyone can download them. The community is already large; finding and importing celebrity Sims is already happening, as near-perfect visages of Mila Kunis and Angelina Jolie flood the server.
What makes the Sims feel truly human is the addition of emotional states and emotion-driven actions, especially combined with the personality traits and aspirations. It allows the characters to behave more like their human counterparts. In some instances, it’s actually rather uncanny.
I made my Sim reflect my personality and aspirations (journalist, creative, active, perfectionist); he’s a cranky jerk if he doesn’t hit the gym regularly. He hates being in messy rooms. And he’ll ride a good mood all day. It’s kind of scary...but it demonstrates just how much more robust this system is compared to the simple “astrology” system of old, where Sims got a few stats associated with classic astrological signs.
A fun extra in the create-a-Sim process is the introduction of genetics: take two Sims and group them as siblings, lovers, etc. and the game will take traits from both parties to produce the parents or offspring. So, theoretically, you could see what your kids would look like if you had WooHoo with someone you know.
“WooHoo,” by the way, is Maxis’s take on sex. Even though the subjects of dating, family planning, and reproduction are necessary in a “life simulator,” games in other genres have often approached these topics with solemnity and seriousness. Maxis, on the other hand, has always had a juvenile sense of humor, so the Sims never “have sex.”
They make WooHoo.
And the game keeps track of how many times Sims have gotten lucky, along with how many partners. It’s good to see that one developer can laugh at the whole idea of sex, at least. This humor is prevalent in everything from the aforementioned sexual relations to achievement descriptions ( e.g. “For The Hoard,” a Warcraft reference).
Building and construction have been overhauled as well - walls building is less frustrating than it has been in past games, and pre-built motifs are a nice little addition to save time and eliminate some indecision. Plus, you can order anything from the room sets just by clicking on them. It’s a nice touch.
But, I’m obligated to complain, so here it goes. Let’s address some of the big complaints.
You need to have Origin, EA’s own download service client and game store, to play The Sims 4. Now I don’t really see this as a problem, but I know how much backlash EA has gotten for pulling its games off Steam, their chief digital download competitor.
The camera is profoundly annoying. Zooming in and out is simple and seamless enough, and panning left to right (and vice versa) works well too. But pushing and pulling up or down is such a pain in the ass - the camera slows to an incremental crawl, and you wind up right clicking five times and re-centering the view out of impatience. It really should be better.
There’s so much information and items to manage that it’s really easy to get overwhelmed. A few hours in, you’ll start to get the hang of it, but it’s honestly pretty daunting trying to find everything at first. The game doesn’t give you more than a few basic tutorials, but the information is there once you go looking.
Loading screens are a part of life in The Sims 4. Now, I’m admittedly not a longtime player so this didn’t really bother me, but I’ve heard from series devotees that this is a step backwards for the game; The Sims 3 featured one big neighborhood for your Sims to explore seamlessly, while The Sims 4 makes you feel like you’re on an island. You’ll have to decide for yourself if that’s truly a problem, but I don’t think it’s a big deal like it’s being portrayed as - even on my mid-level PC, the loading screen are quick.
But most importantly, you have to understand that this isn’t a “new” game, not really. As I mentioned before, Maxis hasn’t changed the core formula of the game...so a lot of it will feel familiar, just a bit nicer looking. Again, I don’t see a problem with that, but I also don’t buy expansion packs.
And there will be expansion packs for this game. You can already hear the legions crying for the pools and swimsuits that The Sims 4 has taken from them. But come on, guys. EA did this with the last three Sims titles, and it made them an unspeakable amount of money. Why would they stop now?
Note: As some have pointed out, Maxis removed a lot of features present in The Sims 3 (toddlers, pools, et cetera). As I've pointed out, the lack of those things don't bother me, a general newcomer to the series, so I don't think it's fair for me to knock The Sims 4 for it. I can't complain about the exclusion of things I never experienced.
Look, The Sims 4 is an objectively good game. The camera is a bit stupid, but other than that, I happily sank 15+ hours into the world without a second thought. If you’ve played and liked the series before, you’ll probably like this, too -- if you can get past the changes Maxis has made. Even so, if you’re expecting something groundbreaking...this isn’t it.
Score amended: B+