The Sims have always been something of an anomaly. The game play really is unlike anything else on the market, putting you in charge of a virtual household and the residents that dwell within. Whilst many players quickly devolve into seeing how much pain and suffering they can inflict on their poor subjects just as many attempt to provide the best life possible for them. Most interestingly it’s one of the very few games where the player base is predominantly female, representing a staggering 60% of the total. This is not to say it’s squarely aimed at that demographic, far from it, as it appears to have widespread appeal across all the world. The latest release, predictably dubbed The Sims 4, comes 5 years after the release of its predecessor and brings with it a vast number of improvements to the tried and true franchise.
As with all previous The Sims titles you’re the mysterious god that floats about the world that the Sims dwell within, guiding their actions when their less-than-stellar AI behaviour falls short. Depending on how you crafted your Sim they’ll have different wants, needs and career paths in life and it’ll be your job to ensure that they can meet all of them. Along the way you’ll interact with dozens of other Sims, forming relationships, breaking others and engaging in other humanesque behaviours. What kind of Sim will you create? The rich and handsome playboy that could have everything he wants? Or the struggling single parent who wants nothing more than to see their child succeed? All of this, and so much more, is possible within the world of the Sims.
The Sims has never been a graphical masterpiece, preferring simplicity so that the game would run well on almost any PC that you could throw at it. The Sims 4 continues this tradition as the graphics, whilst vastly improved over its predecessors, are still fairly rudimentary. There’s been improvements in the lighting engine, higher polycount models and better textures to be seen everywhere but they’ve still been heavily stylized to give it a cartoony feel. The Sims 4 keeps the same visual aesthetic that the previous titles had with the clean interface design that favours solid, clear cut colours. Overall it’s pretty much what you’d expect from a Sims game so no disappointments here.
Like the previous Sims titles The Sims 4 puts you, initially, in charge of a single Sim that you craft through a rather detailed process. In there you select traits, characteristics and aspirations which define who your Sim will be in this world. Then you’re given a token amount of money and let loose to find a property or lot that you want to purchase. You’ll need to make some tough decisions here though as your choice of house, and the fixtures contained within it, will have a direct effect on how your Sim fairs. Once you’re in your new house you’ll unlock a veritable cornucopia of different things to do, all of which have some form of impact on your Sims mood, desires and needs. All of the activities that you’ll do will feel familiar to long term Sims players although the breadth of what’s possible has increased significantly.
One thing that I feel bears mentioning is just how well designed the new interface is. My vague memories of The Sims 3 reminded me that it took quite a long time to figure out where everything was, drastically increasing the time it took me to get anything done in that world. By comparison The Sims 4 interface is amazing with everything being readily discoverable and being incredibly easy to use. The search and rooms features on the construction menu are fantastic, allowing you to easily track down the exact product you’re looking for without wrestling with the interface. After about an hour I was pretty confident I had a grasp on pretty much everything with the few finer points covered off in help tips whenever I came across them.
The core game play aspects of the Sims series are present in The Sims 4, giving you a variety of different objectives complete. Whilst there are some staple things you have to accomplish in order to keep your Sim happy, like feeding them or making sure they use the bathroom before its too late, you’re pretty free to pursue whatever you want at your own leisure. I primarily like to produce career focused Sims and so my playtime usually revolves around that. However if that’s not your style there’s plenty of other things to keep you occupied although, honestly, I couldn’t really tell you much about the things outside the career focused ones.
And yes getting someone to move in with you is a career choice (don’t have to leave the house for the social need, score!).
Like most Sims games it’s pretty easy to cheese your way through certain things if you make a few key decisions in the right way. For instance, if you’re so inclined, purchasing the best sink you can get means your Sims barely have to shower as simply washing your hands will keep them going for a very long time. Similarly you can eliminate a lot of wasted time by cooking party sized meals and just eating them over and over again. Indeed your Sims don’t seem to get tired of eating the same thing repeatedly and once your cooking skill is high enough they’re just as satisfied with eggs on toast as they are with a gourmet blackened salmon dish.
In fact that’s probably my biggest gripe with The Sims 4. Whilst there might be a huge variety in what you can do it all starts to feel really samey after a not too long period of time. This becomes all too obvious when you’re trying to befriend someone and you’re constantly spamming all the different options with the results usually being the same gibberish response and a ++ in the friendly column. This is usually when most people start to unleash their sadistic side on their Sims, removing doors, making prisons or denying them food and facilities until something horrible happens. I’ll admit that I was too attached to mine to do anything (I even enabled cheats to reverse the aging of one of my Sims, forgetting that you can turn that off in the options menu) but I can’t say I wasn’t tempted.
