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The Sims 4 (PC) artwork

The Sims 4 (PC) review

"Dollhouse Simulator 2014."

The Sims 4 (PC) image

The Sims 4 continues the popular Sims franchise. If you don't know what The Sims is all about, well, it's basically a "people simulator." You create people, put them into a house together, and watch them live out their lives. Eventually they might have kids of their own, and then they will grow old and die. Then you can continue to play as their offspring, or you can switch to an entirely different household somewhere else. You have about as much control over your Sims as you like; you can give them commands directly or you can let them take actions on their own.

There is no "point" to The Sims, and indeed, no way to win, but every individual Sim has goals of their own that they wish to fulfill. These include lofty aspirations such as becoming rich, owning a mansion or becoming a best-selling author, but also include less-ambitious goals like having a family or finding a soulmate. Whether or not they realize these dreams is up to you.

Or if you want to be a malevolent god, you can do everything in your power to make your Sims' lives as miserable as possible. You can sabotage their lives and laugh at their misfortune, or, if you have a real sadistic streak, you can lock them in a room and watch them starve to death. Or perhaps a watery grave suits your fancy? Fence off a pool full of people watch them all drown. The Sims, you see, is all about choice.

In the same vein, the types of people you can make are theoretically limitless. A well-adjusted Sim is just as viable an evil Sim who aspires to become a master criminal. Or, you can fall back on any sort of social stereotype you can imagine. Wanna make a moody goth girl? Sure can. A dumb jock? Certainly. A tortured artist? Of course. Hell, if you wanna make a guy who wears a pink luchador mask and spends his time creeping around in the bushes and scaring children, you can totally do that.

The Sims 4 (PC) image

I'm a terrible person.

This creative freedom is bolstered by The Sims 4's powerful character creator. You can modify just about every feature of your Sims by pushing and pulling at their various bits with your mouse, veritably molding them like clay. The results can be as hilarious or realistic as you want. You can also design up to twenty-five different outfits for each Sim, which are sorted into categories such as casualwear, formalwear, and swimwear, and they will use these intelligently for different occasions. You can also change the sound of their voice, the style of their walk, and assign up to three personality traits.

This is also the first game I've ever seen where hats are done right. No, seriously. The hats in The Sims 4 do not, in fact, cause your characters to suddenly become bald underneath as is the case with almost every MMO and RPG ever made. Instead, the hats mold the hair beneath it so that it looks natural, and this is true for all hairstyles. It may be a little thing, but it is noteworthy, as it must've taken a talented coder to figure out how to do this. It's also a good example of some of the small, quality-of-life things present in The Sims 4 that give it a high degree of visual polish.

The house-building tools are similarly impressive. You can draw rooms, fences, decks and pools with ease and then edit them by pushing and pulling at the edges to get them into the shape you want. If the contents of your rooms get knocked about while you are doing this, they will simply filter into an off-screen "household inventory" where they can be recovered and replaced. This is a vast improvement over the rigid building tools of the previous games, where a single missed painting on the wall might prevent a wall from being moved, or a single mistake in the foundations of your house might mean that you would have to gut your entire creation and rebuild it from the ground up.

The Sims 4 (PC) image

The Sims 4 also introduces the emotion system, which is a new feature for the series. There are sixteen different emotional states for your Sims to experience, and they cause your Sim to behave differently, up to and including the way that they walk and talk. A depressed Sim will walk with their shoulders slumped and their head down, whereas a confident Sim will walk with a bounce in their step. Happy Sims will carry on conversations enthusiastically, whereas a stressed-out Sim will grumble and moan. The sheer volume of unique animations and sound clips for this is truly staggering, and it is a credit to the development team that they managed to pull it off.

The Sims 4 also does an amazing job of integrating the Sims' interactions with their environments. This allows for complex, emergent interactions to take place. For example, a Sim might be drinking cup of coffee while chatting with a friend, then choose to sit down next to her. Then he might finish his coffee, stand up, put his empty cup down, pick up a nearby tablet PC and start playing a game, all while never stopping the conversation once. In a more bustling social situation, you might see a Sim dancing at a nightclub who blows a kiss to another Sim across the room. All of this stuff feels fluid and very natural, and from a technical perspective, it is very, very impressive.

The Sims 4 also has some amazing sound design. The voice acting, performed in the made-up language of "Simlish", is some of the best that the series has had to offer since the impressive work featured in The Sims: Medieval. Even though none of it can be properly understood, Simlish is designed to sound like an actual, legitimate language, and the voice actors flawlessly apply inflections and emphasis where appropriate. The music, similarly, is absolutely incredible. High-quality licensed tracks, which have been re-recorded in Simlish, play from any stereo within the game world, and well-composed unique tracks play whenever you are building houses or buying furniture.

