Review: The Sims 4

The engine and interface presented in The Sims 4 are much cleaner and seem to work quite a bit better, but the feeling of emptiness is hard to overcome.  There's so much that feels missing from The Sims 4, and the few things that were added only serve to highlight and draw attention to those deficiencies.  The customisation system from Sims 3 is out and Sims 4's is much more restrictive, chiefly, but much is missing.  Worth it on a sale, or in the inevitable DLC collection of "here's all the stuff we cut out for DLC"
Review: The Sims 4
Date published: Apr 9, 2015
2 / 3 stars

The Sims 4 is the latest installment in the popular Sims life simulator series developed by Maxis and published by Electronic Arts.  The Sims 4 released to a lot of controversy when it first came out, to quote Yahtzee out of context it was very much regarded as the Sims "another one" and was chiefly regarded more for what it subtracted from the formula rather than added to.  Some ways later and on the heels of its first expansion, it's probably come long enough along to take a good look - it was unfinished at release - and I have to be honest, while I wouldn't say it's as good as the Sims 3 to make that inevitable comparison, I find myself not anywheres near as "down on it" as many others.  The chief gameplay mechanics are tighter, the visual style and interface have gotten quite a nice-looking overhaul, and the game no longer needs the computer of the Starship Enterprise to play, being much less of a resource hog, but it seems they spent most of their time on that core game, because many of the customisation aspects are gone.

In fact, its a little strange to see the new additions to customisation,
given how much of the customisation aspects from the Sims 3 that 4 doesn't have

I suppose you could say it's more a fundamental change in what you can customise in the Sims 4 more than anything else: where before you could texture clothing in just about any material or colour your heart desires, but the underlying model other than the face was mostly the same, in Sims 4 that's been inverted: now the clothing is fairly static with just a few colour presets for each item, but you can freely shape just about any aspect of the sim's body.  Rather puzzling, really, that they would not do both.  I have my suspicions that the customisation level that Sims 3 had, bonkers as it was, was the root of that engine's performance problems, but it seems to me they've gone perhaps too far in the other direction, with the amount of customisation now on offer in terms of clothing and the like now seeming restrictive.  It's actually very much the amount you had in the original Sims, and you'll have to excuse me if "as much as the original" for the fourth entry in a series that had been building steadily on that original seems a bit regressive.

The question here becomes: is the trade-off between that customisation worth it.  I can't say that I didn't enjoy having more fine control over the appearance of the sims, to be fair, but not even being able to change the colour of the clothing beyond a scant few presets was frustrating, so it's a mixed bag I suppose.  At the end of the day though, I have to ask: why is this one or the other?  Why can't we have both?  I would have considered it a pretty balanced and worthwhile trade-off to not be able to texture everything just so, but not even being able to change the colours much was definitely the tipping point for me, as I said.  Disappointing really, but at the very least, it does feel like a solid base.

The main problem with Sims 4 is the value proposition:
70 dollars is a lot for something that at best feels like the foundation of a game

Which is what this feels like really - it's not bad, it's rather solid, but it's also rather stark and bare, not really all that full of anything.  Its the basis of a good game, but not really enough to stand on its own.  It's a matter of the value proposition here - on balance of considerations there's much less stuff here than there was in Sims 3 in terms of customisation and that is a lot of the draw of the game.  Recreating your friends or favourite fictional characters and letting them live out your little stories you have in your head is very much the attraction to the Sims series, so seeing 4 dial it back in this regard, and then ask for quite a bit more than its predecessors did as the asking price, well, I can't say I'm very impressed.

Let's put this as bluntly as I can then, just to be clear: the Sims 4 is an alright game, a good foundation for the inevitable DLC to buiild upon, but it is not worth the 70$ Canadian it asks retail.  There is nowheres near as much stuff here as was in the base game of Sims 3, let alone if you're a fan who got all the expansions for Sims 3, and it is a bit of a case in point for how I have often said the price point can greatly determine how people perceive your game.  If we were talking about a 20$ game here, then a lot of people, myself included, would be fine with it (and indeed that's close to what the sale price was, when I got it on sale on Origin) 

