By Head Editor Christina Rivera
As most of my friends and loved ones know, The Sims is a very important video game series to me. I’ve been playing God to tiny pixel people since I was a preteen and got the first game for Christmas. I’ve achieved more lifetime wishes and aspirations for my Sims than I’ve even attempted to in real life. So, naturally, I was thrilled to follow news about The Sims 4 until release day, and even threw a mini temper tantrum on Twitter when I realized that, in my throes of passion, I’d forgotten to preorder the game entirely. Still, though, I got my game four days later–not bad for someone who rarely cares about getting games close to release! So, naturally, days after getting my grubby little paws on it, I’ve been playing TS4 constantly.
And it’s…weird, but not for the reasons you’d think.
I’ve been playing these games for somewhere around twelve years. I started with, of course, the first game in the series, which hooked me faster than my young mind could process it. But recently I realized that, despite years of playing The Sims and caring so hard about the series (spending time on the fanmade wiki, downloading custom content, meticulously building houses…), I realize that I’ve literally never played one of these games upon release. I’ve always gotten the games umpteen patches and a few expansion packs after their debut–meaning that I picked them up years after the initial release of the base games. By this time, the games are hitting their stride: problems are fixed, new features are added, and, overall, the game is more fleshed out and varied. But, you see, I’m playing TS4 without anything other than the two patches released only a few days ago. I’m playing the vanilla of the vanilla here, with the only bonus content being that which was included in the Limited Edition. And there’s barely any fanmade custom content out, as the stuff made for the Create A Sim demo released in July doesn’t exactly work with the full game.
To be completely honest, I was a little afraid–not just of the price tag, but of playing a pure base game untainted by expansions or even the possibility of custom content. I mean, even my first time playing The Sims 2 (which was somewhere around mid-August, when EA released the Ultimate Collection for free) needed heaps and heaps of custom content, because–well, to be honest, the default options are ugly as sin. If I didn’t like a shirt, or hairstyle, or even the faces, I could find something I did like and use that instead, thanks to a decade of dedicated creators.
But what if I don’t like anything in TS4? I’d have to suck it up and either get used to it or come back when content is available, which means I wouldn’t get to put that $60-plus-tax to use right away. Did I mention the game costs $60 USD? And that’s for the Limited Edition, which seems to serve as the Regular Edition, which I personally think is bullshit. I spent most of the time between not having and having the game fretting about that cost. For someone whose game library mostly consists of used and already relatively cheap titles, that’s kind of alarming. I’m pretty sure my anxiety about the cost also comes from living in the unemployed post-grad wasteland, but that’s another story.
So, anyway, I bought it. And…I liked it. What the hell, EA?
Yes, it’s different. And yes, there’s things missing–pools and toddlers, like those against TS4 like to holler about, but also things that were actually important to me. What surprised me the most is the lack of cars and bikes. Sure, they’re not necessary, as Sims basically fast-travel from location to location (read: there’s loading screens, but they’re bearable even on my mid-range laptop!), but I kinda miss having them as an option. But, really, I can look at this list of features missing in The Sims 4 and realize I didn’t care about or utilize most of these features in the first place. Did anyone who’s mad about the exclusion of pools actually use them in-game? In TS3, all my Sims would do is play in the pool and disregard their responsibilities. Which, yeah, is sorta realistic, but it’s a bit worrying when they refuse to feed themselves because they’re busy splashing a friend.
Everything in TS4 is rebuilt entirely. Everyone knows about Create A Sim’s complete overhaul via the free demo, but everything’s been revamped in a way that makes creation accessible to those of us who had trouble coaxing TS3‘s controls into doing what they wanted. With previous games (notably TS3), players had to really know how to manipulate the game in order to make the perfect house. Everything from foundations to roofs had to be placed in a specific order lest you destroy everything you created.
So building and creating your Sims’ dream homes in TS3 meant you needed a lot of time and patience, as well as a prefabricated plan beforehand. That’s too much work for me! I just want to put what’s in my head on the screen and move my Sims into it.
And that’s pretty much what The Sims 4 lets me do. It’s kind of baffling, honestly, how delightful it is to have so much power in my hands. Roofs and, most notably, those tricky foundations, can be placed on your building at any time. Windows, like most wall objects, can be placed anywhere along the wall at any height you wish. Options for friezes and roof trims make houses look a lot better, too. You can move whole rooms–even the whole house–around and rotate and stretch them as you please. It’s a whole new system to learn, sure, but it’s a hell of a lot welcoming than past games ever were.
Basically, Build Mode is wild as hell, y’all. I was able to go in without any plans or concrete ideas as to what I wanted my house to look like and just made it happen. Lack of Create A Style makes things even easier; I was able to take inspiration from neighboring houses and outright copy the wall and floor patterns that they used. Really, my only problem is that there aren’t enough vacant lots (two per neighborhood) for me to practice on. There isn’t even an option to place new lots in a neighborhood. Get on it, EA.
(Also, a quick tip: Shift + ] lets you scale items infinitely in Build Mode so long as you’ve turned testing cheats on. I have no idea what the purpose of this is other than to make it look like your Sims worship large household objects. I can’t get enough of it.)
Creation tools aside, the way Sims behave and interact with one another is more realistic than it’s ever been. Sims can hang out in large group chats and are more willing to befriend and even talk to strangers, and Sims can multitask now! It’s fun to figure out what combinations of tasks work. So far, most of the combinations I’ve tried have been successful. Some are charming, like eating yogurt in the bathtub, while others are…well…
Emotions add to the goofy cartoonish vibe the game’s got going for it. Angry Sims stomp around the neighborhood and grumble sarcastically to others while sad ones wander listlessly and sound like they’re on the verge of tears. Similarly, there’s certain actions Sims can do only when they’re feeling a certain way, like baking flirty heart cookies or hiding from everyone when they’re embarrassed. It adds a different dimension to gameplay that I never thought I needed. It’s a lot better than pretending your Sims feel a certain way for the sake of making the game more interesting, or if you’re someone who likes to tell a story with your Sims.
Of course, there are the usual problems and weird issues that could only exist in an EA game. I’ve experienced numerous graphical glitches ranging from Sims clipping into each other to houses exploding into ribbons of stretched graphics. Sometimes I load my game and the Sims that I know were out of the house simply show up back home like it’s no big deal. Whenever I save, it seems like the screen scrambles up in a glitch art-esque horror, and at one point, the UI completely lost its metaphorical head, with half the graphics missing and the colors washed out. But, really, that can be fixed. It wouldn’t be an EA game without the necessary hundreds of patches, after all.
Frankly, $60 USD is way too much for a base game. I won’t dispute that. But, by God, do they make it worth the money for people like me. Call me a sucker, diehard fan, whatever, I’m just glad I don’t find it disappointing. Now that I actually have the game and have played it enough, I feel like most criticism of the game comes from people taking the expansions and patches of the more refined TS3 for granted. It’s better to look at this game the way you’d look at any Sims base game: it’s a way to familiarize yourself with the most basic controls and functions, to see what’s new and what’s different. Kind of like a trial run before investing any more money in the inevitable investments. The Sims 4 is still a baby, and I can’t wait to see how it looks when it ages up.