The Sims franchise has always been a staple in PC gaming, and the newest installment pushes the series forward while somehow taking a few steps back from The Sims 3. The Sims 4 adds life to your virtual misfits and truly pushes the boundaries of a life simulation. With a brand new emotions engine, and new building tools, The Sims 4 makes creating a virtual home easy and fun. At the same time, thanks largely in part to a change in engine, The Sims 4 loses a lot of features, (which I will talk about in length later) which were included in the base game of The Sims 3 and should have been included in this new flagship product. Through all of the controversy and disruption of this franchise, could The Sims 4 remain a fun game with enough of a base that it could, through some changes and expansions, become the best Sims game yet?
The biggest addition to The Sims 4 is emotions, and they really add life to the game. Throughout day-to-day life things will occur (a breakup, a fight, lack of sleep) that will change the emotions of the Sims you are playing, opening up new world interactions. This can lead to explosive or hilarious situations for your Sims,as well as triggering the emotions of Sims you don’t control. After around 10 hours of gameplay the emotions system took control of me in a way that a Sims title ever had — I truly started to care. For the first time my Sims really felt like they were real and were reacting to the world around them. As I looked after them and made them who they were for an entire generation, I genuinely got sad when the Grim Reaper showed up to take my first character’s child. The emotion system gave The Sims 4 so much life than ever before, and I found myself invested and caring about them on a personal level. This gives The Sims 4 more heart than any other game in the series.
Another huge improvement over The Sims 3 is the building mode, both in virtual houses and Sims themselves. The Create-A-Sim has been completely overhauled, and it has all been for the best. Gone are the sliders, replaced with simply clicking on the area of the Sim you want to work on and moving your mouse to resize or change that area. It makes molding the body of your Sim intuitive, and also brings out a deep level of customization. I was able to make Sims that looked like people I knew, which was an area that fell flat in The Sims 3. I began using the tool just to build Sims for fun, something I have never had the desire to do before. The house building tools have also been revamped for The Sims 4, and they are right on-par with the improvements in the new Create-A-Sim.
One of my favorite new features was the ability to resize rooms in your house and have the furniture intelligently change to match it. After three generations of saving, I spent close to 2 hours building the perfect house for my family, and after building the whole thing realized that none of my bathrooms were quite big enough to add a bathtub. With The Sims 3 I would have to demolish a lot of my work –a complete nightmare that wouldn’t have been worth it and my Sims just would’ve been gross. With the Sims 4, I was able to simply grab the wall and resize it, and all the furniture moved accordingly. It was the exact same bathroom, just a little bigger, and took about 30 seconds to change a complete headache into properly-sized facilities. If you do not enjoy building houses, the new building mode has premade rooms with easier to place walls and snap-on roofs, meaning you can throw together a bachelor pad in about 5 minutes. What they have done to the building modes in The Sims 4 in simply astounding and deserves attention.
Even with how great the new and greatly improved building is there are some things missing from The Sims 3, and frankly, it’s inexcusable. One thing I was annoyed with was the fact Create-A-Style had been removed. This mode allowed you to take any surface and pick what color or texture you wanted it to be. Almost any pattern or color could be applied to just about anything, meaning ridiculous plaid clothes, and even bright pink or camouflage cars. It was a great feature, and although the Sims 4 has a massive amount of options for styles and colors of clothes and furniture, I did find myself missing that deeper customization. Another thing that had me scratching my head was the complete lack of terrain. The Sims 4 is flat, and I mean flat. Anywhere you can build is completely level, but somehow the easy-to-resize rooms translated into the removal of split-level homes. Who needs split-level homes when there’s no need for a garage? Nobody, because there are no cars in The Sims 4. An odd choice but not a big deal in terms of gameplay. The building mode is missing some things from The Sims 3, but what it improves or adds is leaps and bounds above what I expected. It made me truly enjoy aspects of the game that have always felt like a chore in the past. Even without every feature of The Sims 3, the building improvements remove some of the most tedious aspects of its predecessor.
