I absently rubbed the ache in my shoulder while my mouse hand continued to zip around the table, clicking incessantly.
I had been playing The Sims 4 for six hours.
For fans of The Sims, this is a familiar feeling. If you’re new to the series—well, strap in for the ride.
The Sims 4 is an interesting amalgam of new and old, and while longtime Sims fans might be disappointed in what it has to offer, for a new generation of Sims players it’s everything you could want.
What Is The Sims?
The Sims is a series of, well, Simulation games that started with the release of The Sims in the year 2000. But all that is ancient history. The Sims 4 asks longtime players to forget some facets of the earlier games—and new players won’t know or care what they’re missing.
In The Sims, players create families of virtual people, each with their own personalities and aspirations. The player guide their Sims through life, careers, and love—and lots of home improvement.
You can build and furnish your Sims’s house, direct them in their interactions with other Sims, and tell them when to make dinner or go to the bathroom.
It sounds mundane, but it sucks you in from the start.
Making Your Virtual Family
Your Sims journey starts with Create a Sim, or CAS.
Here you can select your Sim’s gender, skin tone, voice, and walking style. You can adjust body type and facial features.
You adjust your Sim’s features by clicking and dragging—it’s almost like molding virtual clay. You grab and move eyelids, angle nostrils correctly, widen lips, and fill out cheeks with your mouse.
It’s not easy to get the hang of it—it’s not always obvious what body part you’re grabbing, and the game can be a little touchy. For example, in “detail edit mode” we were able to adjust minutiae—like eye size and shape. But we could only rotate the tip of the nose outside of detail edit mode, and only when the mouse was in a very specific place.
There are all kinds of overlays and options in CAS. So much so that I was constantly afraid I was missing something. Clicking on a part of the face will bring up the menu associated with that feature. From that point you can select, say, a pre-made chin, and then adjust it to exactly the width and length that you want a chin to be.
This was crazy-fun once we got the hang of it. It took me about half an hour to make a likeness of myself that I was happy with, and my mind was buzzing with possibilities of who I could make next.
I think the fine detail editing will be beyond the scope of younger kids, purely because of the specificity needed to click and drag the different features. However, I don’t think it will be detrimental to the play experience. There are still plenty of pre-fab features to choose from, and creating Sims always gets easier with practice.
One of the best things CAS has done in this new incarnation is allow modification of separate body parts. You can raise or lower the body fat and musculature of your Sims with separate sliders; on top of that, you can adjust each part of the body on its own, allowing for greater body diversity representation than ever before. So if you want to create a string-bean biker with muscular legs but a weedy torso—you can do it!
And yes, this means you can adjust breast size and butt size. And I give The Sims 4 props for allowing players to change the chest size of male and female Sims.
CAS doesn’t end with body manipulation. You also choose character traits, aspirations, and clothes for your Sims. The outfits are great. Previously I’ve been displeased with clothing choices in Sims games, but The Sims 4 has great styles available, and it lets you change the color of each piece of clothing.
Aspirations and personality traits dictate how your Sims will behave and what they want in life. A Sim with the “Popularity” aspiration can aspire to throw great parties, be a professional entertainer, or just make lots of friends. Love, Money, Athleticism, Creativity, Family, and more are all aspirations.
Personality traits range from simple things like “Good” and “Evil” to more complex things like “Hot-headed,” “Goofball,” or “Perfectionist.” Personally, I found the selection of traits to be adequate, though not outstanding. This generation of Sims is touted as being smarter than other Sims, but ultimately Sims are cartoon characters—caricatures of real people.
I might be a little more complicated than an Outgoing, Cheerful Goofball in real life, but for my Sim-self that seems totally appropriate.
Playing the Game
The weirdly compelling gameplay of The Sims has lost a little of its luster since I became a working adult myself. At midnight, as I lamented how my filthy Sim needed to shower and how she would probably need to wake up early to eat breakfast before work, I realized that I too was filthy—and that I would never get up in time to have breakfast before work in real life.
As a kid, though, I could sink hours into this gameplay and into the fantasy of having my dream career. In the Sims, I picked up my smartphone, checked the online job listings, and got Sim-Simone a job as a writer. Boom.
The steps to career advancement are easy to follow; it’s just a matter of fitting them into your Sim’s day.
Each Sim has a set of needs represented by a meter. Your Sims need to eat, use the toilet, sleep, have fun, be social…the list goes on. Keep all these needs in the green and your Sims will be fine. Fulfill their needs and inspirations, and they’ll take on temporary moods, called moodlets, that will boost their performance.
For example, as an Outgoing Sim who wants to be an entertainer, Sim-Simone often wants to tell jokes to people. If I make her do so, she’ll take on a “Playful” moodlet that will make her want to tell more jokes and keep her happier for longer. If your Sim wakes up with a full bladder after sleeping in an cheap bed, the consequences will include an Uncomfortable moodlet—and a sore back for three hours.
The moodlets add great direction to a game that can seem directionless. It’s rewarding to fulfill several moodlets all in a row, and I found myself rushing to achieve as many moodlet-related actions as I could to keep positive moodlets going; I was even disappointed when my negative moodlets (like being tense from a hard day at work) wore off before I could get my Sims to vent their frustrations on their friends.
It’s micromanagement personified, and it’s fun. The Sims tests the player’s ability to multitask, and the complexity rises with every additional Sim in your household.
