One would think that one of the most powerful and richest videogame publishers in the world would have the resources and capital to put out top quality games with enough content to justify a full blown $60 purchase. Sadly, Electronic Arts have, once again, proven this to be absolutely false with their newest release, The Sims 4.
Let’s get the easy stuff out of the way and start with what The Sims 4 does well. The Sims themselves are easily a vast improvement over previous games in the series. For starters, the slider-less Create-A-Sim mode allows players to sculpt their virtual denizens by pinching and pulling various parts of the body, from arm, chest, waist, hip, neck, butt and leg size to minute details like eyebrow length, and upper and lower lip size. Without a doubt, The Sims 4 boasts one of the most flexible character creation systems in gaming history. It’s a shame that, even after three games, you still can’t adjust Sim height, but this is a minor quibble.
The Sims also excel beyond superficial levels. They are much more intelligent, requiring less micromanagement and allowing for players with households of four or more Sims to rest easy, as Sims, on their own, will behave with almost lifelike intelligence. The ability to multitask also makes things more fluid, and watching large groups of Sims conversing with one another while they glance at their cellphones and sip from their drinks is an absolute pleasure, and a far cry from the days of previous The Sims games where Sims trying to do two things at once would get flustered and wind up standing still like idiots. While conversing with other Sims, one can have them move from place to place as a group without breaking the conversation, and this has a wonderful effect at party settings, where perhaps you would like two flirting Sims to retreat from the bustle of the party to a more intimate place. The best thing about the multitasking feature is that now conversations don’t feel like “activities” that players are obligated to have Sims engage in to boost their relationships with one another; they now feel spontaneous and natural.
There’s also a lot of humor to be found with how Sims’ moods are altered by their circumstances. For example, a Sim coming home from work frustrated will march around the house aggressively, opening and slamming doors with a frown on their face. During conversations, they’ll have a distinctly grumpy tone in their voice, although this can change if the person they are conversing with steers the conversation in a nicer direction.
Building houses has always been a staple of The Sims, and here The Sims 4 excels. Just about every item has a variety of color options, allowing for your domicile to have a unified look. The base game has a tremendous variety of walls, windows, chairs and such, so no matter your taste, you’re bound to be able to create the house of your dreams. Tweaking a house that is already built is also a breeze, as you can resize every aspect of the walls and floors, and the game intelligently knows how to deal with objects that must be moved out of the way as a result of your tweaking. Inspiration is also easy to find, as many different styled rooms are readily available to be seamlessly inserted into your house. With the building mode, there isn’t much to complain about. It’s only once you hit “play” that the problems begin.
Without a doubt, the level of interaction Sims can have with one another is far more detailed and lifelike than anything else presented in the series, but unfortunately as it stands right now it is just about the only interesting thing for players to do in The Sims 4, aside from the building of houses. The previous game in the series, The Sims 3, had a large town that Sims could seamlessly explore. One could go to clothing stores and shop, buy books, eat at restaurants, and watch their Sims travel all the way to work in their cars. One could even go down to the beach and look for hidden treasures in the sand.
This aspect of the game has been absolutely gutted in the fourth game. You can visit libraries, museums, the gym, the park and nightclubs, but these all entail loading screens and compared to the base game of The Sims 3, there simply isn’t a lot of to do besides, you guessed it, interacting with other Sims.
Sims going to work will simply vanish into thin air, and you simply have to take the game’s word for it that they are engaging in whatever career they’ve put their minds to. Traveling to a neighbor’s house across the street, or the park or anywhere else entails a loading screen, upon which Sims just appear immediately at their destination, and books are purchased from a bookshelf within one’s house, which instantly appears in a Sim’s inventory. Just like in real life. The game doesn’t even have clothing stores to shop for new clothes anymore; everything is immediately available once you purchase a dresser for the house. Outside the confines of your home, the world of The Sims 4 feels like a small number of limited spaces chained together not by roads and sidewalks, but by loading screens.
The lack of swimming pools also means there are no public pools to go to and frolick in, severely restricting the activities Sims can engage in outside conversing with one another. As I mentioned earlier, the level of interaction between Sims is more detailed than ever, and it is fairly obvious, both from playing the game and from attending EA’s E3 presentation of the game, that the publisher and developer Maxis have heavily banked on this aspect alone to carry The Sims 4. But it isn’t good enough, and here’s why.
When Sims converse with one another, there is a kaleidoscope of options to have them talk about. Ask about day, tell a dirty joke, flirt, enthuse about cooking/space/exercise/art/music, share tips on fixing things, the list is long. The problem is that all these things have just about the exact same effect; they either build rapport with Sims, or in lesser cases, build antagonism. The difference between selecting “Talk about crazy scheme” and “Complain about parents” results in Sims speaking in their signature garbled Simlish, while the other party reacts accordingly and the friendship meter moves up or down. The differences in their tone of voice and body language of course, vary from topic to topic, and Maxis should be commended for this, but again, is this good enough to carry the bulk of a $60 game? No, it really isn’t. Ultimately, the only way these hundreds of dialogue options would have any real significance is if the Sims spoke in actual languages, but they instead speak Simlish, a language that nobody knows, and as a result all of these options feel the same.
Sims are able to do things that involve them being still, like talking, web surfing, watching TV, reading books and so on, and this is all well and good, but with the absence of more dynamic, movement based activity like swimming and exploring the environment, it becomes apparent that while from the perspective of the Sims themselves watching TV and reading books may seem interesting, it just isn’t from the gamer’s perspective. We want to see our Sims nourish and entertain themselves, sure, but we also need to balance that out by getting out of the house and seeing and doing interesting things. I only realized how important this was after spending several hours with The Sims 4.
Many of these problems I have mentioned have already been apparent to gamers who have followed the development of The Sims 4. The lack of swimming pools, toddlers, seamless environments, detailed and more numerous careers, along with dozens of other crucial mainstays of the series did not sit well with anyone, and EA and Maxis responded by emphasizing that the improved intelligence of the Sims and the more nuanced relationships they could have with one another would outweigh these losses. The question then becomes, ‘Will these improvements outweigh these well known absences?’ No, they don’t. The Sims in The Sims 4 are more intelligent than ever, and they display an astonishing lifelike quality, whether they are by themselves or with one another. However, these substantial improvements are, without a shadow of a doubt, insufficient at making up for the game’s established shortcomings.
It’s beyond any doubt that EA plans to release an insane amount of downloadable content following The Sims 4‘s release, and it goes without a saying that many of these missing things will be added to the game, as has been the case in previous The Sims games, and perhaps by then The Sims 4 will be the best game in the series ever. However, games must be judged on their merits upon release, and not what they could be several dozen DLC packs later, and EA, famous for this downright unscrupulous business model that has earned them two “Worst Company in America” awards from The Consumerist, must be taken to task, especially following the high-profile embarrassment that was the most recent Sim City. The Sims 4 is a well made game, but as the heir to one of the most popular franchises in gaming history, there is simply far too much missing for it to be worth your hard-earned $60 at the present.
Extremely detailed Sim customization
Lifelike Sim intelligence and interactions
Improved and streamlined building mode
Far too much missing content
Frequent loading screens