The Sims 4 (PC) image

While The Sims 4 has many strengths, it has also received a lot of criticism for good reasons. This is largely due to the fact that it is a step backward from its predecessor, The Sims 3, in many important ways. The open-world structure of is gone; instead, it more resembles The Sims 2, where you are limited to observing a single lot at any given time. Thus, if any of your Sims are not present at the current location, they will remain in off-screen limbo where they may or may not be taking actions that will alter the state of their skills, their work performance, their relationships, or their personal needs in ways that you might not want but nevertheless have no control over.

This might be forgivable if switching between your divided Sims was quick and easy, but unfortunately it is not. Every time you switch locations for any reason, you will be forced to endure a lengthy loading screen. This means that complex inter-community interactions are downright prohibitive. Let's say you want to send your insane, kleptomaniac Sim to his neighbor's house to rummage through their trash, steal their lawn ornaments, then run away and hide in the park. Classic Sims, right? Well, this would be a short sequence of events in The Sims 3 that would occur seamlessly without any loading times, but in The Sims 4 it would take a minimum of at least two loading screens that last up to 40 seconds each. Not fun.

Thus, you will probably end up keeping all of your Sims at home instead of sending them out onto the town, which is just as well. The game world in The Sims 4 is decidedly smaller than The Sims 3 and there isn't a lot to do. The community lots can be fun to visit, but there are effectively only four types (museum, library, park, and lounge/nightclub/bar) and they wear thin pretty quickly. There are also only a handful of homes shipped with the game, and these are divided into even smaller neighborhoods of five lots or less. While these neighborhoods have plenty of beautiful window-dressing to look at, hardly any of it is interactive. There are some fishing holes, collectibles and community gardens, but little else. You can wander these areas freely as long as you don't step onto someone's property, because when you do, you will be treated to yet another freaking loading screen.

The Sims 4 (PC) image

Get used to seeing this floating crystal a lot.

Less houses also means less households, which means that there are less pre-created Sims with interesting backstories to interact with. Part of the joy of The Sims 3 was in integrating your characters into the narrative of the town, but that aspect is almost completely lacking here. Instead, The Sims 4 populates the world with scads of randomly-generated Sims who are dressed in any old clothes, have any old skin tone, any old personality, and seemingly lack homes or jobs. They wander like zombies in an endless, repetitive march along the sidewalks of the various neighborhoods. This theoretically allows you to flag down a Sim that you might want to interact with, but you will find that most of them are bland, confusingly-dressed, procedurally-generated drones with nonsensical mixtures of personality traits.

Some of this stuff is forgivable, but The Sims 4 also harbours a single deep, inherent flaw that relates to the aforementioned emotion system. Emotions are apparently the be-all and end-all of your Sims' personalities, and the traits you assign to them at creation have little effect aside from determining which emotions they are likely to experience at any given time and how often they occur. For example, a "self-assured" Sim will tend to be confident, whereas a "gloomy" Sim will tend to be sad. This makes sense on the surface; however, I started to see the cracks in this system when I noticed that all of my Sims more or less acted the same. This is because the emotions influence the behaviour of each Sim in exactly the same way.

For example. Let's say you have a mean, dumb jock who is athletic. He will frequently become "energized" and will want to work out a lot. However, if he becomes "inspired" for any reason, he will immediately get the urge to pick up a paintbrush and start painting, even though this is diametrically opposed to his personality. Conversely, a gloomy, artistic, loner who becomes "energized" by any means will immediately start doing push-ups and want to pump iron, even though doing so is the exact opposite of her personality. The problem here is that the emotion system is only skin deep, and individuals in real life are much more multi-faceted than this. In this way, The Sims 4 fails at accomplishing what its namesake implies, that is, to be a simulator.

The Sims 4 (PC) image

This is highly disappointing. The Sims 3 already did a much better job of simulating life; its trait and "moodlet" system effectively accounted not only for the Sims' emotions, but also their behaviours, habits, mental quirks, phobias, and even some of their physical characteristics. It wasn't as flashy about it, but by god, did they ever act like unique individuals. The characters in The Sims 4 are extremely flat by comparison.

And if the simulation aspect of The Sims 4 is essentially broken, what's left? A highly sophisticated machinima tool? Seems like it. I imagine that people will get a lot of funny screenshots and videos out of The Sims 4 to post on their blogs or whatever, and that's fine. That might be enough for them, but ultimately the shallowness of The Sims 4 is what ruined it for me. It's a shame, too, because it has a lot going for it. If it had only managed to merge the good things it brought to the table with all of the best things from The Sims 3, it could have been one of the best games ever made.

Alas, it bears the stink of an Electronic Arts title that was rushed to release, and it has paid the price in the form of lackluster reception and the subsequent closure of its legendary Maxis studios. I assume that The Sims 4 is still making money though, as there are currently fifteen expansion packs and counting. Unfortunately, I haven't had the desire to pick up a single one, despite owning almost every single expansion for The Sims 3.


Nightfire's avatar
Community review by Nightfire (December 21, 2016)

Nightfire is a reclusive dragon who lives in a cave with internet access. Steam ID here.

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