The Sims 4 Review
Reviewed on PC
For people who can’t get enough of living life, the fourth instalment of The Sims series is here to provide an extra dose of it. With the return of the most famous life-simulation series comes a host of new features and tweaks to the core gameplay, all of which are designed to bring in new players and convince long-standing fans to upgrade. However, to make way for these additions, a great many things have also been dropped. Whether the exchange is a good one, and whether The Sims 4 can step out of the shadow of its predecessors, are questions that may well dog it for a long time to come.
Upon starting the game, you’re dropped into the character creator and allowed to set about creating your Sims. The most striking thing here is just how easy the process is, allowing you to customise a Sim to perfection in the space of mere minutes. Many illustrious games have failed to develop a system half as elegant as the one The Sims 4 has to offer; many gamers know the frustration of spending hours building a hero who, far from being the Apollonian figure intended, more closely resembles a cross-eyed vagrant.
Customising a Sim’s appearance is as simple as clicking the body part you want to change and dragging it into shape. A smaller waist, wider shoulders, or gigantic forehead can be created with such ease that your Sims will step onto the screen straight from your imagination, exactly as you intended them to be. Choosing their personality traits is also simple as they are merely selected from lists, but the number of options available – and the ways they can be combined – means there are plenty of possibilities on offer.
This same elegance and simplicity translates over when it comes to building houses. Customising properties is an experience free of any hassle, and the only things limiting you are your budget and the available items. There are several approaches you can take to construction as well. You can either create your house entirely yourself, or you can purchase pre-built rooms to speed things up and assemble them however you like. It’s a process which requires very little experimentation to get working, and (despite the obvious real world difference) makes being an architect seem like the easiest job in the world.
But of course, all this construction is merely the precursor to what The Sims 4 is really about: having your Sims live out their lives. There’s certainly plenty for them to do, from fulfilling the life aspiration you pick out for them, having careers and getting promoted, and enjoying relationships with other Sims. They also have more basic needs, such as resting, eating, and having fun. Much of their time is spent fulfilling these needs, so whether or not you have a yearning to watch people go the toilet, shower, and sleep, that is largely what you’ll be doing. Despite the apparent mundanity (and creepiness) of this, it’s peculiarly addictive making sure that your Sims take care of themselves properly.
None of this is particularly revolutionary in terms of core gameplay for the series, but the most interesting addition is the inclusion of emotions. The basic state for a Sim is called “Fine”, but their attitudes can change based on their interaction with the world and the state of their basic needs. A Sim who needs the toilet may feel uncomfortable, while a Sim lacking fun becomes tense; they can become happy and sad, flirty and confident and energised. Each emotion affects the Sim in different ways, changing their wants and their behaviour, and can affect their performance at work or when exercising. It’s a well-implemented feature, and it helps to add depth and character to Sims who might otherwise come across as rather blank.
In short, The Sims 4 is mostly fun to play – but this isn’t to say the gameplay is perfect. In particular, instructing your Sims to carry out actions can become frustrating when they choose – often for no good reason – to completely ignore you. The fact that actions can be queued, and the addition of a multitasking mechanic, means that things should run smoother than ever, but from time to time a Sim will simply refuse to do something. This is particularly a problem when they are engaging in group conversations, as they refuse to tear themselves away. Eventually, after seeing a groom wet himself at his own wedding because he wouldn’t go to the toilet when told, we had to simply throw up our hands and say: “He was warned!”
The biggest problem with The Sims 4, however, is the amount of content it’s packing – or rather, the lack of it. Even those who have never played any earlier games in the series are probably familiar with the most popular use of swimming pools: deleting the ladders so that Sims can’t get out, then laughing maniacally, drunk on power, as they drown. And yet, there are no swimming pools in The Sims 4, and they aren’t the only things missing. For every tweak and improvement made to the core gameplay, an item has disappeared from your omnipotent-architect toolkit, vastly limiting your options.
For long standing fans of the series, this will be an unacceptable trade-off, and EA have faced a considerable backlash from people wondering where all the content has gone. Even newcomers will be able to sense it, though; the game has an empty, unfinished feeling, as if it’s secretly “Sims Lite” packaged up to look more important. It’s not just items that are missing, either. The toddler life stage has been removed, leaving your Sims to make the titanic jump straight from baby to child without any development in between. This is actually a backwards step, as toddlers were a feature of not merely The Sims 3 but The Sims 2 before even that. This will chafe less on those with no former experience of the series, but it still comes across as a bewildering omission.
Adding to this unfinished feeling are the glitches that plague the game. They aren’t frequent enough to be a major concern, but their existence is still frustrating. While patches have fixed some of the early problems – including the existence of warped, demonic looking babies – there are still plenty to be found. For example, Sims may appear and disappear, or flicker randomly between sitting and standing. At one point, every piece of music in the game started playing all at once, creating a terrifying, adrenaline-inspiring cacophony as our Sims calmly chatted about fitness techniques over dinner.
Every game in The Sims series has been followed by a spate of expansion packs which add items and features, but The Sims 4 seems to have been designed solely for the sake of its expansions. It begs to have things added to it, and many people will be left feeling rightfully aggrieved to have paid full asking price for it. The gameplay is as fun and addictive as ever, but while added features breathe plenty of new life into the old formula, they aren’t enough to keep The Sims 4 from feeling like half a game. It isn’t a complete misstep, but it’s certainly a long way from the heights intended for it.