Available for PC (Mac coming later)
As the latest full revamp to the long standing Sims series, there was always going to be a lot of pressure on The Sims 4 to do something a little different. For The Sims 4, developer Maxis has attempted to go back to basics, focusing on major improvements to the Sims themselves, their interactions, emotions and movements.
Big changes include layered actions, letting your Sims function a lot more like you or I – chatting while having dinner with your family, enjoying background music while having a conversation or even playing a mobile game sitting on the toilet.
There are great improvements here, but there are some things (such as the worlds themselves) that will disappoint fans loyal to the series.
To start off with, The Sims 4 throws you straight into Create a Sim (CAS), showcasing the totally revamped creation tools immediately. Down the left hand side you’ll find the personality tools, where you can give your Sim a name, Life Aspiration, Personality Traits and adjust the way they sound.
Unlike previous Sims games there are three vocal tones to choose from for teens, young adults and elders and these have adjustable pitches too. There are two vocal choices for children, and these are adjustable too. Of course, as you’ll already know, The Sims 4 has done away with the toddler age range, skipping straight from baby to child.
Following your personality options, you’ll want to assign your Sim a Walk Style. There are several to choose from, ranging from snooty to goofy to feminine to a rather impressive swagger. These Walk Styles influence how your Sims move in Live Mode, but you’ll notice that their movements are also reactive to their emotions. For example, they’ll slouch over when they’re tired, or hug their knees together when they’re desperate for the toilet.
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Once all that is set, you can move onto customising your Sim’s looks. In The Sims 4 there are no multi-layered slider bars. Instead you just click on the part of the body you want to change and push and pull it into the shape you want. This works for the side of your Sims tummy, arms, legs or head, but also with the more intricate areas like eyes, lips or facial bone structure.
It’s all very smooth and intuitive. We far prefer The Sims 4’s version to previous CAS tools, but it can take some getting used to. You’ll notice it’s all very smooth and slick in terms of transitions too. If you don’t want to go into too much detail, there are presets for you to scroll though for all elements of your Sim’s body.
Sadly, the Create a Style tools from The Sims 3 also haven’t made the Sims 4 cut. Instead you are presented with a range of colour options for each item of clothing. This allows for a certain amount of customisation, but we immediately missed the ability to choose specific colours and patterns for our Sims’ outfits and it was something we came to mourn even more in Build Mode.
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Again, for those looking for a quick fix for their Sims’ clothing options (for which you can personalise their Everyday, Formal, Sports, Sleepwear and their Evening wear), Maxis has introduced Styled Looks to pick from, each with a few colour options.
Of course, there’s an even easier way to get a custom built Sim into your Sims 4 experience and that’s through The Gallery. This brand new feature is a great tool for The Sims 4 as it incorporates the Exchange from The Sims 3 into the game itself.
By clicking on The Gallery icon in the top right hand panel, you’ll bring up all the user created Sims, rooms, lots and other content. From there you can import them straight into your game. We were a little sceptical as to how easy this would be in the final game, but it’s surprisingly easy to add Sims to your household or add pre-made rooms to existing lots. This feature makes accessing the community's content a lot easier than any other Sims game before it.
Once you’ve got your Sims kitted out and customised, you’ll want to take them out into the real world, outside the CAS bubble. We’d advise getting stuck in straight away, chucking your Sims into one of the pre-made houses and playing around a bit before getting bogged down in Build and Buy Mode.
This is where The Sims 4 really shines and you’ll notice most of the development has been focused.
The whole UI has been completely streamlined so you’re focus is entirely on the action happening on screen. But, down in the bottom left hand corner, you’ll notice one of the Sims 4’s great features – your Sim and their current emotion with an appropriate coloured background.
Your Sim’s mood will change quickly according to their needs, interactions, actions and surroundings. At any one time, your Sim will have three active desires, indicated by the thought bubbles above their icon’s head. The far left of these is always emotion driven, so you might see your Sim wanting to exchange a kiss with their beloved if they’re feeling flirty.
More importantly though, the actions available to your Sims will also change according to their current mood. If they’re feeling angry for example, you’ll be able to direct your Sim to calm themselves down in front of a mirror or instruct them to be mean to their fellow Sims.
As we’ve mentioned before, you should also keep an eye on the way your Sim, or those around them, move, as this can be a key indicator as to the mood of a group.
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Another major innovation for Live Mode is the actions queue. Unlike The Sims 3, where you could only have one live action at a time, The Sims 4 lets you layer multiple actions on top of each other for a more realistic experience.
Your Sims can engage in group conversations, starting texting a different friend, grab some food or have a dance seamlessly. All actions layer onto of one another and transitions happen smoothly and easily. Having a chat with a potential boyfriend and want to take the conversation somewhere more quiet? You can move to a bench across the lot without breaking the conversation.
