Some thoughts on The Sims 4

The Sims 4

I’m waiting for my husband to die so I can focus on my career again. He’s a good man, Deshawn. I was first attracted to his sensuous baritone voice — he has the bassiest voice in the entire game — but because of his hot-headed personality trait he’s quick to anger and often kicks over my bins, distracting me from my work.

So I’m waiting for him to perish. There’s probably an option to divorce him straight away, but I’d rather run down the clock and save the drama. I’m not sure how The Sim 4 handles divorces, so I’m not prepared to risk that bassy-throated bin-kicker getting his angry hands on half of my earnings.

He’s old though. He’ll be dead in a matter of days. RIP you stupid angry bastard.

I’ve been playing The Sims 4 for about six hours now, investigating its new features, playing with its new creation tools and staring unflinchingly at the little virtual people having sex. I played it so much I got an infection in my eye and had to go to the doctor, though that may be completely unrelated.

Either way, regardless of whether The Sims 4 infected my eye or not, it’s still too soon to call a verdict. My initial impressions are mixed however. The Sims 4 is not bad by any stretch. It remains a fascinating, funny, engrossing and unique little person simulator, but it’s full of strange limiting factors that really could’ve been overcome in the four games, fifteen years of development and staggering sales numbers the series has enjoyed.

It’s a sideways-rather-than-forwards step for the series that pares all of the content of The Sims 3 and its teetering tower of expansions back down to just a tiny handful of furniture and objects. It doesn’t overcome the technical limitations of the previous games, and in many ways it regresses.

The Sims 4

In a step backwards from The Sims 3, for example, there are loading screens between individual lots. Everything feels more local and shut in. The world doesn’t tick over while you’re doing the dishes. There’s a degree of proper world-persistance that’s been lost in the move from The Sims 3 to The Sims 4.

And while you can still zoom out of your house to view a small chunk of the neighbourhood, that chunk is just one of a handful of smaller cordoned-off zones that sims can travel between using their phones. No taxis or vehicles arrive to ferry them about either. Instead they fade into the ether and rematerialise at their destination, sometimes standing inside one another. Sims are free to visit other zones in the neighbourhood however, and even to visit other neighbourhoods entirely.

Similarly to travelling between lots, Sims simply vanish into an unseen work-dimension when they’re summoned to their jobs, rather than relocating to a physical location in the world. Anybody hoping that The Sims 4 would build on the open-worldliness of the previous game will be disappointed to find Maxis have instead zoomed inwards,becoming more concerned with the macro-simulation of daily life at home rather than the broader business of simulating a complete society of constantly interacting virtual folk.

The Sims 4

But while The Sims 4 does many things differently, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse, the game’s focus has clearly shifted towards the brains of the little people themselves. Most of what’s new and interesting about The Sims 4 is tied up in moods and interactions, both in how they affect the way in which you play the game and in how they’re represented in animations and voices.

The most notable missing features of pools and toddlers haven’t really impacted on my game, as I despise swimming and children. So instead here are a few things I’m enjoying about it so far.

Multitasking is actually revolutionary. Your sims can now handle multiple tasks at once. Your action queue still lives in the bottom left hand corner of the screen, but it now has a little tray of up to three concurrent doings (as well as a stance, such as sitting).

You can eat food, sit down, watch television and hold a conversation at the same time. You can cook while chatting with another sim. You can read on the toilet. You can play chess and tell jokes. Once, my sim ran across the road holding a plate of scrambled eggs to introduce himself to a neighbour. They both discussed eggs and had a wonderful time. It’s difficult to imagine what life was like before multitasking. All other Sims games seembroken in comparison.

The Sims 4

Everybody talks to one another. Another “how did we ever play The Sims without this” feature, conversations can now be had between multiple sims. A group of chatting sims will form a ring and hold believable looking conversations in which friendship points are earned and lost, infatuations can be triggered and arguments can be sparked.

This revolutionises parties, allowing all guests to properly mingle with one another, and all while multitasking with food and music. Social commands such as “tell a joke” or “give fake bad news” are folded into the shared conversation “task” too. So the multi-way conversation isn’t broken by your sim leaving the group, walking over to the targeted sim and then breakingthem out of the conversation to tell them a joke one-on-one.

In fact, if you tell a really good joke, the entire group laughs at once, giving your sim a huge confidence boost. Comedy is a skill in The Sims 4, though I’m not sure if that’s new.

