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The Sims 4 - Game Review

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by Steff Humm (subscribe)
I'm a trainee journalist living in London. A personal blog is forthcoming.
Published September 11th 2014
A new edition of an old favourite
In the lead up to the release of The Sims 4, online forums were flooded with opinions about the game's new content or, more specifically, the noticeable lack of old content that marked the consistent progression of the game's capabilities and made it one of the most successful video games series in the world.

The Sims 4
Image from the offical Sims 4 website

The Sims is a life simulation game that was first launched in early 2000 as a spin-off of SimCity. It involves creating characters and guiding them through their lives, leading them to American dream success or death and despair in a kind of digital dollhouse that lets players explore artificial life to the limits of their creativity. The series has become increasingly complex and customisable with each new instalment and expansion pack, introducing options ranging from celebrity careers to supernatural abilities, allowing for the ultimate wish-fulfilment experience.

EA boasts that The Sims 4 "lets you play with life like never before" but, prior to the game's release, most fans (or at least the most vocal ones) seemed to think that the statement should read: "Lets you play with life like you did in the Sims 2 – but without toddlers".

The Sims 4 Trailer
Image from the offical Sims 4 trailer

At a glance it does appear that the franchise has taken two steps back, bypassing the huge advances in gameplay in The Sims 3 to enhance on features from the first and second games instead.

The Sims 3 featured an open neighbourhood with places sims could visit and interact with via various transport systems that didn't involve a loading screen. This idea meant that players could follow their characters to the office, continuing gameplay throughout their work day rather than sending them off in the carpool by themselves. Advanced building and design options allowed sims to live in fully customised houses or apartments and change the lay of the land to include basements and a varied terrain.

The Sims 4 Trailer
Image from the offical Sims 4 trailer

In The Sims 4, many of these options have been removed or diminished, along with the toddler stage of ageing and the inclusion of swimming pools and other kinds of water feature. Exasperated fans believe some of these elements will be included in the game's inevitable expansion packs but are irritated that they will have to pay for the pleasure of "standard features". The game's developer, EA Maxis, claims that many of these changes have been made to enhance the game's performance on a new platform, which is evidenced by much smoother gameplay and faster loading and saving times despite the stunning new graphics.

While I'm personally grateful for the faster loading times and increased performance, they are probably the least impressive of the new improvements that The Sims 4 has to offer. Despite complaints, there are many new features that make the fairly basic world richer and more interesting.

The Sims 4 Trailer
Image from the offical Sims 4 trailer

Greater emotional depth is the game's main selling point. As well as being driven by their ambitions and personality traits like in The Sims 3, sims now have changing emotions that depend on their individual characteristics and how they interact with the world. Sims with the "cheerful" trait are happy more often, "genius" sims become focused while playing chess and anyone can become energised by a "brisk shower". The result of certain emotional states is new object and social interactions that allow sims to "pee like a champion" when they are feeling confident, or "hide from the world" when they have been embarrassed.

A sim's emotion has an effect on their immediate desires. A sad sim might want to phone the "sadness hotline", whereas a sim that's feeling playful might be more inclined to play practical jokes or "start preposterous rumours". As in The Sims 3, the reward for meeting these wishes, along with other desires based on character traits, skills and careers, are points that can be spent on mood-changing potions or permanent additional character traits.

The Sims 4 Trailer
Image from the offical Sims 4 trailer

Alongside their new emotional intelligence, sims' life and career trajectory is more engaging, with ambitions and career paths requiring the completion of certain tasks beyond skill level and happiness to progress. A sim on the culinary career track might have to wash dishes three times before they get their promotion. A family-orientated sim will want to have more children and actively helping those children develop into successful adults might be their life goal.

Multitasking has also been introduced and for this aspect alone I think the game is worth playing over older versions. Gone are the days when a sim had to choose between wetting themselves or starving to death. With multitasking they can eat on the loo, talk and watch TV at the same time or use the phone while they browse the web. This feature makes relationships much easier to cultivate and bypasses all the awkward moments where two sims' needs clash and they become overwhelmed and unable to move.

The Sims 4 Trailer
Image from the offical Sims 4 trailer

Interactions between sims in general are much smoother. During a conversation a box shows the type of conversation the sims are having, the level of their friendship/enmity and the mood of the other sim so that the player can match their interactions accordingly. A neighbouring sim in a flirty mood is much more likely to respond well to pick up lines whereas a bored sim probably isn't interested in your new invention or bright idea.

There are loads of other things, both good and bad. The "create-a-sim" stage is more advanced with the option to customise every detail of the character down to a stylised walk (which is hilarious), but household objects break much more often. There are new careers, such as astronaut and secret agent, which create new opportunities for long-time players, but while the sim is out of the house it's not possible to look at any of their stats or menus, so the player is left just staring at their empty house until the sim returns home, often tired, tense and wanting a bath.

The Sims 4 Trailer
Image from the offical Sims 4 trailer

It seems natural that there will be thousands of tiny details that players love or hate in equal measure but ultimately The Sims 4 is a good, if basic, game that will undoubtedly be built on over the next few years and expansion packs. While fans complain that this method of development is a rip off, it's not really anything new. EA have been ripping us off for years but, in the end, we go with it because, whatever the version, The Sims is just too enjoyable to say no.

The full trailer for The Sims 4 is available on The Sims official website.
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