Time To Start Drowning Sims In Pools Aga-… Oh, Wait, No?!
It’s that time again, when the creative and the sadistic all come together to create new people, relationships and families in politically correct, ethnically diverse suburban paradises… and then proceed to torture them into lunacy or nudge them towards success. Five years, 11 expansion packs, eight stuff packs, six world packs and $550 later, The Sims 3 finally walks off into the sunset and welcomes The Sims 4 into the neighborhood. There have been a lot of changes, and, for people that have been following the franchise dutifully since 2000, some of these changes are starting to feel both too familiar and unwelcome.
New Interface, Old Problems
There is no story in The Sims 4 because the whole point of this game—as it was for every previous title—is that you create your own person, or “Sim,” and then live out his, her or their lives, and just see what happens. The fun of a Sims game comes from the emergent situations, the randomness of your Sim’s AI colliding with that of other Sims in the game. Some players meticulously control the destiny of their Sim, creating the perfect, sculpted fantasy life that they never had in reality. Others simply derail their Sims entirely to see how bad their lives can get. Whichever way you play—especially if it’s in between—unexpected things happen, and that’s where the magic of The Sims shines.
“While it’s probably not a deliberate endorsement on EA’s part, incest, pedophilia and statutory rape are currently a normal part of gameplay.”
As to be expected from five years in the studio, the tech behind the latest game is impressive. The Sims 4 puts its best foot forward in the opening minutes. Players are in for a treat with a greatly improved character creation system that should be looked at as a new standard for user-friendliness by any game that features a protagonist created by the players. The mouse allows players to simply grab onto a cheek, nose, chin, eye, arm or ear and pull, push or distort as desired, rather than jumping to a jaw category, an eye category, then a cheek category and adjusting sliders to get what you want. The construction of the Sim home is similarly intuitive with the ability to drop a room, and then stretch and adjust the dimensions as desired. Even furnishing the rooms is easier now thanks to an Ikea-esque interface that shows off entire rooms with all the furnishing appropriate to that room.
Things go a bit south once you get into the actual gameplay, and that’s mostly down to the bewildering number of limitations encountered, and a cynical understanding of why those limitations are in place. The first thing players will notice as they go about the business of occupying their Sims lives is that there’s a lot less stuff to buy and use, especially compared to The Sims 3 in its current state. This is pretty understandable, as The Sims 3 has had 25 add-ons over the years. This also means that the severe drought of furniture, clothing and other items is shrewdly tied into getting players hungry for more expansions, priced at $20.
So no, you’re not imagining it, there’s just not a lot of stuff in The Sims 4 because EA plans to charge you for that extra stuff later. This deliberate “gimping” of the game carries on into almost every aspect. Pets, as usual, are gone. Swimming pools have been removed as landscape options, and basements no longer exist. Even the ability to follow your Sim to work and see what he or she is up to has been wiped clean, and returned to the “base” or “vanilla” Sim state where they simply disappear for several hours and return home. All the progress that the expansions brought to Sims 3 has been undone for The Sims 4. At least until they start selling those same expansions again.
That’s not to say it’s all bad for The Sims 4. The core gameplay is still compulsively addictive as ever, even though it amounts essentially to a time management game. Some new mechanics, such as emotional states and “moodlets” add a bit more nuance to how the Sims behave and interact. And of course, new behaviors such as social media, smartphone dependence, and “selfies” are now all part of the Sims vocabulary of behavior.
There are still a few things that need to be patched immediately, however. Children, for example, share the same emotional state as adults, and blood/genetic relations don’t appear to have been coded into behavior. So, while it’s probably not a deliberate endorsement on EA’s part, incest, pedophilia and statutory rape are currently a normal part of gameplay, though likely not part of the “weirdness” EA was marketing as a selling point of the game. Well, unless you’ve always wanted to sleep with your natural daughter, in which case, this is the game you’ve been waiting your whole life for. Until they patch it.
The easiest way to describe The Sims 4 is that it’s laid a great foundation for the expansions to follow. The base technology and interface are fantastic, but the limitations in content are severe. People who have gotten used to the massive array of activities, furnishing and clothing available for The Sims 3 are strongly advised to wait at least one or two expansions before diving into The Sims 4.
The amount of content and gameplay you’ll feel has been “stripped away” will be shocking. When pets come, more locations, better career mechanics and a bunch of decent clothing and furniture inevitably arrive in two or three forthcoming expansions at $20 each, The Sims 4 will be worth it. Right now, it’s too hamstrung by EA’s need to make those expansions worthwhile to be a solid standalone title. If this is the first time you’ve ever played The Sims, it’s easier than ever to use, there’s just far less to do.