It's been fourteen years since Will Wright struck gold with his casual life simulator, The Sims. In that time, people have taken their virtual counterparts to all night parties, pursued academic careers, romanced other denizens, and learned new trades. That is, when they're not being mercilessly tortured and subjected to various indignities, like having toilets removed, locked in basements and trapped in swimming pools. Sequels and dozens of expansion packs have broadened the horizons for what the Sims can do. The Sims 4 carries on with that tradition but with a much stronger emphasis on the Sims themselves. This time, a Sims' emotions play a larger role in their quality of life.
Giving virtual AI characters a better grip on their emotions might sound like the first step towards a future ruled by Skynet, but what emotions really do is open a whole new set of activities and interactive possibilities. My first look at The Sims 4 took place in a bustling neighborhood park and our Sim in the spotlight was an adult male designed to love exercising. However, he was not happy. In fact, he was downright rotten to everyone that crossed his path. To calm him down, the presenter tried to engage him in conversation with other Sims but that only seemed to make him angrier. What is unique about the new emotion system is that it opens up a set of actions that can only be done when your Sim is sad, happy, angry or anywhere in between. Taking his love for exercise into consideration, clicking on a grassy patch allowed us to queue up a "Power Workout" activity to help curb his feelings. Performing actions on the spot, instead of having to go back to your house or visit a specialty location, is great because it cuts down time spent in loading screens and transitions.
A major improvement in The Sims 4 is the method of how Sims are designed. Historically, fashioning an avatar into someone that looks either like you, a celebrity or someone wholly original was done by interacting with sliders. For the new game, many sliders have been removed in favor of more direct input. The character design screen now opens with a randomly generated Sim that can be sculpted however you want. Eyes, nose shape, hair style, body fat, all can be manipulated with a greater feeling of precision and control. I've been out of the Sims game for awhile, but this new design system is brilliant and attractive.
The same precision afforded to creating avatars has also been attached to the game's Build Mode. What will assuredly cause some elation among hardcore Sims players is that the Sims Exchange, that veritable catalog of user created content, has been fully integrated into The Sims 4. Downloading and adding content no longer means having to exit the game, log into the official website, download objects and then transfer them over through a launcher. Just open the in-game catalog, pick what you want and drop it into the game. The new Exchange also adds fully furnished rooms that can be attached to households with little fuss. The ease of which houses can be designed, built, and modified stems from Maxis' philosophy that "the builder always wins." For added convenience, a house's foundation can also be adjusted and sculpted on the fly.
The Sims 4 intends to give players additional control over their world through a system of intuitive and easy to understand tools that don't get in the way of the user's goal of creating wacky stories and situations for their virtual people. That said, the game's September 2nd launch will be hampered by the inability to create swimming pools or see a Sim through their toddler years.
Teen Services Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.