The Sims 4
SimCity, Dungeon Keeper, Battlefield and now The Sims… EA is certainly on a roll.
Every time a new base entry in The Sims series is released, fans expect to lose all of the prior games’ content. A brand new and vastly improved game engine is, quite reasonably so, the justification for this as, from a development perspective, content created for one game cannot be easily and immediately brought into another.
While your gigs upon gigs of expansion pack, paid DLC and fan-made content won’t be compatible with the new game, this tough reality is balanced by the fact that, traditionally, you’re provided with meaningful and often sweeping upgrades to the core Sims experience.
For example, the step up to The Sims 2 brought a 3D graphics engine and realistic sim life cycles, whilst The Sims 3 added a persistent and seamless open world and the ability to intricately customise just about any item in the game.
This tradition has sadly not been observed with The Sims 4. Not only does it bring very little new to table for the world building, people simulating franchise, it seems to go out of its way to either mangle or completely remove many elements intrinsic to the series.
Missing In Action
This is not simply a case of a lack of in-game objects or features that can be added into the game at some later date. The Sims 4 omits several core mechanics that have shipped with the base game in past iterations, dramatically neutering its scope right out of the gate.
The Sims 3 provided essentially an open world with a realistic night and day cycle and persistent passage of time, allowing characters to go anywhere within the huge neighbourhoods. The Sims 4 dials us back to the original Sims, instancing off every individual property behind load screens and presenting the world as a 2D menu.
The Create A Style functionality from The Sims 3 is also omitted. Secretly that game’s most meaningful feature, it allowed full texture control over almost any item in the game, even boasting a copy and paste feature that let you drag and drop styles directly from one object to another. It gave players so much more control, allowing for a near-limitless number of creative possibilities even just in the base Sims 3 game. With this gone in The Sims 4, players are left at the mercy of the limited palette swaps provided with each item, making cohesive creations all the more difficult once again.
Terrain modification has also been lost, meaning that all lots are now perfectly flat. At face value, this may sound like a minor issue but, as with the omission of Create A Style, this severely limits the creative scope of game. On a related note, I’m fairly sure the decision to revert back to a Sims 1-style 2D map was to cover up just how flat and bland the game’s paltry two neighbourhoods are.
‘Surely EA and Maxis can add such features through expansions and DLC later down the line?’, I hear you ask. Not likely. These three features were baked into the base engine of The Sims 3 (The Sims 2 and 3 in the case of terrain editing) and as such it looks highly unlikely that EA and Maxis can and will add them to a game engine not designed to account for them.
What does EA and Maxis provide us accept to offset these sacrifices? Not all that much.
Ripping out all the dynamism and intricate customisation tools does mean that the game runs a lot more smoothly than The Sims 3, showcasing significantly shorter load times and low minimum system requirements.
The user interface is more streamlined than before, though you have to wonder if this is mostly because of the lack of so many features. An in-game Sporepedia-like system, which allows you to quickly upload and download creations, is fairly well done although it doesn’t offer any functionality that hasn’t been available in past games via the web.
Probably the biggest feature touted in the marketing for The Sims 4 is the sims’ emotions. This aspect was played up like something new and significant in the game’s marketing (likely because the people in marketing had nothing else even remotely impressive to showcase) when it actuality this feature is just a slightly deeper version to what has been seen in the series since at least The Sims 3. All it boils down to is that different circumstances and actions affect sims’ moods and behaviour, granting them access to different related social interactions and reactions.
In conjunction with substantially improved animations, it does actually make a difference to moment to moment play, at least aesthetically. Sims are now much more expressive and articulate, and with faster and more seamless interactions the characters look much less robotic than previous games. This is partially due to a return to a more cartoony art style last seen in The Sims 2 – a change I personally approve of.
Sims are also better at multi-tasking. Previously, they couldn’t naturally converse with one and other unless they were sitting down together or directly interacting with one and other. Now, they will chat away while doing a range of other tasks such as surfing the web on a computer or cooking. Gameplay-wise it makes maintaining social standings a lot easier and it’s another small touch that makes the characters feel more lifelike.
Changed for the worse
At first, construction appears to be one of The Sims 4’s few improved areas, given the handy new ability to drag and drop entire rooms. However, maintaining the game’s somewhat prevalent motif of streamlining working against itself, several key building mechanics have now been made more cumbersome and/or less powerful.
Foundations can now be automatically applied and tweaked post-build, but can only be applied to the entire lot. Staircases can now only be placed at 90 degree increments instead of 45. The new auto flooring system prevents you from placing or deleting single tiles. Decking also features a similar system that makes creating varying shapes a nightmare.
However, probably the single most baffling and indefensible issue in build mode is this – when drawing out walls in prior Sims games, text next to your cursor would indicate how many blocks wide your construction was. This feature just simply doesn’t exist in The Sims 4, and I can’t think of a single feasible reason why this simple yet extremely useful calculation system has not been implemented.
Speaking of creativity, the game’s Create A Sim mode also rubbed me the wrong way. You now have to manipulate the sims’ body parts by directly clicking and dragging them with your cursor. Not only is this 3D manipulation awkward but the game does nothing to indicate if you’re about to adjust the positioning or size of a body part until you start dragging. I was pining for the old, clearly labelled slider system within seconds of realising this. I’ll give it credit though, it does give you much more control over your sims’ bodies than ever before, allowing even minutia such as butt height and shoulder width to be adjusted.
As I alluded to before, The Sims 4’s handful of minor positives cannot hope to offset the game’s large array of significant flaws and missed opportunities. It’s one of those products that leaves you genuinely perplexed at what the creators were trying to achieve and who they were making it for. With its raft of missing features, borked returning mechanics and almost complete lack of ambition, it certainly wasn’t meant for series fans.
Its bare bones feature set, streamlined presentation and extra low system requirements (the minimum hardware is stated as a dual core processor and it doesn’t take advantage of 64-bit systems) suggests it’s meant for a new, less-savvy audience. To be fair, newcomers ignorant of the series might find this a decently entertaining product, even if it does basically nothing beyond its incessant tool tips to ease them in.
However, given its place as part of an accomplished franchise and judged in the context of a premium-priced PC game in the year 2014, it’s undeniably a mangled and thoroughly underwhelming product. This is not a worthy successor to The Sims 3. In fact, it’s barely a decent successor to the decade-old The Sims 2.