If you check in with kids playing The Sims 4, you’ll be amazed at all the tasks they’re juggling: work, school, household chores, maybe a garden.
And, of course, relationships.
When a Sim Meets a Sim…
Making Sims interact is the chief attraction of The Sims games, and The Sims 4 doesn’t disappoint.
The game has a weird, quirky sense of humor—we were delighted when we found out that one of the “Playful” moodlets gave my Sim a desire to “Flash Crazy Eyes” at her friend.
As we watched Sim-Simone spout gibberish, wide-eyed and waving her arms around, my coworker commented “It’s just like you in real life.”
A great deal of the humor comes from seeing real people in completely outlandish situations. These Sims might be smarter than others, but they’re still ridiculous.
In an attempt to access the sexual content of the game (don’t worry, more on that later) I had my Sim take a man on a date to a local nightclub. We were sitting at a cozy table in front of a fireplace, which I got up to light. In the time it took my Sim to light the fire, another woman sat down in my chair and started chatting up my man. Excuse me?
Then three more Sims gathered, surrounding our table and holding out their hands in some strange ritual. I realized they were warming their hands at the fire. Then my boyfriend got out of his chair and started doing push-ups on the floor.
It wasn’t the best date I’ve ever been on.
The interaction options with other Sims seem pretty diverse—maybe a little too diverse. There are general options that you access when you click on another Sim—things like “Ask About Day” and “Tell Joke About Ducks.” You know. Standard Sim stuff.
Then there are the sub-menus. Romantic options, friendly options, mean options—I did yell at that woman who interrupted my date (if you’re mean enough, your Sims can hit each other—and get into fights). Holding a conversation with another Sim can be a mad rush of clicking back and forth through menus, looking for exactly the interaction your Sim wants.
“Propose a crazy scheme?” Uh-oh, where was that one again?
I don’t think this is a bad thing; the learning curve might be steep for new players, but I’m glad to see that the content is there. Building relationships between Sims is generally the most compelling part of the game.
So yeah, onto the sex.
You can make your Sims have sex. It’s called “WooHoo” and it is represented by a flaming heart.
It’s not all that hot. In the interest of science (I did it for the kids!), I had to try it. The Sims 4 is only rated T, and the animations are in keeping with that. Your Sims can kiss and hug and cuddle, and when the time is right, they’ll hop into bed and the covers will move a bit and they’ll giggle a lot. Then they’ll go to sleep.
Sex in The Sims is akin to playing with Barbie dolls. As a kid, I remember being intrigued when I mashed my Sims together, but it didn’t illuminate anything about what was happening. It’s the same in The Sims 4.
If you’re wondering about alcohol in that nightclub I mentioned before, don’t worry. The drinks there cost 30 simoleons (Sim dollars), but they had funny names that only slyly reference real alcoholic beverages (the Wrench was one that stuck out to me). Your Sims can’t get drunk, and there wasn’t any sexy dancing in that club either—unless you count my date and me individually flailing our limbs two full feet away from each other as sexy.
Build Your Dream Home
What would The Sims be without building?
The Sims 4 combines Build mode and Buy mode in a way that is not entirely intuitive—but they added a wonderful new search function that allows you to find exactly the piece of furniture you need to complete your living room set.
There’s a lack of nice roof, wall, and carpet texture, but when it comes to objects, The Sims 4 is very serious about decor. Aside from the usual furniture pieces, there are lots of miscellaneous “clutter” items—like a rack of pots to hang in the kitchen, or a stack of books to place on a desk—that can really make your Sims’ house feel homey.
Like the Create A Sim, the new Build/Buy mode will be difficult for a longtime player to get used to—but for a new player, the customization will seem endless.
The Sims 4 also makes building houses easier by introducing prefabricated rooms, which you can get pre-furnished if you so desire. I had some trouble modifying my house though; some of the windows and other wall-hanging items didn’t seem to snap correctly onto the grid. I had paintings intersecting with windows, and I couldn’t place things in what was seemingly a perfectly empty stretch of wall.
I’ve never been hugely into building my own houses, but this was obnoxious. The ease with which I could create new rooms was a pleasant surprise, though.
The Sims 4 almost feels like a reboot. EA has taken the staples of the series and considerably reworked them. In the case of Create A Sim, this feels like a fresh new way to play.
Otherwise, though, the game retains a lot of similar gameplay to The Sims 2—a personal favorite of mine, but maybe a little too cut-and-dried for players used to the extreme micromanagement of The Sims 3 (in which you can accompany your Sims to work, to the grocery store, everywhere).
I didn’t mind the removal of those features. A word of caution though: The Sims is a series that thrives on expansion packs. There’s a lot of concern from Sims players that the features that were taken out (like swimming pools and the ability to go to work with your Sim) will be added back in later as expansions—which will, of course, cost money.
If you buy The Sims 4 for your kids, there’s a good chance they’ll be coming back to you later begging for an expansion pack. The expansions are fun, but rest assured The Sims 4 is a complete game on its own.
The Sim 4 is just as weird and addictive as its predecessors. I played it for a long time—probably too long—and I still feel like there’s a lot more content to explore. At $59.99 it’s expensive, but it’s also a fun game that you can sink a lot of hours into. The Sims has been capturing the imagination of kids since the year 2000, and The Sims 4 has the potential to keep up with its predecessors.