The Sims 4 review

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Well, Maxis has certainly had a bit of a thrashing, hasn’t it?

Despite the underlying improvements that came with SimCity, the internet had spoken – it did not like the reboot. Not to recap on everything too much, but here it is in a nutshell: Maxis made design decisions the internet did not like, Maxis said it was impossible to change these elements, the internet proved it wrong. And when you’re on the internet’s naughty step, often there’s little you can do to free yourself from its disdain.

Which has, unsurprisingly, affected The Sims 4.

See, this iteration of the popular life simulator is perhaps the safest yet, as though Maxis was wary of upsetting the boat any more and inadvertently capsizing the whole operation.

It begins – as does so many Sims games – with Create-a-Sim, the glitzy storefront upon which The Sims 4 is supposed to rely on. There’s no faulting the glean of it, either; this is by far the easiest to use and most tactile Create-a-Sim yet. But here’s the first opportunity for diehard fans to grumble: as you might expect, simplicity also bears restriction.

Where other Sims games allowed for in-depth, intricate control over every aspect of your creation’s physique through sliders upon sliders, the most recent is a little more subtle about it. In The Sims 4 you’ll use your mouse to tweak and tug, push and pull, slimify and enfatten. Want a thinner nose? Highlight the area, slowly drag the cursor and you’re done. It might not sound easier than dragging a slider from one side of the bar to another, but it’s actually keenly intuitive – it is clever GUI design at its utmost and perhaps the best Create-a-Sim yet, at least in ease of use.

But yes, it is restrictive. To ensure each and every Sim fits into a particular remit of socially-conceived beauty, the boundaries that are in place here will feel particularly close for anyone experienced with the franchise.

It’s a very fine line between mechanical improvements (the system is better, is more fun, is easier to use) versus that contradictory negativity that comes with simplicity. You’d probably worry that building a home suffered similar fate, but in truth this particular area remains as strong as always. A heap of new options embolden the mode, while sleek UI design means you’re never stuck for ideas on what to add next.

It’s perhaps not as intuitive as Create-a-Sim – especially thanks to often inexplicable reasons for parts not working – but does the job amicably. The wide-range of options means you’ll be able to build every range of structure: from grand, ornate mansions to trailer park homes or those gorgeous flat-pack, glass-only houses from Germany.

It’s not perfect, mind. Roofs are manual additions and while that opens up greater depth and variety, they don’t fit in The Sims 4 ‘mold’ – it’s there because it needs to be but with only four types of roof it can be a pain to slot everything in neatly, especially if you want to use angled walls. Just look at the number of Maxis-made homes that feature roof-less buildings; as with SimCity, it’s a blinkered American view of the world that forgets the true finesse and artistry of architecture. Then there’s object placement that, once again, remains grid-based and restrictive. Angles are harsh (and awkward to use) and though there’s a little more flexibility within those grids as to where you can place objects, it still feels like we’re playing The Sims 3.

t’s a franchise 14 years old, it’s about time the option to place a sofa at a 37 degree angle was made possible.

It’s sort of an understandable dilemma, though; the grid-based system helps your Sims navigate their worlds and interact with the objects in it, but in spite of general improves they’re no smarter now – not really – than they were over a decade ago. Except now they can multitask. Now you’re free to play games and poop, chat and exercise and many other ways to improve the condition of your Sims general happiness just by combining tasks.

Still, same old frustrations can arise while you demand actions of your Sim for them only to ignore all that and instead stand around chatting or – worse still – doing completely nothing at all. Pathfinding and AI has not really advanced to a standard we should all expect, but what has is improved is the Sims themselves. It’s here that the true revelation of the game shines through.

Aspirations and personality traits truly customise the way they might react to the world around them, but also with the people they meet. It makes for characters that feel real – more so than any other Sims game – and helps cater the way you play. Your Sim’s needs better tailor the decisions you might make for them, easing the reins of even the most stalwart of controlling players – more so than in The Sims 3 even. A Sim’s emotions correlate with the actions they can complete – a particular favourite being the ability to ‘have an angry poo’. This leads to fascinating, entertaining situations, but if the cost is a number of missing features it doesn’t always feel worth it – not when these moodlets aren’t a particularly original idea and can be instigated with such ease as to cheapen the actions when they are available.

The franchise has always been better when each game is viewed as a complete whole, but it’s hard to ignore what has come before. Neighbourhoods are bizarrely restricted to the static menu screens a la the original Sims, swimming pools are gone completely and entire career paths are missing where more audacious ones take their place.

In many ways The Sims 4 is a beginning, its core foundation of functions playing their parts beautifully. But in others it feels like a step back, like a set of systems designed around future expansion in mind and not providing the necessary wealth of options from the start. Though The Sims 4 does so much to widen its berth, diehard fans will likely be looking to moor up somewhere else entirely.