I have yet to form a proper verdict of The Sims 4, but I’ve played around with it for a couple of hours. There are things I like and dislike. I have some early opinions.
Let’s start with the obvious: it actually works. Remembering SimCity as I do, I have to give some sort of props to Maxis for the fact that The Sims 4 works with no issues at launch… although, thinking about it, if “congratulations for not horribly fucking up your game” is praise then that doesn’t say much for my expectations.
So, The Sims 4. I’ve created two households, and I’ve spent an hour or so tooling around with each. First off, I created a Sim purely by randomising his appearance, randomising his name, and then giving some aspirations and traits that seemed to fit.
Meet Argus Bragg. He wants to be a famous painter. He loves art, he’s very creative, and he’s a bit of a snob. I’m sorry, but when the game generated that beard and that hair, there was no way he was getting away without a snobbish trait.
I’ve already done an extremely lengthy video on The Sims 4‘s Create-A-Sim functionality so I’m not going to go into that in too much detail, but I do still like it. It’s simple, it’s slick, it’s powerful, and it allows for a lot of subtle tweaks that don’t involve sliders. I’d like more options with clothing (and Create-A-Style is sorely missed) but for the most part, it’s a genuine little gem. I can’t overstate how pleased I am that it’s simultaneously very powerful and yet unbelievably easy to use. This says a lot for Maxis’ skills with interface design, if nothing else.
From there it’s into a house, and after The Sims 4 told me very slowly and patiently that Sims live in houses and there are all sorts of houses and you can move Sims into houses or move Sims out of houses, I had to go outside and shout at things for twenty minutes until I calmed down. I know how The Sims works! I’ve been playing this series for 14 years! Then I realised that it’s probably my own fault because there’s almost certainly a way to turn off the tutorials, but I was tired from screaming at plants so I didn’t bother looking.
For the moment, then, I opted to follow the tutorials, moving Argus into a pre-made, pre-furnished house. I bought him an easel so he could paint, got him a job in the artist career track, and then he felt so inspired he made some Five Nights at Freddy’s fanart. Fuck you, Argus.
The emotions system is the Big New Thing, and… okay, I’ll admit that this does actually make a bit of a difference. I haven’t noticed any big changes but toying with the Sims’ emotions also toys with their short-term goals; if they’re happy, they might want to hug someone. If they’re inspired, they’ll want to do something creative. Etc. It feels a bit like a more “concrete” combination of moodlets and short-term goals, although completing specific tasks for specific moodlets isn’t really anything new. It’s a nice little addition, though.
Then Argus felt lonely – or rather, his Social bar was low; I don’t know if lonely is actually a “mood” so I’m going to have to careful with what I say – so he went across the road to chat with a child that had the misfortune to wander past. Thankfully, he resisted the urge to randomly hug her.
Soon after this I took him to the museum so he could be a snob about art, and he met a nice lady who came over for dinner, and everything was very The Sims. Then I got a bit bored and decided to test the system by creating something a bit more chaotic.
Good grief, that is the most horrible top I have ever seen. Not that chaotic.
So yeah, I created another pair of Sims, and I actually customised these a bit more. We have Elisa Winslow, a punky lady who is a creative geek and also happens to be evil. Then we have her roommate, Kimberly Hudson, who is a genius geek and a bit of a loner. What wacky hijinks will ensue? Quite a lot, actually, but we’ll get to that.
Before they could start interacting I had to build them a house, because I plonked them on an empty lot and I really wanted to test The Sims 4‘s new construction mechanics. And… well, much like the new Create-A-Sim, I’m pretty impressed with it so far. Again: it’s simple and powerful. I have a nagging sense that there’s something missing (and no, I’m not talking about swimming pools) and that there’s a rather large hole in what this’ll let me actually create, but I don’t know what it is. Right now that’s just my subconscious kicking me in the forebrain, so we’ll ignore it.
So: the front door opens onto the living area/kitchen, and there’s a bathroom directly next to that. The back of the kitchen leads to a hallway, which leads to the bedrooms. The whole thing is designed in a crescent shape, with the intention being for the “interior” part of the crescent to be a little garden, but – although I’ve shunted in a nice glass double door – I haven’t gotten around to building the garden yet.
Interestingly, I don’t think building this house actually cost the Sims any money. I put them in the lot, then exited out to the main menu to check something, and then directly edited the lot from the world map when I was actually building things. So for whatever reason, the house construction didn’t appear to cost a single Simoleon. I neglected to actually buy stuff, so furnishing the house cost money, but I thought it was worth mentioning.
Also: I would really, really like the ability to set ownership of areas and objects, for a few reasons. It’d be nice for Sims not to sleep in the beds of others, for instance, and it’d be nice if my loner Sim actually got annoyed at Elisa barging into her room and sitting down at her computer. The coding is presumably there, at least in part (hence why Sims are shocked when they walk in on someone else on the toilet, and immediately walk out again) so it’s a bit odd that we can’t set rooms or items as belonging to somebody, and some Sims will get narked off if others go in there and fiddle with their stuff before they’re well-acquainted. Alas, the Sims are very communal.
