|The Sims 4 no longer has the Toddler life stage. Newborns grow straight into young children then teenagers|
The Sims 4 is probably one of the most anticipated games of this year. The series is one of the best-selling game franchises of all time and consequently has a large following - a following that is no doubt aided by the fact it targets the broadest demographic possible i.e. everyone. This isn't a game that only white, heterosexual males can play (in fact, they're probably not as likely to play this) but it caters for both male and female, young and old.
This means trying to satisfy all of these fans is no simple task. If you're releasing a sequel you've got to keep things fresh yet at the same time don't deviate too much from the original formula that you alienate your existing fans - at least that's the ideal situation. The reality is you're never really going to reach this equilibrium. You either pick the minor update to the game with most work being done in the graphics department (e.g. Starcraft 2 or Counter-Strike: Source) or you take a big leap of faith, a bit like what Maxis did last year with the reboot of SimCity. To be honest, I respect Maxis for giving it a shot, trying to make things fresh. Unfortunately, the execution was severely flawed which meant not only did you already lose your existing fan base, you weren't exactly going to win any new fans either.
So what about The Sims 4? Where does it lie on this spectrum between incremental changes to paradigm shift? Before I answer that question I am aware that many features were cut from The Sims 4 when you compare it to its predecessor, The Sims 3 but to be honest, I found most of the omissions trivial and could be easily countered with fresh, new gameplay concepts. So that's what I was really looking for when playing The Sims 4: does it tread enough new ground so that the sacrifices it made were not in vain?
What I like
- Create a Sim: The new Create a Sim tool is probably the best I've seen in the series and is definitely the game's strongest point. In fact I think I spent at least a couple of hours creating a new family just using this tool (and that's not a testament to how difficult it is to use, but how many options you get this time around). You're now actually given the ability to sculpt the body in different parts, instead of using a purely slider-based approach: now you just select, hold the mouse button down, and drag.
- Goal-based gameplay: This isn't really anything new but it seems to be brought along from The Sims 3. The game has several goals you can achieve that will help grant you rewards and even unlock certain furniture for your house - yes that's right, you don't get all the furniture unlocked from the beginning. This is of course a double-edged sword since some, like myself, likes the challenge of being able to unlock these (a bit like Steam achievements) - others might find this really frustrating since it goes against the whole notion of The Sims games being sandbox games.
What I don't like
- No family tree: At first this was a deal-breaker for me. Why wouldn't you include the ability to see how everyone in your Sim family is related? It really makes no sense if you have generations involved. I reconsidered and eventually bought the game when I was told that it still retains familial relationships but it just doesn't do so via a family tree infographic. I'm still reserving judgement on this once I go past two generations, so at the moment, it's only a minor inconvenience.
- No "normal" professions: In the The Sims 4 you have career paths like astronaut, or secret agent or movie star - which are obviously attainable careers but how many people in real life would be actually doing these jobs? A small percentage. The Business career track has disappeared completely and so has Medicine, Military and Science. Yes it's nice to aim for jobs that you only fantasise about but it'd be nice if the kids playing this game could also focus on getting jobs in more realistic pursuits (yes, I went there: "BUT THINK ABOUT THE CHILDREN!")
- Lack of services or "why the hell do things break so much": Yes I'm aware that certain items have reliability ratings and yes after time you're able to upgrade showers, taps, etc. to break down less often. But why do you even need to do this if you have the money? I suppose the option to "replace" items is the equivalent of a repairman but it would've been nice to have that old ability to call him in. Taking the manual approach of repairing everything can take a couple of days and by then, other things would've started to break down again, meaning you're spending your entire life working, eating, sleeping and repairing the house (instead of spending time with family, socialising with friends or focusing on your career - unless you want to be a plumber that is, oh wait they got rid of "normal" professions)
- The SimCity Council must've zoned the plots: There's only a handful of plots of land that you can build on in the game and only two towns you can build in: a New Orleans-themed town and a desert one. Obviously the councils of the 2013 SimCity were responsible for the zoning...
- There's nothing really that new: This is the major issue I have with the game. I think Maxis and/or EA were truly burned by the SimCity fiasco since it seems like The Sims 4 is missing a lot of potential new features and they've taken the safe route of just redoing The Sims 2 with the inventory system and personality system of The Sims 3 with little true innovation in gameplay. Yes, the Sims have emotions now, but from what I can see so far, the emotions mechanic doesn't change things much, and while Create a Sim is definitely better this time round, you're not going to be spending all your time in there.
VerdictIf I never played a Sims game before, or I was at least aware of the games but never touched a product, The Sims 4 is a good game and at its core is still what a Sims game is all about: it is the ultimate virtual doll house simulator. My only issue is that for the legions of fans out there, The Sims 4 currently doesn't feel like it's got the longevity of its predecessors. Yes, every base game of The Sims had cut down features but at least every base game had something truly innovative to brag about - I can't find that in The Sims 4, at least not yet.
[ LINK: Official The Sims 4 website ]