The Sims 4 Review: A Small World…For Now

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Developers: EA Maxis, The Sim Studio

Publishers: Electronic Arts

Platform: PC

Release Date: September 2nd.

Though not a stranger to other simulation games, I have never played The Sims. In an attempt to be open-minded, I stayed away from most of the press that has been circulating about this game in the last week until I was several hours in. If you missed it all somehow, old fans of the series have lamented that it lacks key features from previous iterations. Many too were struck with the realization that they would need to purchase all of the upcoming expansions for the new game in order to fill out their Sims universe as completely as they had in 3. But I loaded the game without this baggage–I was imagining endless possibilities for a universe of strange little people over which I would be creator and guide.

Getting Started

The game took me first to the Create A Sim tool with which I would make my strange little people. The Sims 4 offers a wide range of possibilities for Sim creation: with a simple click and drag I could shape their bodies and facial structures, or use the buttons to choose from samples or randomize, and then tweak as I saw fit. The ability to shape and mold my Sims in this way allowed for a broad range of body and face types. I felt somewhat more limited when choosing their clothing–the game does not offer many style options, and colors are even more limited, particularly on certain articles. Having expected something more like an advanced version of Animal Crossing’s clothing design, I was sorely disappointed.

…the Sim universe felt limited and small without real locations for my Sims to work and learn. Though the fast forward option let me skip to their homecoming, I was still left staring at an empty house while time passed for several Sim “hours” every “day.”

Aspirations and character traits allowed me to shape my Sims’ personalities in a wide variety of ways. Character Traits dictated things that would make my Sims happy or sad, or what they might be better at, while Aspirations provide Sims with goals that can be accomplished many different ways. My nature-loving Sim, for instance, became tense when left inside for too long, but was automatically happy while outside. My Sim who aspired to be a Renaissance-Sim wanted to learn many different skills, but I could pick which ones. Their unique personalities and whims convinced me that I was populating my universe with diverse people.

Building a house was next, but the location options were few, and paltry. There was only one lot in one neighborhood available in the world I was in, there were only a small handful of neighborhoods in the world, and only two worlds.

The building process was made simple for a newbie like me with stylized rooms and items neatly sorted. I quickly got the gist of the controls, which allowed me to smoothly resize walls, roofs, and put up colorful wallpaper. Yet I was confounded again by the lack of color options. Why did the couch I liked only come in pink and brown? It wasn’t until after I had slogged through trying to make my rooms look presentable that I found out about the Create a Style feature from prior games. This game suffered for lack of it, and that only become more and more evident the longer I played and the more things I built.

By the time I’d finished my house I was becoming very frustrated by the constant popup explanations of different features, which seemed to show up regardless of what I was working on and whether they were relevant or not. The game’s explanations were too intricate and rapid for a newcomer and highly redundant for those who are already familiar with the way the Sims universe works.

It’s A Small World

Once my Sims were safely deposited in their new home, I immediately wanted to plunge into everything–gardening, music, art, writing, socializing, babymaking…but there just wasn’t enough time. Building a cool house had left me drained of funds, so my Sims got jobs. I was taken aback the first time my Sims left for work–they disappeared! Did I not get to go to work with them? Although provided with options for how hard they could work while gone, the Sim universe felt limited and small without real locations for my Sims to work and learn. Though the fast forward option let me skip to their homecoming, I was still left staring at an empty house while time passed for several Sim “hours” every “day.”

Of course, they came home from work tired, hungry, and with full bladders. I frantically tried to fulfill their needs…but by the time they were satisfied and refreshed, it was time for work again! Weekends were spent working on the skills required for promotion in each of my Sims respective jobs. Yet while this part of the game felt a bit frantic, I was never bored. Although disappointed in lack of work/school space, I loved the occasional event windows that popped up, giving me say in the situations my Sims faced on the job. Both my Sims quickly rose through the ranks, earned more money and leisure time, and even some cool decorative items for their households. I felt pride in their accomplishments.

As they gained more money and leisure time, my Sims were free to pursue their hobbies and aspirations. My programmer/repairman/comedian developed new plugins and mods for games, lost every game tournament he entered, upgraded every appliance he owned, and charmed everyone he met with his jokes. My writer/violinist/gardener published multiple books and expanded her genre repertoire, entertained friends at parties with concertos, and…failed to grow anything because watering and weeding took way too much time. Unfortunately, though the buttons I clicked on changed as they moved up in rank in their passions, nothing about their actions did. My Sims’ days invariably consisted of going to work, coming home, typing on the computer, and peeing.

The world in The Sims 4 is…small. Painfully small, with loading screens between each set of neighborhoods. Meaning whenever I sent my Sims on jogs, they ended up running circles around the same five houses over and over. Traveling beyond that felt like a chore, since if I wanted to switch control between Sims in different neighborhoods I had to wait for the loading screen each time. And traveling was hardly worth it. Each world contains a park, a gym, a bar, a museum, a library…and that’s about it. It took very little time to explore everything, and except for social opportunities, most of these areas offered little more than I could experience with the right items in my own home. As the game progressed, I felt less and less inclined to leave the house.