The Sims 4: Loads of Potential, Little to Chew On
My Sims addiction began with an early advertisement for the original game on the back of Sim City 3000. “You build their neighborhood. You run their lives!” There were pictures of a couple kissing near a hot tub, a family’s kitchen on fire, a man playing pool, and someone about to eat a cheeseburger. I gawked at this for about two weeks. I get to control all this?! I can make people eat cheeseburgers and make out?
It was the most exciting thing I’d ever seen in my life.
Who knew that dictating when your Mary Sue eats, sleeps, and poops could be so much fucking fun? There wasn’t much to The Sims back then, but having the power of God in my hands was enough. You eat when I tell you to. You poop when I tell you to. If I tell you to swim and take the ladder out of the pool, you die. When I tell you to. Amazing!
I spent so much time doing these simple things, that I began to see real life tasks as Sim moodlets. Uh-oh, I’ve been playing awhile. My hygiene meter has dropped pretty low, I better hop in the shower. Whenever I said something stupid to one of my friends, I could see the dreaded relationship down icon above their heads, and I knew I better flirt to make it up (which made for interesting friendships, let me tell you). Even my first piece of published writing focused on my guilt for playing too much.
The possibilities expanded in the ever-growing world of The Sims with each new game and expansion pack. It became less about directing people to satisfy their basic human needs, and more about creating zany stories as they introduced witches, robots, island life, and even the future. I flourished most in The Sims 2, in which I fully populated an entire neighborhood with only a starter family (I lovingly referred to them as the Baby Factory) and townies. As much as I eventually grew to enjoy The Sims 3, it never captured the same magic. Perhaps, in part, because it’s also the most buggy game I’ve ever played.
And now we’ve arrived at The Sims 4.
There’s been a lot of controversy over this game, primarily due to traditional base game features omitted for the time being, with premium DLC comebacks implied for the future. Fans compiled a list of 89 major features missing from the game, and while much of what’s listed is negligible, a majority of it is rather shocking for long-time Sim fans. No swimming pools, no toddlers, not even basic NPCs such as burglars, repo men, paper boys, or repair men. How are we to perform the tried and true pool murder? No forbidden romance with the burglar who stole all my shit?
Base game launches are always a step back after a stack of expansion packs, but this appeared to be a step back from even the original game. Many fans, including myself, vowed to disregard the game completely.
Yet here I am. On launch day. Playing The Sims 4.
Is it as bad as we imagined? Is it actually the best thing that’s ever happened to the series? Should you run out and buy it right now? Yes and no, to all of the above.
In what appeared to be the greatest step back is the drop of open worlds TS3 introduced, and return of the loading screens. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this isn’t as bad as I feared.
Neighborhoods feel like a happy medium between TS3 and TS2. They’re split into blocks, with explorable outdoor areas. If you choose to go for a jog, you’ll run the neighborhood sidewalks and encounter other sims without any loading whatsoever. You can still zoom out from your house and watch your neighbors go about their business, although not to the stalkery, watch them through the windows degree TS3 allowed. If you choose to visit a neighbor, you’ll still need to endure a quick loading screen. By that time, they’ll probably have their clothes on.
Loading screens aren’t anywhere near the ten minute nightmares of TS2 years. Everything loads very quickly. I’d argue that the loading screens are faster than dealing with the lag you’d endure moving around the neighborhoods in TS3. Despite everything being zoned off, there’s clear activity every where you look. It doesn’t feel at all as isolated. Everything seems so lively that I felt more encouraged to go out than I did in any previous game.
Public lots are where this game really shines. You never feel alone, and sims naturally group up and interact with one another. In the older games, I felt like I had to fight and beg to make new friends. Here it happens so naturally that I wonder why I should ever return to my home.
Much of this is in thanks to the fantastic new multi-tasking feature. You can queue up a huge list of tasks and, if possible, your sim will do some of these tasks at once. For instance, if your sim is eating breakfast at the dining room table and you choose to have them watch TV afterward, they will pick up their plate and move their meal to the couch. TVs in gyms are no longer useless: you can actually watch TV as you run on the treadmill, and even carry on conversation with sims working out around you.
I even found my sim reading a skill up book while he took an admittedly extended #2. A bit later, I was horrified to see him calling up his girlfriend from the toilet!
Manipulating your sim’s emotions are the majority of the gameplay, insofar as completely hiding the needs panel. Instead of focusing on keeping your needs topped off to perform your best, you focus on getting them in the mood for whatever you need them to do. Emotions unlock interactions depending on the mood you’re in or the tone of the conversation. If your sim is feeling energized, they’ll be more eager to go for a run or the gym. If they’re feeling flirty, they’ll have all sorts of romantic tricks up their sleeves. Trying to force them to do something they’re not in the mood for is rarely successful.
On the subject of romance, I really like that you can now engage someone as a purely romantic interest. There is no longer a need to painstakingly build up a friendship first, hoping that your target doesn’t leave before you can drop your famous one-liner. The balance between friendship and romance effects what kind of relationship they have, which adds a welcome new depth.
Careers and goals seem like the same old hat we’ve always had, but they’re proving to be more challenging than I expected. Lifetime goals are divided into milestones that you whittle away at during the course of their life. Careers require more involved work at home than simply capping whatever skill is relevant to your job. For instance, my sim is working in the criminal career. For his next promotion, in addition to raising his mischief skill, he must also pickpocket five sims. The previous promotion required making someone totally despise me. It adds some variety and is actually somewhat challenging to accomplish.
In fact, making money in general seems an impossible feat. I have no idea when I’ll be able to build my dream home, at this point. I’m actually grateful for this, as simoleons meant next to nothing in TS3 – which practically rained money on you. By the time your children became adults, there was almost no reason for them to even get a job.
Now that I’ve stated all the good, let’s get to the bad: This is the most bored I’ve ever been in The Sims.
There is woefully little to do. As much as I enjoy the public lots, there are very few of them. The worlds are tiny, and with such limited space I’m weary of adding my own lots.
And what would I even put in them?
This game is as vanilla as it gets. As mentioned before, there are no pools, no restaurants, theaters or shops. It feels like playing The Sims 1 all over again, and while I had a blast with it at the time, I need a little more to go on now. I’m not asking for robots and witches in a base game, but a little more beyond “find a wife, have a baby, reach the top of your career” would be nice.
The structure is in place for what could be, in my opinion, the best Sims line since Sims 2. It is very strongly reminiscent of TS2, which is a very good thing. But until there’s a wealth of mods and expansions to explore, it’s simply not worth leaving TS2 or 3 for – especially for the asking price of $70.
If you simply must get it now, I recommend buying a CD-key from another website. You can purchase the Deluxe key for nearly half the price Origin is asking for, which is a little more in line with what the game actually has to offer. I purchased mine here.
Anyone else playing The Sims 4? How does it compare to the previous versions to you? What do you look forward to seeing most in TS4’s future?