With these two Sims, though, I have apparently managed to create some sort of horrible feedback loop. Elisa gets off on people being miserable, and Kimberly becomes miserable when people she doesn’t know talk to her. So Elisa wanders in and says hello, and Kimberly’s reaction is to become incredibly uncomfortable and then run off to her room to play computer games for four hours. This cheers Elisa up no end, and she goes about the rest of her day in malicious happiness. Then she gets home from work a little annoyed and depressed, says hello, and the whole thing repeats.
They’re both geeks, though, so they do occasionally manage to get along and I’m terrified if what might happen if Kimberly becomes comfortable enough with Elisa that Elisa’s mere presence no longer causes mental anguish. I suppose that’s when Elisa will start throwing parties and inviting hundreds of people over.
Speaking of which, I’m a little bummed out that a few of the usual Sims traditions haven’t popped up. There was no welcoming committee when I moved into either of these lots, for instance, which I always found a good way to establish to the neighbourhood that anyone who visits my household is going to be mentally and emotionally tortured. I haven’t seen a postman yet (although that might just be because I’ve missed him). There are maids, at least, although I’ve yet to hire one.
Elisa got a job as a secret agent, leading up to a career in supervillainy. Kimberly got a job as a tech support guru, leading up to what I suspect will be a career in eSports. Both of them have some degree of special interactions due to their careers, interests, and traits; Elisa is capable of browsing the spy database on computer, for instance, and while this adds towards the actions she needs to complete for a promotion, this mostly just bores her. I’m pleased to see so many different skills, though – with computers you have Programming, and Video Games, and probably some other bits I haven’t noticed. Each musical instrument has its own related skill. Charisma makes your jokes more successful. Mixology lets you mix more impressive cocktails. Etc.
This is where we hit upon a good thing, and a bad thing. First, the good: yes, the world size is pretty small, but the “worlds” are interconnected. You can move from one to the other regularly. If your house is in one city, you can travel to the other to visit things there just as easily as you can travel to anywhere else.
Now the bad: because everything is once again divided up into separate lots, this means that if one person in your household goes to a nightclub, you lose control of the others because you’re not viewing the household lot anymore. And time advances when you’re away from that lot, so they will do things while you’re gone.
This division really feels like a step back. With every other Sims sequel I’ve been impressed with the changes made – The Sims 2 was in full 3D and added aspirations! The Sims 3 had an entirely seamless neighbourhood, letting you travel from one side of the city to the other with no loading screens, and you could basically see everything going on everywhere! You could send a Sim to the park to play guitar, and then hop back and sort out what her husband was doing at home, and then slide on back to the park without it all being separated into chunks of playable area!
The Sims 4… doesn’t. This bothers me a lot more than any of the other changes made, because I really loved that about The Sims 3. After two games in which you were basically stuck in a particular small area at any given time, The Sims 3 opened everything up. It gave a tremendous sense of freedom, and interconnectivity, and even a sense of exploration. The Sims 4 has totally lost this. Yes, the lots are bigger, encompassing multiple houses or multiple venues, but there’s still something very sad about the fact that I can only control one lot at a time, and I can’t see my Sim travelling from their house to the gym.
Anyway, this was mostly where I left this chaotic house. Elisa started up a routine of going out to a bar or a nightclub at night, chatting people up, and then coming home at 4am and going to bed. Kim was already asleep by the time she got back, but would routinely get annoyed at Elisa playing the guitar very badly, and so she would run into her room and play computer games for four hours to calm down. Then Elisa would invite over someone she’d picked up at a bar, and Kim would find this very stressful and would run into her room and play computer games for four hours to calm down.
Right now… I don’t know how I feel about The Sims 4. As mentioned above, unlike every other major release in the franchise, this doesn’t feel like a massive leap forward. It feels like a tiny step forward, with a couple of steps back thrown in for good measure. It’s a lot smoother and better optimised, insofar as it doesn’t slow to a crawl regularly – and that’s a pretty big change – but I’m not getting the sense of exploring a new take on the franchise, which the past games have given me. The basic game feels overly familiar, if anything – and because it feels similar to The Sims 3, The Sims 4 automatically feels more cut-down than that. It’s not fair to compare the base game of The Sims 4 to The Sims 3 plus all of its expansions, but when it feels like The Sims 3, it’s very hard not to make that comparison.
The flipside, of course, is that I’m really impressed with the creation tools. I’m obviously reserving full judgment until I’ve spent a lot longer with everything, but it’s clear a lot of effort went into making the Create-A-Sim and building construction utilities both fluid and powerful, and that seems to have worked wonders. It’s just that the time spent on those doesn’t appear to have been spent on the game itself; I’m beginning to fear that, while I can create amazing Sims and amazing structures, there won’t be too much to actually do with them once they’re built.
But we’ll see. This is still the early hours of my playtime, and opinions might well change. If nothing else, the fact that I’ve been able to tell a few stories based on a few hours is a good sign, but I’m not yet convinced that’ll be enough.
You can also read Paul’s impressions from the perspective of a non-Sims player here.