In some respects, The Sims peaked early as a dollhouse franchise. From the start, players could create a Sim, lock them in a small cage of walls, and watch them die in a mess of their own starving filth. Really, how much higher could Wil Wright’s quirky creation station reach from there?
It’s a weird example of Sims brutality, but it’s also an old-fashioned example of the series after so many years, leading us to feel like we’ve had it for too long: Sims games are stuck in old mechanics. Instead of significantly broadening the gameplay, The Sims has largely expanded over the years through endless, optional content packs – decorations, pets, Katy Perry hairstyles, etc.
That’s all catnip for diehard fans, but for anyone who fell out Sims favor has been waiting for something along the lines of The Sims 4, which tries to shake up the core of the series without interfering with its addictive qualities. In some ways, this iteration is closer to the personality-oriented dollhouse stuff you’d expect from a rival like Nintendo.
During last week’s E3, we attended a few gameplay sessions from Sims 4 producers, where we heard the repeated claim that “we made Sims three-dimensional… inside.” Despite the cheesy phrase, however, the game’s robust character creator makes us wonder why it took EA and Maxis so long to create something like this, dishing out equally robust sliders for faces and character interests.
Take a gamble
After making solid cartoonish versions of themselves complete with personal aesthetic choices like how they walk, Sims 4 staffers went to town. Each character begins with a number of choices that shape their overall attitude, including aspirations, hobbies, emotions, lifestyle, and social style.
These don’t just adjust when happy and frowning icons appear; a character’s aspiration to become a “computer prodigy” will hand out a personality bonus if a goal is met, and a corresponding trait of being computer literate will lead her to that goal, whether she’s working or just socializing. Another character’s tendency to get fit and be a “brother” more often put him in an angry state, which producers used more positively by making him do push-ups and heavy chores.
From there, familiar Sims a game ensues: build a house, pay attention to the needs of your residents, then watch disparate people come together and develop all kinds of relationships from friendship to love to hate.
Where the new range of emotional responses and emotion-specific interactions comes to life is in The Sims 4‘s out-of-house locations, which allow you to follow your characters in a vibrant world. A computer expert will have more lucky chances in a café full of computers, while an angry brother will build up many positive stats, both in fitness and sense of accomplishment, in the game’s giant gym.
Other locations include piano bars, libraries, nightclubs, and a bustling activity park that appears to be the game’s civic center, where your personal Sims meet ready-made characters with vastly diverse interests. If you want to take care of your Sims without going far, you can build the house of their dreams and leave them alone, but jumping from location to location is easy enough and leads to location-specific searching for materials (plants, free decorations) and activities. This change seems to have been liberally adopted from people like Crossing animalsand good on EA for this welcome theft.
Careful with the cupcakes, Kim!
What’s more, unlike the always online debacle of recent ones SimCity Restart, The Sims 4 does not require an internet connection or cooperation with other players. The virtual game world may have been augmented with cool Sim-play opportunities like befriending an Elton John lookalike at a piano bar or getting workout advice from a Chuck Norris lookalike at the gym, but it’s still every player’s personal zone of madness .
That’s not to say there isn’t a welcome internet option this time around. Past Sims games included capabilities for browsing content outside of the game, which required digging through tedious web interfaces to find community creations. Fortunately, that annoyance has been rectified, since both characters and houses can be found in it The Sims 4‘s in-game browser, which pops up with a simple click during live play. In the case of houses, players can even cut specific rooms or parts from a ready-made house to place in their own house, along with a “furnished” switch if players don’t care about importing corresponding furniture.
From there, your old and new rooms can be dragged and dropped with a slick wireframe visual effect, while walls and ceilings can be dragged and dropped in an instant to make rooms bigger or smaller without having to commit to total remodeling processes.
Of course, much of the demo felt a bit too choreographed. For example, producers caused chaos at a house party through lousy roommate Kim Jong Un, who set fire to the kitchen’s cupcake maker just as Chuck Norris was about to show off his dance moves. We can’t imagine every bar visit, house party, and library stop being that action that’s in an average Sims 4 session. That said, the new elements on display felt like perfect, sensible additions to the long-addictive Sims formula. Frankly, we were surprised to leave the demos in anticipation of the game’s September 2 launch on PC.
Senior gaming editor Kyle Orland contributed to this report.