The Sims 4

Moods are nice and they work. Moods are the much-touted new feature, and they work intuitively to add a new dimension of objectives to the game. There are many moods, which manifest as ‘moodlets’ next to your sim’s portrait, from Uncomfortable (when one of your sim’s basic needs is running low) and Inspired (from a thoughtful shower, or any number of other things) to Confident (caused by good social interactions or a self-assured personality trait) and Energised (invoked by a brisk shower or a strong coffee).

There are loads more and they’re caused by a great many different things. You can hover over the moodlet to understand precisely what’s caused it, too. These moods give you new ways to interact with the world as well as immediate desires for your sim to fulfill, which rewards you with special points used to purchase special items.

Some examples. You tell a dirty joke to a sim and it doesn’t go well, so your sim becomes embarrassed. The Embarrassed moodlet gives you the option to hide from the world under your duvet covers, which helps reduce that mood. Alternatively, you tell a joke and it lands, so your sim becomes playful. Now when you go to cook a meal you’ll see the option (highlighted in the causative moodlet’s colour) to cook gummy bear pancakes. Your sim becomes energised talking about sports with an athletic neighbour, he gets a desire to go jogging. Fulfill it for points. It’s fun.

The Sims 4

Animations and voices reflect the moods of sims. As far as I can tell, every mood has its own set of animations. For almost everything. If your sim is angry they’ll stomp about the place, pissed as hell. And if you decide to cook, she’ll throw pots and pans around or slam the wooden spoon against the chopping board. If your sim is embarrassed, their shoulders will sag and they’ll sheepishly drag their feet for a while. If they’re confident, they’ll evenpissconfidently, shoulders back, chest puffed out. (A confident mood allows sims to use the “pee like a champion” action.)

Voices will change to suit the context too. Though still in the garbled language of Simlish, you can fully understand through sheer force of intonation what is being communicated by a sim. You’ll hear and understand the Simlish word for “sorry” hidden in the nonsense syllables, you’ll marvel at how immediately obvious flirting sounds in Sim babble, you’ll recognise a sim is tense simply by listening to them and watching how they move.

It’s not just a neat audio-visual trick either. With group conversations it’s useful to be able to tell at a glance who’s feeling what.

The Sims 4

Everybody’s got a smartphone. The Sims 4 has finally caught up, giving every sim a magic phone capable of finding them a job, socialising with another sim through chat or text, call for pizza or a maid (but, oddly, no repairman), organise a social event, invite sims over, and some other buttons that I forget.

The downside is that, for some reason, you can’t buy a housephone. People still have housephones, right? No? Am I getting old?

You can create mods.In the game, I mean. On the PC you can play the original Sims game and create mods for it. Modding is a subset of the programming action, which also allows you to hack into other computers or creative viruses for extra cash. It’s useful in the more cybercrime focused of the two branches of the criminal career (the other is the more traditional, brutish sort of crime that requires a fitness skill rather than a programming skill).

Brilliantly, if you play the modded version of The Sims you get a happy moodlet because, in Maxis’s own words, “playing a modded game is way more epic!”. Remember this please, EA.

The Sims 4

But it’s still a bit odd.There was a day one patch to fix some curious bugs in The Sims 4, which is fairly routine, but there are still strange things afoot here. During my sim’s wedding, his new husband teleported himself into their new marital home, abandoning him at the wedding. Social events such as weddings are timed and give you rewards based on how well you host them, and this abrupt disappearance aborted that event.

When replaying the wedding, which was taking place in a public park, all of the guests sprinted across the map to barbecue some hot dogs instead of eating the food that my sim’s caterer had provided. My sim then had to cook his own wedding cake. Weirdness. And when he got home he could no longer find his way into his own house. Also, there are no restaurants, so be sure to eat a full meal at home before you go on any dates.

Apart from a few strange AI blips, the game is remarkably stable and runs well. It even looks better and, magically, runs faster than The Sims 3 on my setup.

The Sims 4 is no great departure from that game, or from The Sims 2 or The Sims 1, and it unavoidably resets the vast catalogues of furniture and objects many fans must surely have amassed. It’s torn out some features you’d have expected to have been in there — the pools, the toddlers — but you’d really have to want to feel aggrieved to actually miss them.

It feels like something of a reset, not a game built on what’s come before but instead one that razes previous work to the ground and starts from the foundations again using the series’ blueprint. Only this time they’ve not managed to build quite as high.

But, to complete the crappy metaphor, it’s still a wonderful building. A lovely building made from all new materials that I can’t stop playing in and getting eye infections from. I’ll keep playing The Sims 4 at least until both my eyes fall out.