A thought that came to mind when I watched Associate Producer Graham Nardone show off The Sims 4 was that it was like an interactive sitcom. His Sims were hanging out around the house, when he logs into The Gallery (an online directory of content made by other players) and brings his mother into the game. She walks in through the front doors and in my head I could hear the live audience cheering like when a guest star appears on a show. This feeling continued when getting hands-on with the game. The ‘open world’ from The Sims 3 is gone (worlds are broken down into neighbourhoods containing a few lots, and you travel between neighbourhoods via your phone) which is disappointing, but does bring along the benefit of more Sims being active in an area at once, and they’ll get up to more interesting behaviours. Their interactions with each other are what forms the crux of the game’s entertainment, and makes humorous scenarios play out that sound like synopses of sitcom episodes:
“Zackary tries his hand at cooking and sets the kitchen on fire, while Bryant has an impromptu gathering with all their neighbours outside, completely unawares.”
“Alyse is excited for a romantic night out with Zackary but is dismayed to find him spending the night watching the football on the bar TV with some newfound friends.”
“Bryant is busting and starving tries to quickly cook some burgers for himself in the park, but the smell of food draws over passers-by from the street and he ends up wetting himself in front of a cute girl.”
The interactions between Sims are much more interesting than they were in The Sims 3, and seeing them in action has made me understand the developer’s vision some more. There’s some areas which seem like steps down from The Sims 3, but also some improvements which could make the game worth checking out still.
The first thing that’s immediately apparent is how much better the game looks and runs. It runs super smoothly, without the stuttering and pausing of The Sims 3. The interface is a big improvement as well, as it’s actually readable at a 1920×1080 resolution. There’s been a lot of effort put into the animations- you’ve likely seen the Sims’ walks in the Create A Sim demo, and that personality flows through to the main game. The Sims look much more lively, and there’s a greater variety of animations as well, for example a Sim who’s inexperienced in cooking will visibly make mistakes, like whisking the eggs incorrectly and leaving them clumpy, or dropping the salt and pepper shakers into their meal. They’re little touches, but they add personality to the game.
The next thing I experienced was the Create tools. I’d already seen the Create A Sim in action from the demo, and was planning to transfer my character over, only to find I’m a doofus and forgot to upload him to the Gallery. I randomised some Sims to make a household, while also toying around with a new tool that wasn’t present in the demo- genetics. You can specify one or two Sims, and create a new Sim who shares their genetics. You can use this to create siblings or offspring, or work backwards and create the parents of one of your other Sims. It’s a handy tool that allows you to quickly make Sims who look related.
With my family ready to go, I had to find somewhere for them to live. Looking at the world screen, it was evident that the worlds are much smaller than those from The Sims 3, and with less variety of lots as well. The default world I was playing in didn’t have restaurants or a grocery store, but did have a gym, library and some bars/clubs. It’s much easier to move between worlds now, though (Sims can travel between them just like any neighbourhood or lot within their own world) which means you can still have plenty of locations to visit with your Sims. Any Sims left behind while travelling will live their lives automatically. They’ll eat, sleep, go to work- when you return you won’t find them in the same position you left them.
Anyway, I settled on a cheap empty lot so I could try out the build tools. I won’t lie, my houses usually don’t look the best, so I was thankful for The Sims 4’s new feature that allows you to place prebuilt rooms onto your lot, and drag/reshape them as necessary. It makes building a house much easier, as you don’t have to worry about the layout and furnishings as much. The build tools are much more powerful and user-friendly, so you have much more control over how your buildings look. There didn’t appear to be an auto-roof function, so I ended up covering my Sims’ house with this Frankensteinian creation of a roof:
From there I was free to let my Sims loose on the world and see what they get up to. It was quickly apparent how much better the Sims’ interactions with each other, and the world, were. Sims not under your control will do more, and interact with your Sims in more interesting ways, which is further assisted by the emotions system new to the game. My favourite scenario I encountered while playing the game unfolded while sending one of my Sims out to the gym. Upon entering the gym, there were quite a few Sims already there- some working out, some exiting the lot, some talking. It felt much livelier than lots in The Sims 3. The segregation of the open world into smaller neighbourhoods is certainly disappointing (especially since there’s a short loading screen you have to endure even to visit a different lot in the neighbourhood), but it comes at the benefit of having each section of the world feel much more lively. You feel like you’re playing on a set of a film or TV show rather than a big world, but it means the locations are more dense and populated with Sims actually doing things.
My Sim got hungry, and because there weren’t any restaurants in the world (yeah), he had to look around for another source of food. Thankfully in the park at the border of the neighbourhood there were plenty of barbeque areas. I sent him over to make some burgers, and was planning to send him to the bathroom when he was done because nature was calling. While he walked over to the barbeque I had a look around the rest of the neighbourhood and saw other Sims going about their business. A few were just passing through the neighbourhood, while others were hanging around. There were a couple of Sims having a barbeque in another section of the park, having conversations with each other, and one Sim was reading a book on a bench on the side of a path. Then I head back over to my Sim and see none other than Bob Pancake from the promotional material walking over to join him at the table!
They begin talking and having a good time while eating, and more Sims walking by joined in, forming quite a big gathering. It was great seeing this interaction take place without me directing it all, it makes my Sims feel more like part of a bigger world. My Sim then tried to chat up a girl who had sat down- but wet himself in front of everyone. This made him feel embarrassed, and wishes changed to reflect this. Wishes return from The Sims 3, and are your Sims current wants and desires. Achieving them gives you points that you can redeem for rewards. My Sim now wanted to wash himself up and give himself a pep talk in the mirror. He did so, and came out feeling inspired afterwards, which raised his spirits and helped him talk to others again. It probably helped too when he went off to work later that day. Another weird omission in the game is that Sims’ workplaces don’t actually exist in the world as ‘rabbit holes’ like in The Sims 3, they head off from the current lot and effectively disappear until their shift is over.
You can tell when playing the game that social interactions are the big focus of The Sims 4, so whether they sound interesting to you or not will decide whether or not the game is worth buying in spite of features that have been removed. Even the more ‘structured’ interactions have been given quite an overhaul. Sims have aspirations, which are like the lifetime wishes from The Sims 3. These are the big thing Sims want from their life, like learning all the recipes in the game, or raising a successful family. They’ve been fleshed out so that now they have ‘tiers’ consisting of smaller goals that lead up to the main goal. Gatherings, too, have had some tweaks. Two of my Sims went out on a date, and now there’s a progress bar showing how successful the date is, so it’s not as vague as it was in previous games. The game will list some things you can do in order to boost this bar, like having both Sims feel flirty, or asking the other Sim about their day.
I can definitely see what the improvements in The Sims 4 are. Some of the removed features certainly are baffling removals, but there’s still some really cool systems at play in the game. It’s hard to say at this point whether or not the game is a full improvement or not over The Sims 3, but I’m certainly feeling more optimistic about the game than I was before I got to try it out.
The Sims 4 launches on PC September 4th in Australia