So I haven’t actually played the Sims 4 which probably makes this review moot. But it’s not that I don’t want to play the game, I would love to, but my poor laptop just can’t handle the system requirements. That’s not an indictment against the Sims , but rather it’s more telling of my laptop than anything. Back when my previous laptop decided to lie down and die I choose the option to get a new laptop as quick as possible. I could have saved for a better one but that would have meant taking a hiatus from the blog and writing in general really. I compromised in quality for you dear readers and thus the Sims 4 is just beyond my grasp.
However, I have spent extensive hours watching Let’s Play videos by Arumba, Quill18 and darknewt. By doing so I have gained a general sense of what the game looks and sounds like and while that’s no substitute for having actually played the game, consider this an outsider’s perspective. I’m the guy in the bushes outside your window and watching your television behind your back. We’re watching the same thing but the perspective is different if I’m getting rained on and you’re not. (Disclaimer: I am not actually peeping into your life. Don’t call the police.)
From what I have seen there seem to a a few overhauls to the Sims gameplay. First and foremost are the new interfaces for the Create-A-Sim and build modes. With every new incarnation of the Sims for the PC the Create-A-Sim mode has gone into more and more detail, allowing players control over every inch of the Sim’s body and personality. The Sims 4 is no different. Now changing a Sim’s body shape is as easy as clicking on the body part and dragging it into the preferred position. It’s certainly more intuitive than the slider systems from the Sims 3, which was tough to get precisely right.
The build mode has another quick fix. Rather than putting up the walls bit by bit, putting down your floor, wallpapering and fitting the room with the necessary appliances, furniture and decorations, build mode comes with pre-made rooms. These ready built and furnished rooms can be set directly on the lot, saving the player a lot of time if they just want to get to the main day-to-day living. On the other hand, if a room isn’t quite right, the player can easily resize it and replace the furniture if it isn’t the simmer’s taste. It seems designed with the casual player in mind, with its quick and easy place and go ability.
As nice as those changes are, it’s the small differences that have the biggest effect. Multitasking has always been something the Sims have been capable of in one form or another. In the original Maxis game, Sims would talk while eating or watching television. The Sims 4 takes the concept to a whole other level however, by making Sims capable of fulfilling multiple queued orders at once. Not satisfied with talking while eating dinner, these Sims can browse the web while listening to music, run on the treadmill and watch television simultaneously and even order a pizza on the toilet. Sims no longer sit in one spot to read a book either, instead choosing to move from one seat to another to be closer to a sim that they want to talk to.
If I sound excited it’s because I am. Getting stirred up over such a small thing seems silly but it does make a big change to how the sims interact with the world around them. The emotion system also goes aways to creating more dynamic sims. The moodlet concept of Sims 3 was good and it returns in Sims 4 but it has been built upon. Now moodlets will incur certain emotions such as an offensive conversation making a sim angry or unwashed dishes making them uncomfortable. This is more realistic because the sims are now no longer just aware of their surroundings but are changed by them.
Despite being a cool addition, the emotion system still needs more work. For one, they change from one to another too easily. An example would be that an angry sim can easily become playful with a bubble bath. As a consequence, Sims seem flighty and scatterbrained. Secondly, many jobs and tasks work better if a sim is in a certain mood, such as being inspired while practicing an instrument. But this creates a style of gameplay where one is chasing requirements all the time. It’s an arbitrary method of making the game more difficult because learning to play the guitar isn’t more difficult, just more time consuming because the player has to make the sim take a thoughtful shower every time they practice guitar.
This change in focus gameplay away from writing a story to a more completionist system is intentional. Everything, from aspirations to jobs have levels and requirements for each levels. Yes, the dreaded ‘must have X number of friends’ returns. In this regard, I think Sims 3 was actually more realistic. Rather than having to befriend strangers in the Sims 3, it was more productive to socialise with one’s co-workers. That’s true to life. Making dinner for your boss is more likely to get you a promotion than dancing on the porch with your neighbour.
Gone too is the wider neighbourhood and making a comeback are loading screens. Sims can no longer free roam around town which I suspect may be to soothe the criticisms of controlling players who disliked that characters they weren’t controlling were having affairs, having children and dying off. It’s odd though. So much of the game appears to be tailored to the casual gamers but here EA changes the game to suit the simmer who loves to micromanage the whole world. No matter how distracting the new revolutionary concepts such as multitasking and emotions are, the omission of the open world and toddlers of all things (which I suspect will pop up in a Generations expansion pack) leaves the game feeling like a step backwards.