It's the start of a new generation for The Sims, after no less than 20 different expansions and Stuff packs released for the previous iteration of the game. The Sims Studio and Maxis have teamed up to build a brand new game engine, packing in plenty of new emotions, a simplified building tool and a more developed skills system. Does the core Sims 4 experience pack enough of a punch to keep both casual and hardcore fans satisfied? Read on to find out.
From the very start, the new Create A Sim interface is elegant and streamlined, removing the layered menus from previous experiences entirely. Clicking around on your Sim in this mode allows players to fine-tune their shapes, sizes, outfits, tattoos and aspirations in a surprisingly entertaining process. There's plenty of ways to make each Sim unique, and even eight different walk animations to choose from. Players can also hop into a new in-game feature called The Gallery, where a catalog of user-created sims and houses sit ripe for the picking.
Needs have been simplified in The Sims 4, leaning on the new emotional engine that ties into unlocking unique interactions. While needs like Hunger, Sleep or Hygiene remain unchanged, other moodlets like Comfort or Environment have been removed - but that doesn't mean they don't affect the game. Seeing garbage can now make Sims 'Feel Uncomfortable,' just as a promotion can make them feel 'Confident'. These moodlets only last for a short period of time, allowing Sims to perform unique social and private actions. Pee your pants at work? Your Sim will feel embarrassed, and might want to give themselves a pep talk in the bathroom mirror when they're home.
Skills have been largely expanded upon, leading to plenty of fun and new paths to head down. Cooking, for instance, eventually expands into an optional gourmet cooking skill for the aspiring chefs, and even playing video games can lead to improving that skill set. Enter tournaments, and a bad showing might leave them feeling sad. These kind of risk/reward scenarios are placed throughout the game, and the new emotions add a layer of depth to day-to-do life that wasn't there before. The additional ability for Sims to multitask is now a huge time saver, doing things like watching TV from the treadmill, or talking to other Sims while typing a novel.
Despite all of the core game engine updates, the game's ultimate flaw is that it feels like there's not much content to actually use it with. Lives feel bland and ordinary without large-scale community events, neighborhood drama, and the silly antics of Sim Life that Maxis is so famous for. Staple items from the entire series are missing, like garbage compactors, dishwashers, family trees, pool tables, and hot tubs (let's not even get into pools themselves, or toddlers). After living through two different lives, nothing new was happening within my own Sims game - it felt completed, in a game which should routinely pop up with surprises and challenges to keep gamers coming back.
Traveling anywhere in the game now requires a load screen (albeit a short one), but it feels strange having to load the neighbor's house that one can see from their own porch. In fact, the world which felt so open and malleable in The Sims 3 now feels static in comparison, which may discourage some players from traveling outside their house too frequently. It's a shame, because the graphics of the game are gorgeous, and impressive enough to have players panning and zooming to get some great screenshots as their Sims age though their lives.
All-in-all, The Sims 4 is a well-polished game that does everything right - its only problem is a lack of content to keep gamers interested. Those accustomed to series know that the first game of a new sequel is always left feeling light in terms of content, and The Sims 4 is no exception. Predictable downloadable content and expansion packs can be seen lining up along the horizon, containing things from the old games like cars, pets, pools and more diverse careers - that's just the Maxis way.
Hardcore fans will be pleased by the smoothness and potential of the core game, and it does deliver the base for a very entertaining experience - but both sets of fans will agree that perhaps waiting for more content is the best route to go.
Follow John Jacques on Twitter @Makelevi.