The Sims is an odd concept for a game. Not because it simulates the lives that games let us escape from; it does that well. The Sims is odd because it is inherently incomplete. The Sims 3 alone had over 30 additional content packs, including expansions, item packs and new areas. Now that TS3 is finally complete and can be enjoyed in full, EA Maxis have seen themselves fit to move onto their next endeavour, The Sims 4, which they will no doubt build on until the next instalment releases.
It’s almost a guarantee, then, that The Sims 4 will suffer the same fate as its predecessors where DLC is concerned. The copy I reviewed – the Digital Deluxe edition – already contains three bonus content packs, meaning I got a couple of new items and pieces of clothing, and am blissfully unaware of how empty a sim’s life would be if they couldn’t wear a panda hat.
However, TS4 is not empty by any stretch of the imagination. There are still a range of career paths, personalities, hobbies and ways to play the game that rival its predecessors and it could be played for hundreds of hours before being fully completed. Although this volume of content may pale in comparison to the final edition of earlier games, this disparity does not diminish the content that it already includes.
Sadly, some prominent features were lost in the jump between The Sims 3 and 4 – most notably the removal of pools and toddlers – but The Sims 4 has added enough new content too, so it doesn’t feel like a stripped down version of 3. There are a lot of changes that make the game easier to play and remove sources of hassle that were present in the old games. Now with a few clicks you can shift a house a couple of squares, expand rooms, and delete whole areas. These simple changes to the UI have made building houses much more fun and rewarding than before. Editing no longer feels like a chore, and it’s often compelling.
Even the create a sim mode has had a facelift. This offers pre-sets for each aspect of a character’s physique, but now each section of a sim can be clicked and dragged for fine-tuning. Pre-sets can be vague when it comes to facial features, so this made picking fretting over the poorly represented images for each feature a non-issue; they could just be pulled and dragged to the shape I saw fit. It’s these simple changes that have smoothed all the creation processes and made TS4 a much more enjoyable experience than earlier instalments.
In Live Mode, where the sims and worlds you’ve created come together, there have been a lot of changes to how the two entities interact. A range of moods have been introduced for sims, meaning tasks can be performed more or less effectively depending on what they have experienced throughout their day. Moods can also give different options to the player in certain situations, rather than acting only as a multiplier on efficiency. For example, a sad sim can kill two birds with one stone by watering plants with their tears. It gives the game another factor to consider while playing, making it more involving than the standard wash, eat, work, sleep routine that came before.
This was always one of the most mundane parts of The Sims as a series. As a simulator for real life, activities like sitting on the John are a necessity, but they’re a little boring. The Sims 4 got around this by adding in multi-tasking. Sims are now better able to emulate real life, and can perform multiple monotonous tasks at once. It makes playing feel almost strategic, with you wondering how to combine actions to make the most of a sim’s time before working or sleeping. Of course, sims can always live autonomously, but it’s good to see that the player can now control their pawns more precisely.
The Sims 4 doesn’t take the right step in every direction, though. On top of the missing features, the visuals leave something to be desired. The game looks as quirky and fun as ever, but ultimately looks outdated. The graphical capabilities of machines running the game should be much higher than they were in 2009, yet there looks to be little improvement in the game’s textures.
To make things worse, there are an oddly high number of loading times, including whenever the player enters a new building, or shifts from one neighbourhood to another. After you walk over a a neighbouring garden’s threshold, the game cuts away to a separate screen, before returning to your sim with their feet on someone else’s property. Seeing as The Sims 3 had fully-fledged neighbourhoods, it’s counter-intuitive that the new, graphically-similar instalment would not be able to achieve the same thing 5 years later.
It’s not just the visuals that EA Maxis have failed to modernise; the music in TS4 is the same as always. It remains mostly ambient with a few claxons and fanfares when events deviate from the status quo. It’s traditional, in that most of the backing tracks are revamped versions from earlier games, but it feels a little boring, and exacerbates the feeling that this game isn’t the step-up from its predecessor that we should expect.
If you find the background music grating, better-off sims are able to purchase radios. Listening to radio music can add some flavour to the game’s monotony, but it’s only for as long as your sims are interested. After that, it’s back to the same few tracks. The music section of the options menu teases the possibility of customising the background music: it lets you listen to every song available on the radio. However, as with most games’ jukebox menus, it stops playing the second the page is navigated away from.
The Sims 4 is an odd game. It has missing features, some irritating bugs, and both its visuals and sound design feel half-hearted. In spite of all that, I can’t seem to put it down. It’s entertaining, addictive, and saps away hours at a time without notice. It could be a great game in a few months, when there have been more bug patches and some expansion packs that aren’t just hats and jackets, but until then it doesn’t have the level of polish that would be expected from a complete game.