It all helps build a more realistic Sim as you’ll find your Sims carry out actions independently of you, depending on how their feeling or who is on a lot. It also makes for some very funny occurrences, such as our Sim pulling out their phone for a quick bit of gaming while sitting on the toilet.
This helps Live Mode feel a lot more fluid and dynamic, bringing your Sims to life in a way never experienced before in previous Sims titles.
But, this comes at a price. The worlds in The Sims 4 seem stilted and small, with actions limited to individual lots. If you’re expected the seamless worlds of The Sims 3, you’ll be disappointed.
You’ll have to use your phone (albeit conveniently always accessible via a button in the bottom left of the screen) to travel to a different lot, rather than being able to walk, drive or bike there. In fact, The Sims 4 doesn’t have any vehicles that your Sims can use. There’s no carpools either, which means when it’s time for work your Sim simply walks off the lot. No mad dash as you finish your cereal before the carpool drives away anymore.
That means if you want to go to a different location, whether that’s a friend’s home or community lot, you’ll have to encounter a loading screen. These won’t see you sitting there for more than a minute, but it’s still a frustration that long-time Sims 3 gamers will be surprised to have to deal with.
It also limits the storytelling abilities for The Sims 4 as it lacks the continuity and flow of its predecessor. Something that detracts from the enhanced emotions and intelligent actions.
The Sims 4 offers two worlds from the off, Willow Creek and Oasis Springs, which can both be accessed from one live game. Despite this though, the game seems a lot smaller than previous titles. There are barely any empty lots for you to stamp your mark on and you’ll find that the lots themselves are even smaller than pervious iterations. Community lots are always packed with NPC Sims but there isn’t that much to actually do on them, unless you add in some of your own content.
It’s worth bearing in mind that this is a base game, so it was never going to offer the expanses The Sims 3 has to its name now. But it seems EA and Maxis are being overly reliant on expansion packs and DLC to enhance the map sizes in The Sims 4.
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These World issues therefore spill over into Build Mode too. If you’re looking to build your Sims their very own mansion you’ll find there aren’t many empty lots for you to build on at the beginning. Unless you want to bulldoze existing lots – which isn’t easy – you might have to cram your creations into the small empty lots that are available, leaving not much room for a lush back garden.
Just as with Create a Sim, the Build Mode tools have been stripped right back to make way for easier creation methods. You can now place room shells and then click on the arrows to make the rooms bigger. You can drop in template L-shaped, octagonal, square or even circle if you fancy it and expand them from there.
Unlike previous games you can adjust the roof and wall heights, which translates to different height windows and doors too, for further customisation options. There are also roof trims and other details to be added if you wish at a later date.
There are no pools though, which is something we really miss from previous games and not just because we liked taking the stairs away. The Sims 4 also lacks terrain modification tools, so all lots and landscapes are pretty flat.
The Sims 4 Build Mode has been made a lot easier for beginners though, as you can choose pre-built styled rooms to drop onto a lot. In this way you can build a house like a jigsaw puzzle, slotting in rooms where you want them.
This also lets you pick up, move or rotate any existing rooms – even the ones you’ve lovingly crafted by hand – to different places on the lot, which is great for making quick adjustments.
Other quick tools include the option to auto place windows on entire rooms. This sounds like a time saving feature but it’s very glitchy, especially for non-rectangular rooms. We much preferred doing it manually so that the windows sat in the position we wanted them.
The entire layout of the Build/Buy Mode has been changed, too. You’re now presented with a little mock-up of a house not dissimilar to something you would have drawn as a child. Each section is interactive, so if you want to add a door, just click on the door. It’s all very intuitive and it translates across to the Buy Mode too. There’s a little IKEA style show kitchen, bathroom etc that lets you click on the individual parts to explore the Buy Mode catalogue.
We really liked the new layout, but there is definitely some skill and a lot of patience involved if you want to build a complex, architecture wonder from scratch in The Sims 4.
Although the Sims 4 is missing a lot of key features from The Sims 3, the changes made to the Sims themselves make this an interesting iteration. In some respects it feels like the Sims for beginners, stripping back the more complicated tools for more intuitive versions so that the game can really focus on the Sims themselves. The Sims themselves are in their prime, the best representation of human interaction that we've seen from the series so far.
That’s not to say it’s in any way perfect. The worlds themselves feel smaller and lack the cohesiveness of The Sims 3, even at a basic level. The build tools can be frustrating for those used to building their homes without pre-built rooms and push/pull wall tools. But there’s definitely not enough here yet, despite your minimum £50 investment.
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