A nice place to visit, but don’t move in just yet
For all the different ways I could count to savage The Sims 4?and, trust me, I have a ton of valid complaints?one number sticks out to me.
At the moment I write this, that’s the number of hours Origin currently has me tracked as playing…so far.
As someone who’s played the goofy life-simulation series since its 2000 inception and views franchise creator Will Wright as one of the greatest, most important minds in gaming history, I wouldn’t have kept playing if I felt like The Sims 4 disrespected his legacy. I’d have done what I do with The Simpsons now: remember the good times and pretend anything past Season 8 doesn’t exist.
And while I was apprehensive at the removal of several longtime features (including incredibly basic elements like firefighters, the absence of which directly led to the death of one of my Sims a couple of hours into my playtime), The Sims 4 gets the most important thing right: It’s still ridiculously addictive to craft Sims, let them loose in the world, and see what happens.
That’s partly due to one of my favorite new features: the introduction of emotions. The Sims has included things like moods before, but they?ve never been as critical to the overall experience as they are here. If your Sim is inspired, they’ll do a better job writing or painting. If they’re focused, they’ll channel their inner Garry Kasparov in a game of chess. And if they’re flirty…well, perhaps they can seduce even the Grim Reaper himself.
While these upgraded emotions might sound like a pain to manage, they’re integrated seamlessly into day-to-day, minute-by-minute activities, and they actually helped me balance my Sims’ tasks a lot more easily. If someone was inspired, I’d send them to the easel to get their Rembrandt on. If they were energized, I’d order them to go on a cleaning spree. And if they were sad, I’d send ’em to bed and have them cry it out.
Adding another layer to interactions is the fact that Sims can now multitask, meaning they can do such complex tasks as…eat while chatting! Browse the Internet on their smartphones while using the bathroom! It may sound simple, but this really opens up the interactions and frees up your ability to set a plan in action for the day. I found it particularly helpful to have a Sim hit the treadmill while watching a cooking show, taking care of two important skills (fitness and cooking) at once.
But for all the pre-release talk about the game’s “big personalities,” they aren’t nearly big enough?just three personality traits and one aspiration, which is a pretty paltry collection in practice. Giving a Sim the characteristics of “cheerful, outgoing, and foodie” isn’t a “personality.? It’s a play-it-safe profile on OKCupid! In the past, Sims games have featured up to five traits, and I think The Sims 4 needs at least two more to really flesh out the characters. For now, everyone’s just too one-note (for example, given the limitations, it?s difficult to create a character who?s a nerd and also loves sports without sacrificing basic social skills).
While I enjoyed the world of The Sims 4, I must say that I got a distinct “Windows 8 vibe? from many of the game?s allegedly upgraded creation tools (as anyone on the EGM staff can tell you, Microsoft’s flashy OS has been nothing less than a work-related pain for me over the past few months since I “upgraded” earlier this year).
Sure, everything looks slick, but so many of the game’s interfaces feel like they’re designed to be “simplified,? yet they only complicate things because they aren’t the least bit intuitive. It?s difficult to tell when and where you can modify a Sim?s facial or body features, and instead of simply listing what can and can?t be edited, the game leaves everything frustratingly vague. That?s a shame, because fiddling around creating Sims and living spaces was one of the most enjoyable parts of my time with previous entries.
Thankfully, what might be the best part of The Sims 4 mitigates that frustration quite a bit: the Gallery, where you can upload your creation or download other players? Sims and houses and place them directly in your game with the click of a button?such as this awesome rendition of the Seinfeld cast and Jerry?s apartment. (But, if you’ll notice, the apartment looks a lot more accurate than the renditions of Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer?another indictment of the revamped Create a Sim interface). So, even though I had a rough time making my own Sims and building my own abodes, I didn?t mind it so much in the end. I could always import a vast array of pre-built options when I got frustrated and just move on to exploring the world.
The one major killjoy in that particular area? It can take forever for Sims to do some of the most mundane tasks imaginable. This has been a problem since the first game, and there’s not a huge amount of improvement here. I’ll never understand why Sims always seem to stand there, glassy-eyed, in the middle of making a meal and why it takes approximately three hours of in-game time to do anything related to cooking or eating, even if these little computer people are just having a bowl of cereal.
And the cleaning! Look, I know we all hate housework, but Sims seem to detest it more than anyone. I even had to move in a digital version of EGM reviews editor Ray Carsillo to my house and had him work as a live-in manservant just so my other Sims had enough time to work full-time jobs so we could pay the bills (don’t worry?I rewarded Ray with some VR gaming if he did a good job scrubbing the toilet!).
And unlike The Sims 3, this isn’t a seamless open world. Instead, you’ll have to endure loading screens if you want to head out to the bar, park, or even to the next block. For me, these lasted at least a minute and a half each time, sometimes more. I’d often head off to my real-world bathroom or do a minor household chore, just because I wanted to be productive with my time while I waited. To be honest, it made me want to stay in the house instead of explore the city?not so much for the loading itself, but because it would badly break up the gameplay flow.
For all the hiccups here, though, this isn’t a SimCity deal?EA hasn’t desecrated the memory of another of Will Wright’s landmark franchises. If you loved The Sims in the past, you’ll like what you’ll find here, and with the improved visuals and social interactions, it?s also the perfect place for newcomers to give the series a shot.
But it’s also clear that this is merely the foundation of what’s to come. Right now, The Sims 4 is merely an addiction?not a great game. Whether it moves from simple addiction to outright greatness remains to be seen over the next year or so, and it all depends on what sort of patches and downloadable content becomes available in order to fix many of the aforementioned issues and flesh out the features.
It’s clear that Maxis gets what makes a Sims game an obsession, though, so my hopes are a lot higher now than they were a few weeks ago. I?m cautiously optimistic that the game’s in good hands?if EA gives Maxis the time and budget to do things right going forward.
|Developer: Maxis, The Sims Studio ? Publisher: Electronic Arts ? ESRB: T- Teen ? Release Date: 09.02.2014|
Sims fans have been worried about all the cuts of longtime features in The Sims 4, and while some critical elements are indeed missing, the core addiction remains. Plus, with the addition of the online Gallery and the ability to share and download creations, it?s easier than ever to liven up your little virtual world.
|The Good||It?s clear that Maxis still gets what?s important: Creating your Sims and sending them on their unpredictable journeys remains endlessly addictive.|
|The Bad||Traveling between areas can take f…o…r…e…v…e…r with the interminable loading screens, meaning you might want to just stay a shut-in.|
|The Ugly||Having your child coming out of the womb looking like Edward Scissorbaby due to an unfortunate bug.|
|The Sims 4 is available on PC, with a Mac version coming at a later date. Review code was provided by EA for the benefit of this review.|