Central mechanics are quite refined, however, comparatively

Credit where credit's due, the central concern with Sims 4 seems quite self-evidently to rebuild the core from the ground up, and the actual game mechanics are where that shows the most.  All the same core mechanics you remember are here: the base needs, the skill system, and the jobs, and they work as you might expect.  The devil's in the details and how they've been built upon.  Sims now have long-term "moods" that affect their performance and abilities, such as for example, a "Happy" mood where they get special conversation options ("brighten day" for example) and often different "moodlets" for it, such as a "Feeling Good" moodlet for having well-kept needs.  That's probably the big addition, and it's easy to understate how this changes things.  It makes the different fluctuating needs and moreover managing them easier as well, in addition to giving the sims a good touch of personality and flair.  I rather liked it, and it's definitely a solid addition to the formula.

There's many other smaller changes as well.  The skills are broken down a bit now, though they function in mostly the same way, such as how the Music skill is now for each instrument, which makes a bit more sense.  You now choose three traits for a sim in creation rather than four, with the fourth being a trait related to their aspiration, a design move again no doubt meant to make it easier to achieve those goals.  The Life Happiness rewards are expanded quite a bit, and theres items in there to instantly cure needs at a bit of a fair price for them.  There's new skills as well, or at least new compared to Sims 3, I can't purport to have all the expansions, such as Comedy or Mischief.

This was kind of there in pasty games, as you could have sims converse around the table or play games together, but the idea of doing simultaneous activities is now part of the core interface in Sims 4, and your sim can browse their phone or eat meals while watching TV now, among many other things, that again makes it easier to balance those needs, and moreover is a touch more realistic as well.  Always seemed a bit silly that you couldn't do both.

You are probably wondering to yourself if all this talk about the balancing and rebalancing, that tinkering with the formula for ease's sake has made the game too easy, but in fact, I found it "just right" - its much easier to see to the sim's everyday needs now, but it's also a longer road to fulfilling the overarching life aspirations or getting the whole way on the career track.  The game has essentially given you more tools to deal with the sim's wants and needs, so it also expects more of you, and that seems quite fair indeed.  It has definitely seemed to inch much closer to that design goal of "easy to learn, hard to master"

The interface has also got a once-over that benefits the game

The one other big change with Sims 4 is the interface, and I have to confess this too is mostly sharpish.  It's presented very stylishly, the pertinent information with moodlets is easy to draw up, and all of the pertinent moods information is conferred at a glance now, as well as having easily-accessible tabs for the skills, job, relationships, and inventory.  I found it much fewer clicks in general to get where I wanted to get in terms of the interface now, and that is assuredly an improvement and addresses my one big beef with Sims 3.  The social radial menu is now contextual - the first screen will be populated with things that address the needs and wants of the sim, so its less clicking around there as well.  A lot of thought has gone into that, and I rather appreciate it.

This makes some of the problems in the game in that regard a little striking, though I do want to say that its much better than Sims 3 (and Sims 3 wasn't bad, either).  The one main complaint I had is the options aren't readily accessible from the main menu, you have to do it from the escape menu, so if the game defaults to a bad resolution (as it did for me) you will have some fuss fixing it.

Graphically the game presents quite well, both in terms of style and fidelity

This one is more of an extension or embellishment on Sims 3 rather than a change per se, but the graphics style presented both in terms of the user interface and of the actual art design is pretty neat.  I rather liked the caricature type art style on offer, which does a very good job of conveying the emotions of the sims at the small size you're usually seeing them unless you're taking screenshots.  That same oh-so-beautiful tilt-shift effect from SimCity sees a use in a much nicer game here too, and just in general, the game looks gorgeous.  Not all of the textures are the most detailed, but they're presented sharply, without and blockiness, and look good both up close and from a distance.  All that too, in addition to being less sluggish and much more snappy in response than Sims 3 was, so kudos to the dev team for that.

The Final Word: Neutral - The Sims 4 feels like a “back to basics” retooling of the franchise, with tighter core mechanics and a fair bit more ability to customise the physical attributes of your sims, but it didn't get far enough along in that revisioning to offer good value - compared to its predecessors there’s a vast lot of house items that are missing and the ridiculously-detailed texture customisation from Sims 3 is gone.  It’ll be worth it on a good sale, or when a compilation with DLC releases.