I don’t envy the creators of simulation games along the lines of RollerCoaster Tycoon, SimCity, or The Sims. The task that they have in creating every new iteration is stupendously difficult. You might argue that building on the shell of what has come before ought to be easy, but I think in this case nothing is further from the truth.
In no game is everything perfect, so the challenge in creating something like EA’s The Sims 4 is in eliminating that which didn’t work in The Sims 3, improving that which did, gussying the graphics for the newest generation of computers, and adding other new bells and whistles so as to convince folks to upgrade. Then, I think, comes the real hard part making it so that all elements of the game are easy to understand and easy to use – yes, you want to reward people for playing longer, but you can’t have people walk away after 10 minutes because things just don’t make sense.
Put another way, every iteration of a simulation game needs to offer more than its predecessor, but needs to do so without cluttering the menu system or making things too difficult to understand. The real challenge is figuring out how to make that happen – how to create a game which has more things than you could possibly want going on, but make it easy to access each and every one of them.
The Sims 4, which has just released for Mac this month, meets the challenge admirably. Like every other game, it isn’t perfect, and some of the frustrations one encounters with it are truly ridiculous, but it does a solid job in updating the very successful Sims 3.
For the uninitiated, the Sims franchise is all about creating a virtual person and living out that virtual person’s life. You create a home for them, they can have a family, you build a career for them, etc. You can make choices to live in a way that is incompatible with the real world or one that mimics your actual life.
Right off the bat, Sims 4 impresses with its create-a-Sim feature. The choices one has for designing your Sim are legion, and there are nearly as many options for building your Sim the perfect starter abode. The tutorial once you’re in the starter home can be rather frustrating in its pointing out tons of obvious facets of the title without ever getting into the nitty gritty details, but perhaps will be a welcome refresher/introduction to those who haven’t played a Sims game in a long time (or ever).
EA touts the fact that The Sims 4 has improved upon the Sims themselves. That is to say that personalities are bigger, more fully realized creations. This certainly seems to be true. Many an action, or interaction, can be taken based around the way your character feels. And, if you’re not in the right mode, the choices available won’t be entirely the same. It is a system which just makes sense and which works. Sure, you might want there to be all the choices available all the time, but my understanding is that self-sabotage is not really a good thing. The game also offers, as you would expect, new items for building/buying, including a vast array of pre-fab room types complete with wallpaper/paint. You can also now share Sims via an in-game gallery.
On the whole it is great, and great fun, truly expanding on what was already a very solid base. That being said, I don’t know that it is a necessary upgrade. It feels a little like buying the newest version of Madden – sure you want it and there are odds and ends that are different, and it may be better, but is it $50 better?
Looking at the downside of the title, the issues you face in Sims 4 are sometimes quite weird, which is I think what makes them as frustrating as they are. Perhaps the best example is when you try to do something like buy and place a chess/game table. You buy the table and a chair and try to place them so that the table will be usable by your Sim only to repeatedly get an error message about there being no place for the Sim to sit… despite the fact that you have a chair in the correct location. The issue, it turns out, is that you have the wrong type of chair at the table (and apparently Sims are picky about this). I can’t figure out where one should have learned that the type of chair is important, and I’ve gone through the tutorial twice.
Another frustration is that while the game is available through Origin (in fact, the Mac version is only available as a digital release direct from Origin, but the purchase of a PC copy will allow you to get the Mac version), Origin’s cloud save feature isn’t utilized by The Sims 4. This means that your saved game is a local save, you won’t find it on another computer. It is, certainly, copy-able to a new machine, but having to walk around with a save file on a USB stick is frustrating, particularly when the game’s delivery method offers the solution.
Would I upgrade for $50?
I don’t know. I certainly would for $25 (unless I was heavily into all the expansion packs in the previous version), but $50 feels like a big ask. Unquestionably, many folks who are deeply invested in Sims 3 will tell you that this new version is awful (just look at the Amazon reviews).
There are more loads in Sims 4 than 3, but they’re shorter. The ways in which emotions are used allows seems to allow (in my experience) for more differentiation of characters. There may be less to go out and do at the moment, but is that because we’re so used to the myriad of expansions on Sims 3? What is present feels better–more real–but maybe there’s somewhat less stuff happening in the world you create right now. Without a doubt, you will still get sucked in and spend hours on your creations, be they a Sim or a building.
The Sims 4 offers a series of trade-offs with The Sims 3 and if you’ve spent a lot of time in the earlier game, you may be frustrated with them. As I said at the start, creating a new version of a simulation game is a task I don’t envy. I do think the new title is better, or at the very least offers a better skeleton on which to build. I will be playing Sims 4 and not 3 moving forward.
The Sims 4 is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Crude Humor, Sexual Themes, Violence.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00ENQXEX2]