The Sims 4 (Series Snapshot – May 27 2017)

Developer: Maxis / The Sims Studio
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release: 2014 / 2015
Platform: Windows, Macintosh
Genre: Life Simulator
OFLC Rating: M

What are Sims?
Before the franchise debut in 2000, these were the pixel sized dots that moved on the sidewalks depicting the citizens in the game SimCity. Playing SimCity 2000, I learned that sims were quite fussy and only built no more than three spaces from any given stretch of road. Then we found out what these little fusspots actually looked like and just how fussy they could actually get with the introduction of The Sims. Sims are the simulated people who can be shaped from their appearance to their initial personalities. As for the game – it is many things to different people and could make for a good venatology report as no two reports would read the same. There are three main characterisations for defining what this franchise is. Firstly, a “Dollhouse” experience where players will tell stories through the sims they create and control. Secondly, this game is considered to be one of the guilty pleasures among computer games as players can experiment with all kinds of things – that kind that players aren’t necessarily comfortable sharing, let along talking about. Finally, The Sims is notorious for being an interactive torture chamber where only pixels are harmed in the making of one’s sadistic pleasures. One thing that many would agree with is that The Sims can be extremely addictive as hours will pass like seconds when players become deeply engrossed.

Technical

The Sims is also the franchise that released (arguably) the most expansion packs for any given game, each one adding to the overall experience. The original game saw a total of seven expansions. Then came The Sims 2 with the addition of booster packs that added extra content to game without necessarily altering the experience in any way, these were branded as “Stuff Packs” and retailed considerably less than the expansions. The Sims 3 was the first game in the franchise to feature downloadable content (DLC) delivery, used primarily for offering individual pieces official additional content from EA / Maxis. Eventually, this would be used to purchase and install all expanded and boosted content for the game. Then we have The Sims 4 carry on where it’s predecessor left off and introduced “Game Packs” that were essentially mini-expansion packs to roster of expansion and content delivery. Mods and custom content has existed since the beginning, but The Sims 2 introduced the ability to install mods with ease through mod management systems built into the game and introduction of the package-files (they actually used the extension .package). Initially, you could open them like an executable, then The Sims 3 allowed you to import them through the game’s launcher. Now, you simply drag and drop them into the game’s mod folder – “\Documents\Electronic Arts\The Sims 4\Mods”, The method for importing custom content on both Windows and Macintosh is more or less the same whereas the folder locations can vary.
The Sims has advanced with each new series – The Sims 2 introduced ageing, progressive life-states, The Angel of Death (The immortal sim who would collect the very recently deceased), facial expressions as well as desires and fears along in addition to their personality settings bound to the Zodiac that also determined a sim’s birthday. The Sims 3 overhauled personalities by redefining them with selectable traits. This series brought about a single persistent world that removed the need to load up between lots and allowed sims that weren’t being played to age. The Sims 4 however, despite making advancements to sim personality and multitasking as well as making stable game overall for both Windows and Macintosh takes a huge step back with by reverting to loading between lots but allowing unplayed sims to age through life states off-screen. Essentially, you’re getting a base game that feels like The Sims 1.5 with just how much has been stripped. Thankfully the expansion and game packs along with the major updates have helped to add meat to what was a bare-bones experience to begin with. But it is a shame that so much had be sacrificed to deliver a stable experience for all platforms in order to dramatically improve upon The Sims 3 instabilities – In other words, I’ve only ever had a single crash with The Sims 4 on my MacBook Pro to The Sims 3’s countless.

