Much has been maligned about EA recently, regarding loot boxes and the way they operate the business as a whole. So, without wanting to dwell on a subject that far more educated people have a far better opinion of, I need to address The Sims 4 main menu issues first and foremost. After all, The Sims made DLC and expansion packs cool and enjoyable before they were mainstream.
The Sims 4 starts like any other game: developer screens, publisher screens, splash screen and then ‘Press A to start’. No surprises there.
Then when you get to the main menu, the play button is located in the top left corner, but the rest of the screen is taken up by advertisements for The Sims 4 DLC, and then also by a ‘DLC Checklist’ underneath the play button showing you what DLC you have and what you do not. Any you have are highlighted and any you don’t are not lit up, really playing into people’s compulsive natures.
These little reminders that DLC is available aren’t just limited to the main screen. As you move between different locations, certain ones are also greyed out that are related to the DLC. I haven’t noticed such an obtrusive way of trying to get a gamer to buy DLC before. And I don’t like it at all.
DLC frustrations aside, The Sims is one of those games that every man and his dog knows about, having first been released back in 2000 on PC. Back then, the life simulator was a much simpler affair, but achievements and trophies didn’t exist, so cheats were present in most people’s games. I’m not ashamed to admit my characters were all lounging in the big mansion on the hill because I used as many cheats as I could physically type in.
Nowadays – whilst cheats are still present in the console versions – the game is a much more robust affair. Pretty much every notable action has a skill associated with it; one that can be levelled up and progressed. And with traits and aspirations returning, then you can really fine tune your Sims to be individuals.
This extends to the newly designed Create-A-Sim feature as well, if you can figure out the controls. Being a port from a PC game, it doesn’t appear that any thought has gone into the control system at all. Most options and icons are around the edge of the screen and you move around a cursor to select these. You can also press the Options button to flit between the menu sections or move the cursor if it is on the main screen. It is very difficult to do this at first and you will frequently find the cursor launching off in all directions before you figure out the correct sensitivity. There is unfortunately no way to change this in the Options menu. It takes several hours to get used to the controls and even then you will find the easiest way to navigate is to do so manually – by spamming the B button until you return to cursor mode which can take at least three presses sometimes – rather than switching through the icons using the Options button.
The Create-A-Sim feature can be a bit daunting at first, as most of the menus are no longer sliders, as now body parts need to be dragged and shaped manually. Again it is not ideal with a controller. There is a tutorial mode present, not just here but throughout the whole game, however this again is difficult to keep track of due to the controls. You are more likely to end up skipping that altogether to avoid the confusion, but then you’ll find yourself missing most of the crucial tips to make the playing experience smoother. All-in-all, the first couple of hours of The Sims 4 are tough to get your head around.
The Sims 4 on consoles looks to include most of the post-release PC updates, including several gender updates to the Create-A-Sim. This now includes the ability to wear any item of clothing, regardless of gender, and the ability for anyone to become pregnant if you choose to. By default, this is turned off though so will need turning on.
Once you have created your first Sim family, it is time to move them in. You can choose from three locations – or four if you have the DLC – and from a few pre-built houses or empty plots of land. The pre-builds can come furnished or unfurnished depending on how patient or creative you are. For those that want to jump straight in with their virtual lives then this is a good feature to start with, and all the hassle of building your home is gone completely. There are offerings for any budget and size, and look a lot better than what you could typically achieve yourself.
Another new feature in The Sims 4 is a complete re-working of the Sims personalities and traits, and how their various day-to-day actions have a direct impact on their moods. If you assign a lazy trait to a Sim and have them clean up after themselves for most of the day, their mood will drop as a result. Create a gamer Sim and, if they haven’t played a game for a period of time, you will visibly see the agitation on their face and in their mood.
These emotions have a huge impact on how your Sims will interact with who and what’s around them. My main Sim is currently learning the violin and has gotten to a stage where he can write songs; to increase the chance the song will be a hit I need them to feel inspired before penning it. To do that, I have him take a ‘thoughtful’ shower which gives him the moodlet ‘Inspired’. Now, the song that I write will have a higher chance for making more Simoleons to add to my fortune! Similarly, if a Sim takes a steamy shower, they will come out feeling all flirty, opening up some exclusive options to seduce the Sim of their choice. Nothing beats the old-fashioned Woo Woo though.
Showers aren’t the only way to earn different emotions. They are one of the easiest, but a lot of the games’ fun comes from figuring out original ways to earn specific emotions to then open up the new interactions.
Most of these skills now tie into the achievement list too. Of the 50 achievements in the game, 29 are directly related to maxing out a skill or a career, and veterans of the series will know that’s enough to keep you busy for a while. Many of the other achievements are related to long lasting families, and the ghosts they bring with them, including one for keeping a family going for 26 generations. Those expecting an easy completion are barking up the wrong tree.
It’s the playing around with the fundamentals of The Sims gameplay that is the best thing about this game now. The Sims is a tried and tested formula that has been honed over four main games and plenty of handheld spinoffs. But this experimentation, when combining what you already know, a host of new tools, and the fact that every game allows for a new result, keeps it exciting. If you can stick around after being thrown in at the deep end with the ‘robust’ DLC releases and, quite frankly, awful controls then The Sims 4 is definitely worth it.