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The Sims 4 review: Toying with emotions

The Sims 4 heralds an all new generation of virtual beings fans have grown to love. These sims are smarter, more autonomous, and more emotionally charged than their predecessors. But when I moved past the new features, I began to realize that it's the same old sims all over again.

Better living through technology

The Sims 4's biggest achievement is in its completely revised Create-a-Sim character creator, which does live up to the hype. Anyone that wants to put in the time can recreate almost any celebrity, friend, or family member using a set of robust and easy to use tools. Not only is it much easier to recreate different ethnicities, but sims can come in a large variety of different body types. Customization includes minute details like the sound of voice and the way they walk. Clothing and accessories are neatly organized into categories, and selecting them in different colors is simple and intuitive. If you'd rather get straight into controlling their lives, using the random sim generator, or the genetics option for family members, can be just as impressive as putting a sim together from scratch.

Once your sims move into their house, the action really starts. These are the smartest sims ever to walk around on screen. They have an unprecedented level of autonomy, and will take care of their basic needs on their own. So, players don't have to micromanage every move unless they want to. If a sim needs the bathroom or food, it will automatically take care of that need unless directed otherwise. It can be tempting to simply sit back and act as a voyeur, watching sims interact with each other and go about their daily lives. However, sim autonomy generally ends with taking care of basic needs. They don't cover advanced behaviors like fulfilling wants and working toward achieving their life aspirations, so there is still a game here.

Other enhancements include significant improvements to the house building tools. Now, instead of having to delete entire rooms and toss the furniture back in, walls can moved and resized on the fly. There are also some impressive premade rooms that that players can drop straight into their houses, which greatly streamlines the building process. It's especially useful for quickly dropping an extra bathroom or kid's room into a home and customizing it to match my style. As if that weren't enough, there's a built-in gallery system where players can browse through custom content created by other players. It's very easy to create, share, and download whole rooms, houses, and even custom sims, complete with skill training and aspiration progress.

However, not everything is perfect in the sim world. The house customization can be a little finicky at times. It can be difficult to see and select things like doors, accents, and mirrors when the walls are in half view, even after rotating the map. The only option is to go into full wall mode, which comes with its own problems. There is also a noticeable lack of variety with some of the big ticket items, with very wide price points separating lower tier appliances and furniture with better quality ones. It doesn't feel like there's an incremental flow to upgrading items, and the locked items can be quite a tease given their high price tags.

The daily grind

I don't want to understate how impressive it is to see these new sims in action. They're wonderfully expressive, not just with their body movements and thought bubbles, but you can see how they feel spelled out on their faces. Watching them interact in group conversations is a joy. Furthermore, sims are capable of multitasking now, so they can upgrade their skills while watching a show while eating, gain social interaction points while talking during a chess game, and learn while reading and going to the bathroom at the same time. The learning process isn't as expedient while multitasking, but its inclusion makes it much easier for sims to fulfill their needs while improving their skills.

Taking care of their wants charges their emotional states, which may in turn charge their actions. Doing a good workout could energize a sim to get more done. An angry sim can do rage fueled push-ups to work out the stress. Emotionally charged actions provide bonuses to character development, catering to them a critical part of the gameplay.

That being said, these improvements soon blend into the background as the game progresses. You can only be blown away by the new features once, and then it gets down to the matter of playing. On this side of things, not a lot has changed with the sims formula. Unless you use a money cheat, working your way up toward promotions can be a long grind. That doesn't even take into account balancing life between work, relationships, and family. It often feels like there aren't enough hours in the sim day to get everything done. So, it can be difficult to force your exhausted and starving sims to explore the neighborhood and express their personalities at a nightclub, library, museum, or gym.

There aren't a lot of options to break up the daily routine, either. Using the phone to hire a service is limited to ordering a pizza or calling a maid to come clean. The maid doesn't offer a lot of value to her service, since it looks like she only handles the open spaces like the living room, but doesn't touch areas like the bathroom. If something breaks in the household, and something always does, then it's up to the characters to fix it themselves. That's great if you're leveling up the Handiness skill, but given how sims have historically died from home improvement related accidents, it would be far better to hire a high level professional to come in and fix everything.

The Sims 4 also has a sense that it's holding things back for the inevitable expansions that will release in the future. There are a baseline number of activities, like hitting the gym, visiting the library, or dancing at a nightclub, but there is no unique Sims 4 activity. While the outfit and furniture collection is ok to start with, it didn't take long settle on a small handful of favorites and ignore the rest.

On a more technical note, it's really annoying how the tutorial tips can't be disabled except by inputting a launch command line in the Origin client. Speaking of Origin, The Sims 4 does not support cloud saves. So, if you want to take your house and family with you to another computer, you'll have to do it the old fashioned way, like copying the save game file to a flash drive. On a different note, I encountered a number of performance stutters while playing The Sims 4. The game would freeze whenever I tried to manipulate a large stack of items in my inventory, even on a fast system (Intel Core i7 3.2 Ghz Hexa-core, 24 GB RAM, and Nvidia Geforce GTX 770), so it can be hard to sell those 99+ carrots sitting in inventory. But other than those hiccups, the game runs exceptionally well.

High aspirations

The smarter sims, sleek customization system, and emotions truly brings The Sims 4 to life. However, even with those impressive features, the game ultimately feels like a incremental step up from The Sims 3. Fortunately, The Sims 3 is a very good game, and these upgrades are exactly what's needed to make it even better. As with the games before it, it's very easy to become engrossed with the lives of your sims and completely lose track of time for hours on end.

Final Score: 7 out of 10


This review is based on a downloadable Origin PC code provided by the publisher. The Sims 4 is available now for $59.99. The game is rated T.