Gameplay

For those who’ve never played a series (base game and expanded / boosted content) in The Sims franchise, this one doesn’t really differ terribly from it’s predecessors. In the original series you had to issue commands via a point & click interface for every single one of a given sim’s actions. Essentially, The Sims (original) was a digital Tamagochi style game where failing to maintain any particular sim would impact negatively upon their health and wellbeing. The Sims 2 is largely responsible for shaping the franchise with the basic suite of features and sim autonomy that we’ve come to expect. Autonomy allowed sims to live their day to day lives, leaving players to focus on the bigger picture for a given household or neighbourhood. With autonomy, The Sims 2 introduced whims that impacted the game by adding greater challenge with fears and desires shaped by a given sim’s personality. The Sims 3 overhauled the personality system from one that conforms to profiles dictated by the Western Zodiac and shifted to model which allowed players to shape sim’s character through picking traits, a sort of strengths and weaknesses based system. The Sims 4 redefines the personality system to not only display whims, but also adds moods that react to events, people and surroundings impacting a sim’s behaviour when presently active. Like The Sims 2 the game will load up between lots. However, sims no longer have vehicles that provide those novel little transit animations instead simply disappearing and reappearing.
Okay, what do you get out of The Sims 4?
Like the first, the purpose is to maintain your sims’ basic needs on top of living their stories vicariously through their digital lifespans. These needs are Energy (or fatigue), Hunger, Hygiene, Social, Fun and Social. These are displayed with gauges reflecting positive and negative, maintaining these will mean the difference in a sim’s present emotional state. However, allowing both energy and hunger to reach critical levels of negativity can mean certain death if prolonged in said state. A sim’s happiness is defined not only by maintaining a positive condition levels, but also maintaining one’s mood through fulfilling their desires. You can have up to three at a given time, which are displayed as thought bubbles. Hovering the cursor over one will reveal a discard and thumbtack (keep) option as a sim’s desire will shift, unless you have that sim keep it. By having your sims complete a desire you are able to improve a moods and score points toward a sim’s aspiration. Aspirations (unlike The Sims 3) are interchangeable for any given playable sim and can be switched out at any time. Aspirations function as a bucket list of sorts, where sims would check off the respective accomplishments throughout their lives as opposed to the traditional reference of a checklist of everything you want to do with the remainder of your twilight years. Essentially these function as sets of challenges for your sims to beat – There is no real need to complete them all, unless you fall into the completionist category of simmer. Just as you have desires, your sims have fears and they are triggered upon an event that puts your sims in the respective negative mood state. A sim’s mood is displayed as a hued aura around that sim’s portrait in the bottom left corner of the game user interface and below are icons with corresponding colours. These will display the basic reason for that given mood – example, soiling one’s pants will result in an embarrassed mood with a yellow hue. Winning the lottery will likely give your sim a very happy mood with a green hue. In a positive mood, your sims will be more compliant when you are steering them in certain direction or just trying to get their conditions into a good balance.
At the end of the day (whenever that may be) every player is has a story to tell through their sims regardless of whether we’re actively telling one or finding ways to amuse ourselves, every experience your sims live through is just another scene in that story. If for a moment, you’re wondering about whether or not their’s more to this sandbox besides unleashing your inner architect, interior designer and / or fashion coach – There is. Don’t let all your sims die, otherwise your sims will get a rather amusing visit from the Angel of Death himself and you will be greeted with the infamous “Game Over” message window.

In a nutshell, The Sims is basically an epic marathon game of Lemmings in a dollhouse-style sandbox – But what extra stuff do you get from the packs?

The “Get to Work (Expansion Pack)” adds the Detective (Police Investigations), Doctor (Hospital) and Scientist along with self-employment careers that your can actively participate in with your sims as well as reintroducing aliens. The “Get Together (Expansion Pack)” adds the ability to join and / or create social clubs, and yes I have actually tried to make “Fight Club” – Whoops! I spoke about it. Anyway… The “City Living (Expansion Pack)” gives your sims access to condominium and penthouse rental properties, with the key difference of having full architectural freedom with a penthouse as opposed to an apartment. The “Outdoor Retreat (Game Pack)” will allow sims to go on holiday and grant access to national parks where sims to can camp out in chalets and tents. “Spa Day (Game Pack)” introduces massage therapy, yoga along with general relaxation and wellbeing related activities. The “Dine Out (Game Pack)” adds the restaurant dining experience for you sims to partake of and expands the self-employment options from “Get to Work” with the opportunity for your sims to become restauranteurs. Then there’s the “Vampires (Game Pack)” that reintroduces vampire sims in a whole new surprisingly satisfying way. The key difference between expansion and game packs (aside from the price), comes down to whether or not you get a new region to play around in along with the new experiences and content to customise your sims and lots with. Stuff Packs more or less themed content booster packs with one or two minor gameplay functionalities thrown in. Here in Australia, The Sims 4 in it’s entirety will likely set you back around AU$469.10 (Deluxe Edition $89.95 + EPs $49.95ea + GPs $19.95ea + SPs $14.95ea), and that’s not including new content promised for this year alone!
Are these packs really necessary? Electronic Arts would like to think so (obviously), and to a certain extent they are very necessary if you’re looking to put meat on a barebones experience.
Overall, The Sims 4 as a series is hit and miss – leaning to more toward decent hit with the packs installed or an “Airball” if you’re going to skimp out them.

Final Thoughts

DAMN YOU EA! I could’ve bought a new computer or console with the money I spent getting into and maintaining The Sims 4!!! FIVE BLOODY BICKIES!!! (Strine for AU$100s)
I can’t complain too much… Since expanding the game, I have had some good times and few to no crashes unlike the Macintosh build of The Sims 3. The Sims 4 has brought some good stuff to the table, but at the end of the day previous series have brought forth far superior experiences with fewer packs.

Is The Sims 4 worth it?

If you’re devout fan of the franchise, then that’s not a question I have to ask.
If you enjoy the dollhouse sandbox experience, then The Sims 4 will provide that enjoyment.
If you’re new to The Sims, you’re either going to have to purchase this series over time or… Well… Anyway, you get the picture.

Report Card

Quality: A
Gameplay: B
Content: C
Skill: A
Technical: A
Value: D
Audience: Youth