The Sims 4 Hands-On: Personality Is Everything
It’s been 14 long years since the original The Sims was released. I played that game obsessively for years, buying every single expansion, and camping out in Sims community forums to talk with other addicted players. Several years later The Sims 2 was released and the story was the same. Then came The Sims 3. When the game wasn’t crashing, it was still enjoyable but didn’t turn me into a recluse the way the first two did. Then came an absurd number of sequels and spin-offs that took the series everywhere from The Urbz to back in time, and nowhere I was much interested in going. So here we are in 2014 and The Sims 4 is set to launch in just under a month. Is it the return to form that this former Sims-addict has been waiting for?
The game begins, as always, with the ability to create your own Sims. The cosmetic customization options have been greatly expanded, with a wide array of body types, skin tones, hair styles, and more to make your Sim look like just about anyone you can think of. Players can now literally click and grab body parts to sculpt them beyond the game’s preset body-types. As a mixed race person with a somewhat atypical body type I’ve often struggled to successfully recreate myself in a game and The Sims 4 is the closest I’ve ever gotten. I will say that with the level of customization available clothes and accessories are still dictated by gender, which I’m sure will be restricting to non-binary players or players who simply want to go against the grain with their designs.
Character creation goes beyond simply the exterior as for the first time in the series Sims will have distinct personalities. Players give their Sims a series of pre-determined personality types in the form of aspirations. Some Sims might value social interaction over all else, while others might be interested in being famous. You also choose three more sub-aspirations, which help to make your Sims more multi-faceted creatures. Personality is everything as it affects both individual and social interactions drastically, shaking up some of the series’ core gameplay. Sims with similar interests will obviously bond more easily, but the mixing and matching of multiple personality types in the game keeps the system from being too simplistic. Sims can even mentor each other if they are pursuing similar skills and have complimentary personalities. They can do everything from take selfies to troll teh interwebz.
Each personality comes with unique attributes that open up new gameplay possibilities. If your Sim is a bro, for example, you can make them give bro-hugs and they will be more energized when around other bros. A loner Sim, on the other hand, will have their energy sapped if you force them into social situations for too long. Adding to all of this is the welcome ability to multi-task. Sims can now get to know each other while also cleaning or working out. This which adds a sense of realism to their interactions while also streamlining the tediousness of waiting for tasks to cycle through.
Switching from live-mode to build-mode is where the game’s real bread and butter is. The basics have all been refined, but the level of customization is deeper than ever. Players can really craft their dream home right down to the small details, like how high or low paintings hang on a wall. If you’re less interested in building from the ground up as I am you can import a number of pre-designed rooms and features into your house and then customize those as you see fit. You can also build your own custom rooms and save them to be re-used later by someone else.
Custom made rooms, items, and even Sims, can be uploaded to the Gallery which let’s players browse custom content made by others from around the world and plop them into their own town, all without having to exit the game. I brought Beyonce, Zayn Malek, Miley Cyrus, and an original Sim made by another player that very day, into my world with just a few clicks. The next big pop culture event will no doubt bring with it a wealth of Sims from creative gamers who will want to share their creations online. So if you’re not a whiz with character creation but want your favorite actress to move in chances are somebody will have you covered.
The Sims 4 has its fair share of flaws. The camera in particular proved to be rather frustrating at times, especially when trying to get up close and personal. The level of detail on display calls makes me want to zoom in and see everything, but it’d often taken several attempts to get the camera exactly where I wanted it to sit. Even when keeping the camera locked on a particular Sim it would occasionally get stuck in weird places. It’s not a game-killer but considering this game will no doubt be a blast to screenshot and share online you’d think the camera would be easier to play with.
It’s also worth noting that some mechanics feel like they were lifted from the original game. Sims might get confused and not be able to finish simple tasks. Managing multiple Sims at once can be frustrating as they’ll sometimes have the same needs at the same time, especially in they keep similar schedules. So you better have more than one bathroom in your house if you have more than one Sim living there, or you might find yourself with a mess on the floor and an embarrassed Sim to console. There’s a level of challenge with the game’s mechanics that keep it from being entirely a voyeuristic affair, but the AI could afford to be smoother.
Problems aside, The Sims 4 feels like a great new entry in the franchise. Classic gameplay elements feel the same as ever but the sheer amount of things you can do and the level of customization available is unmatched. You could easily spend all of your playtime just building Sims down to the smallest details. The demo I played went on for hours, but they flew by as I explored the beautiful neighborhood of Willow Creek. While the last main series entry underwhelmed me this latest effort I can see myself losing many days to after it launches on September 2nd.