“If you can ignore an iffy set of controls and focus on the content of the game on offer, The Sims 4 is a delightfully well-constructed package”
Me and The Sims go back a long way. Some of my favourite memories with my brother when we were younger were playing the original game, Bustin’ Out and The Sims 2 on our PlayStation 2. Sneaking out of our bedrooms early in the morning, being careful not to wake our parents, just so that we could get an hour or two of these games in before inevitably getting in trouble makes for a delightful anecdote. Because of those days, every opportunity to play the latest instalments in the franchise is a pleasure. Many other fans my age feel the same way. Why? Because they allow us to live out a life that is outside of the realms and restrictions of reality.
For those of you who are new to The Sims, the games take the form of semi-realistic virtual life simulations, and over the years the series has grown significantly in its intricacies and depth. The Sims 4, the latest instalment brought to the market by EA’s Maxis studio, is no exception to that rule. The traditional model of creating a virtual sim and leading them through the stages of their life has remained largely the same, but new and improved mechanics meet enhanced levels of complexity and detail to offer player the most outrageously open and substantial offering to date.
Traditionally, The Sims followed a pretty set pattern of play. To begin, you create a Sim and determine their style, personality and, in later games, aspirations. After that, you build that Sim a house, find them a job, make some friends, discover a love interest, have a baby, help that baby grow up and then repeat. Along the way, however, you had to make sure your Sim fulfils their basic needs, such as food, hygiene, bladder control and fun, among others. A happy Sim could be taught new skills and would thrive. A sad Sim could spiral downhill and lead a less prosperous path. It’s a lot like real life, but the real charm of the experience is that you can do things in the game that you could not do in real life. What The Sims 4 on console does is grow these systems in new and exciting ways, offering a greater and more rounded gameplay experience.
For the first time, console gamers, for instance, are able to enjoy the full PC experience of the game. This means intricate house designs which allow you to construct something more than just a bungalow, for starters, which is something the console editions of the game have lacked to date. This, in itself, will feel like an overhaul for players who are not used to the function. Creating a Sim is a more fruitful experience than ever too, allowing you many more options than the previous games. Some of these options come in the form of increased gender options, from whether your Sim will dress as a man or woman, to determining whether your Sim can have children. Not as important, perhaps, yet equally pleasing as a feature is the games new multitasking system. No more long queues of action after action waiting for your Sim when they wake up; multitasking in the Sims 4 means your character can do some tasks simultaneously, and for long-term players that will sure feel like a step up. There seem to be lots of little upgrades in The Sims 4 which build upon the previous game, which is certainly good news for players.
With a new Sims game these days inevitably comes a new stage of life to walk your virtual humans through the stages of. In The Sims 4, this is the troublesome days of the toddler. Should you choose to have children in the game, they will inevitably grow into one of these emotional little rascals. They are needy, challenging and filled with a burning rage just waiting to be set free. Sometimes, finding the cure to this aggressive side can be a trial and error ordeal. It is not always clear what will calm your toddlers down, and all the while your grown-up Sim’s stress levels will be rising towards critical levels. Sounds almost like real life, right? I guess that means the devs have done well here, not that the darn toddlers are happy about it!
The additional benefit of the delay between the original PC release of The Sims 4 and the recent console release is that this latest version is a more content heavy and complete version than the game started its life as. Most significantly, the toddler stage of life for your Sims and the ability to install a swimming pool in your living room are present from day one. PC gamers had to wait for these additions in the form of updates after the initial release, which is strange if you consider that the pools have been a staple since the series’ inception. Nevertheless, these additional features join a fine flurry of frills that the Sims 4 adds to its predecessors’ models. On the content side of things, this game does well.
Visually the game is bright, fun and enticing, just as it has always been. The level of detail in certain game objects and particularly in the face of your Sims is an impressive step up. Audio, to match, is charming and quirky, making long term fans feel comfortably at home when the Simmish starts rolling. If the semi-pseudo European language of our would-be computer-generated neighbours puts you off, however, you might find that this is only the beginning of your troubles…
Despite all of the content benefits that console players can enjoy from day one, there is a painful problem with The Sims 4 on the Xbox One system; the controls. The game comes out feeling like something of a bad port, with Xbox players having to use their left analogue stick as if they were moving a cursor around a computer screen. Some shortcuts exist, and a quick menu will help you with these, but it is not enough to make playing the game feel smooth. This brings several problems, from weird acceleration to a lack of fine-tuned control with the tiny menu options and buttons. The core of the problem is simple; an analogue stick simply isn’t a mouse. As such, it isn’t fine tuned enough to manipulate this level of very specific motion, therefore falling short. Given that the rest of the PC to Xbox transition has seemingly been a positive one, this feels like a pretty hefty and disappointing oversight. This, more than anything, truly made me miss the good old days with my brother. If we had it right then, why is it not there now? Fingers crossed the system will have been worked on for console gamers by the time we hit number five!
If you can ignore an iffy set of controls and focus on the content of the game on offer, The Sims 4 is a delightfully well-constructed package. The detail is phenomenal, the content is great, and the systems have finally reached PC-standard on a console system; something Sims fans have been waiting on for many, many years. Unfortunately, the discomfort of gameplay caused by the transition mishap makes it difficult to enjoy this package at times, and that must knock a few points off the board.
Anti-DLC gamers should also beware. Although it is not new for the Sims to feature numerous expansion backs, the additional paid content for this game is frequent and abundant. Some packages are visibly more fruitful than others, so it is easy to pick and choose, and gamers certainly do not need to buy the content to continue to play and enjoy the base game. Whilst this DLC is not thrust upon you, though, it is worth being aware that it will sometimes be nudged in you direction in an attempt to pull you in…