Graphically, the game is polished and looks fantastic, with the now-standard Sim aesthetic perfectly in place. It isn’t a huge graphical difference from The Sims 3, but everything has been updated while retaining the almost cartoon-like style. The Sims series has never been about staggering visuals, instead relying on bright colors, funny animations, and crisply detailed worlds. The sound in the Sims 4 also received a bit of polish. Simlish is back and just as enjoyable as ever. The conversations between Sims are always entertaining, and the music is very well done and stays true to the series. There are also many small audio cues to let you know when an event is happening, which is a nice feature if you listen for it.
The most important aspect of any game is gameplay, and I’m happy to report that The Sims 4 is one of the best experiences I have had in the franchise. Mainly due to the new emotions system, running a virtual household has never had this many surprises, or been this dynamic. Although how you play the game has not really changed, the Sims 4’s improvements create a world more life-like and enjoyable to play. Even when I stop taking control and just watch my Sims interact, they react and do their best to actually live with each other. One bad mood could set off another Sim, and before you know it you have five Sims taking turns knocking over a trashcan to make themselves feel better. Not only is this fun to watch, but it adds such a human element to the game that creates a bond between the player and their silly avatars. As previously mentioned, it took me over 10 hours to really get into the emotion system and to really see what it was and enjoy it; but when I did, it completely changed how I looked at my Sims. I started pushing my Sims to have relationships and pursue their goals because I wanted them to succeed. I even started making potions and changing the lifespan setting to the longest duration during my 3rd generation, just to keep the Grim Reaper away as long as I could. The Sims 4 is fun, plain and simple. It adds so much to the gameplay and the Sims interact in new and unique ways, and different Sims truly feel different.
Unfortunately, The Sims 4 loses steam is the features department. Let me start off by simply stating that while many of these things were not missed or didn’t really affect gameplay, it is baffling that the developer omitted pools. Any Sim player knows how valuable pools are; they are great exercise, fun family activities, and one of the most beloved ways to kill off your Sims. Not having them is inexcusable, as they are arguably one of the most used objects from past Sims games. My biggest complaint was the lack of natural progression. As someone who guides one Sim until they find a mate and have a family, and then play through generations that come after them, this was a huge blow for me. I learned the world around my Sims does not progress like it did in the Sims 3. Sims who are not actively being played will not get married to each other, have children, or advance in any way. This meant by my 3rd generation I was living in a town that was filled with old Sims and no good, compatible Sims were around to mingle and have relationships with. I found myself creating about 20 Sims and filling the towns with new residents, but I should not have to do this to bring the world back to life. Another oddly removed feature is toddlers. As jarring as it is watching a baby age up out of a crib into a full-blown child who has to get ready for school is, I found I didn’t miss it. I always felt the toddler stage in the Sims was the most boring stage to play anyway. The town size is also of concern. It is tiny compared to The Sims 3, with only four buildings to visit in each town (there are currently only two towns) and some outdoor areas. Add to the list numerous little missing features such as nannies, some career paths, ghosts and more, and you have to wonder why a lot of these items didn’t make the cut. None of these impact gameplay in a significant way, but you will notice their absence.
The last, and most frustrating, thing this new engine has brought is the reappearance of the loading screen. If you loved the open world of Sims 3, get ready to hurry up and wait. While the Sims 3 allowed you to go anywhere in your town, the Sims 4 puts a loading screen in front of virtually everything. Anytime you go to the bar, or another Sim’s house, or fishing, or next door, there is a loading screen. The tradeoff here is that they remove the initial loading from The Sims 3, in which I used to load it up and walk to the store and grab a drink and come back, and it still wouldn’t be ready. The Sims 4 loading sequences are fairly fast, usually 10-20 seconds at most. I found myself playing more and logging in for quick sessions because of the vastly reduced initial loading sequence. Whereas with the Sims 3, it is not uncommon for my wife to leave our gaming computer on for days running just to avoid the load times, and I can’t blame her.
The Sims 4 is a fantastic game at its core, but with its tiny neighborhoods and many features simply missing, it holds itself back from Sims greatness.