An argument I always look at when it comes to franchises or sequels is that of ‘Revolution v Evolution’. Does the The Sims 4 manage to revolutionise the way we play Sims, or is it just a simple evolution on an already great formula?
Reviewed on: PC
Also Available On: N/A
Release Date: Out Now
I’ve always looked upon the Sims franchise with fondness. The unending creativity matched with the limitless ways to cause mischief and write everlasting stories is why the Sims have stood the test of time. The Sims 4 enters the fray looking to change the way you play – and in some cases it works in doing so, but in others, it feels lacklustre. The Sims 3 was downright awesome; the amount to do was unrivalled, with options a plenty when it came to designing Sims and the houses they lived. Building a successful family and its lineage felt challenging, while also free-flowing. Sims 4 doesn’t feel the same way.
Creating a Sim is one of the biggest attractions in the Sims franchise. In this sense, Sims 4 succeeds as creating either a beauty or a beast has never been easier. The pull and pinch mechanics introduced here feel free and fluid. Pulling on specific parts of the body or face means you can tweak tiny complexities within the sim structure, without having to deal with dials or sliders. It’s a more hands-on approach which is very welcome. Creating Sims feels more like a work with play-doh then it does a careful and calculated experience found in its predecessor. However, the UI here could do with a bit of a change. Maxis went with a clean and minimalist look – but that causes issues when trying to change haircuts and clothing. I wanted to chop and change parts of my sim as I went, but switching between the objects seemed fairly cumbersome.
Sim traits remain from last time, although there only seems to be a handful of options this time around. Although this could be considered a negative and a limitation, I felt somewhat positive about the change. The amount of combinations you could have for a sim is now lower, but that’s not a terrible thing. In The Sims 3, you could get lost in the amount of traits to choose from, giving you more chance to pick the wrong choice because you saw it first. The limited amount of choices means you can have a better understanding of what type of person you want your Sim to be, rather than a random set of choices.
Once into the game with your newly created Sim, there’s a bit of a strange moment. I looked upon the map thinking, “Is this it?”. Granted, there are two maps to choose from and you can switch between them when travelling, it’s not enough. Like with Maxis’ Sim City, the lot size is small, with not many options for where to move to. In Sims 3 you could place lots into the world and change them with ease, having plenty of options dependent on your wealth at the time. Moving to a bigger lot when you have more money seems an option, but there’s only really one or two houses you can choose from when you reach those lofty heights.
Building is an area of the game where Maxis have the logic right – something which may be quite rare through your time with the game. The Sims 4 build mechanics are completely re-worked. You can use the same pull and pinch mechanics used in create-a-sim within the build mode too. You can pull and push walls around, move roofs up and down and drag items around as normal. The great aspect of this function is that if you pull a room wider, objects within that room move accordingly. I had times where I wanted more living space so pushed the bathroom back one row, the toilet and shower moved back to counter-act being stuck in the wall. This mechanic feels fantastic, it means you no longer have to waste time demolishing walls and rebuilding them just to rearrange the room allocation. You also have “magazine” views on rooms that you’d want to fill your house with. If you weren’t too worried about the look of a room, you could choose a pre-built one. This too is awesome, and adds a little something extra when designing a house.
Creating mischief has always been my goal when I play Sims – creating stories as I go. This time around I did something I’ve never really done before. I was friends with the Sim who lived across the road from me, to my surprise he was married and I became quite friendly with his wife (yes this story is really going in that direction). She came over to the house one day in a “flirty” mood – the interaction between emotional sims is easier to control than ever. To cut a long story short, she gets pregnant and I ask her to leave her spouse while in front of him. The joy of causing sim carnage is still as fun as it was on the original. Real life challenges came back to haunt me though as my new girlfriend gave birth to triplets, with me only having 200 simoleons in the bank.
An issue arose when trying to move the new family into my single bed singlet – the lack of room (which was totally my fault) but also the confusing manner in which funds and items are moved from household to household. To move the new girlfriend in, the game was almost prompting me to move in the former husband – and that’s not really a situation I wanted to be placed in. There were no real indications about how the move would work and what finances would move. In hindsight I could have moved the opposite way round, as her buckets of cash stayed with her previous household. Another odd issue came about when we married, she (and the kids) didn’t take my sims last name or give me an option to do so. The Sims 4 in this regard offers no help or explanation to this. It also offers no workaround (bar some fairly complicated cheating systems) to change the relationships or the names of the sims involved. I would have assumed that once the marriage happened, there would be an option to decide what last name she had – a small gripe perhaps, but one which seems fairly important in a life simulation title.
The thrill of moving through this whirlwind romance and dealing with the consequences of my admittedly foolish actions was great, but there was no real difference to the experience I could have had on The Sims 3 – bar the control of the emotional state of my sims. This theme continues throughout other areas of the game. It’s all a great and typically “sim” experience, but it doesn’t feel as varied enough to compel users to make the upgrade. Careers and life goals are restrictive, with the police career the most noticeable absentee. Career progression is a little easier to manage – with a clearer idea of what you need to accomplish for each promotion (and gone is the horrible requirement to have friends!). Having a couple of different career paths per career choice gives a longer lasting and more fulfilling experience.
The UI in The Sims 4 is a lot cleaner, with a distinct minimalist feel. This is good for the most part, but ends up hiding a lot of relevant information from you when you need it. The build controls are handily along the top, but to access it requires looking into the top right, not the best place. Looking through your friends or skills is functional mostly, with some extra clicking or hovering for information required in some cases. The big gripe here is that when you go to work (which is now done through an automatic command or location of a button in the career tab), you cannot access any of the information tabs. Your sim is uncomfortable? Good luck trying to find out why. Although not too major, it’s certainly frustrating. The UI continues these little quirks; making your sim work harder while at work is hidden on the sims face rather on the work tab – which would have been the best place should Maxis have enabled the view when working.
Object variation is small, with only a couple of options for certain item types being available. This is sure to grow with the introduction of expansion packs, for the base game, it’s not enough. There have always been consequences within The Sims, leave your children alone in the day, face having them taken away. Miss work, get shouted at by the boss. In Sims 4 there seems to be no real consequences for your actions. The wife left for work and the children arrived home to an empty house – something which would result in at least a warning in previous games.
You’d imagine that a next-generation Sims game would load less than the predecessor, but The Sims 4 seems to introduce even more load screens. The neighbourhood is rendered, fine, but pop across to your neighbours house and be greeted by an intrusive loading screen. This is too much of a regular occurrence when you want to enjoy the sometimes beautiful graphic fidelity that the game offers. Performance is fine and I didn’t seem to notice any issues while playing, which is a good thing – had some of neighbourhood be loaded fully though, that could have been a different story.
A lot of things in The Sims 4 seem half-assed. The Sims 3 did a lot to expand on the formula which made the franchise famous. Within this instance, The Sims 4 is ultimately fun to play still, it just lacks a little bit of that extra magic which made the Sims great in the first place. Sim creation and build tools are better than ever, even with the small limitations, the emotional depth and manipulation options are also fantastic, but it’s quirky. The Sims 4 isn’t buggy by any stretch, as it seems a lot of decisions were choices made rather than issues in development. It does just enough to warrant a purchase for new Sim players but veteran players may find the issues just too glaring.