There seems to be a lot of gripes circling the Internet regarding the features that have been taken out, like toddlers and pools, as well as the somewhat unusual decision to not send out review copies. I think most of these criticisms are valid as whilst there does seem to be a lot to do in The Sims 4 it does feel a little limited compared to my vague memories of its predecessor. In all honesty it didn’t affect my playthrough too much (although I’d love multiplayer in this) but then again I wouldn’t consider myself the biggest Sims fan out there. Indeed I doubt I’ll barely touch it past this review as I’ve pretty much done all I really wanted to do in it.
The Sims 4 is an evolutionary step forward for the Sims franchise, bringing with it all the trimmings you’d expect for recent release of this classic series. The graphics, interface and overall playability has been greatly increased making it much less of a chore to get into than previous entrants into this series were. There’s an incredible amount of depth to the mechanics that made it into the game however the criticisms around lack of content and certain features do feel like valid concerns to me. Overall I enjoyed my time with The Sims 4 and whilst I won’t be sinking many more hours into it I’m sure fans of the series will get a lot of enjoyment out of it.
The Sims 4 is available on PC right now $89.95. Total play time was 8 hours.
You don’t have to look far to know what the greater gaming community thinks of the latest installment in the SimCity series. The first couple weeks were plagued with issues with many people being simply unable to play while the lucky few who got in experienced multiple, game breaking bugs. Accusations flew left and right with Maxis eventually stating it was all their fault although it was hard to deny that EA had a hand in it as well. It was so bad that EA even offered all purchasers another free game in order to compensate for it (even if you bought after they announced this offer, which I did). Still with all that in mind I tried to approach SimCity with an open mind as possible, hoping to see the game outside of all the teething issues that have plagued it relentlessly.
SimCity is, just like all its predecessors, a game that revolves around building and improving your very own city. You’re given a small amount of cash and your choice of various plots of land to begin with and after that its up to you to make it on your own. There are numerous factors that influence how your city develops, from your layout to natural resources and even how well developed the greater region is. There’s no in built narrative to speak of but the story of each individual city will be different which leads to some great conversations about how you overcame the various adversities sent your way.
Graphically SimCity is very reminiscent of other Maxis games in that they’re not exactly cutting edge but that has the advantage of running on pretty much everything. The use of tilt-shift perspective for when you’re zoomed in quite far is a nice touch although it doesn’t help hide some of the extremely low poly models used. A quick bit of searching reveals this isn’t the first 3D SimCity and its predecessor, SimCity Societies, looks pretty similar. Considering that game was released over 5 years ago now I would’ve expected a much bigger jump up, especially considering neither of those titles were available on consoles (and before you ask why they’d release it on consoles they did exactly that with SimCity2000).
You begin by either joining someone else’s region or creating one of your own. Joining someone else s has the advantage of potentially giving you a lot of benefits if they’ve got some big cities set up already, like access to upgraded buildings before you’d have the capability to build them, but like most people I chose to start out on my own. After creating your region you’re then sent to select a section of it to begin building your town in, and thus your journey begins to becoming the world’s best mayor.
From a core game play perspective there’s not a whole lot that’s changed over the years. You build roads, which now come with handy guide lines so you don’t make odd sized sections, zone them up for Residential/Commercial/Industrial and then wait for people to arrive. As more people come into your town their requirements for various bits of infrastructure increase so you’ll quickly be adding things like water towers, power stations, sewage outlet pipes and so on. Unlike previous SimCity games you don’t have to lay each bit of connecting infrastructure separately as everything follows the road which makes things a heck of a lot easier. Eventually you’ll reach a point where you want to start attracting higher wealth individuals to your town and that requires some rather careful planning.
It’s all well and good to lay everything out in order to maximize the amount of space available for people to build on, and indeed that’s what will drive your population forward in the beginning, however you’ll eventually need to add additional services on which have circular areas of influence. This is somewhat at odds with the regular way of doing things, especially if you’re using the guide lines which can lead to some hard decisions. Early on its not too bad but later on when you’re dealing with giant skyscrapers the decision to knock one down in an attempt to make the rest of the region more desirable can back you into some painful corners. This is all part of the challenge however as your progression from a low density, low wealth town to a high density. high wealth one is predicated on how well you can make decisions like that.
Like I mentioned previously one city’s progress benefits the whole region and thus there’s really no shame in starting another town should you tire of your current one. Indeed I found my stride somewhere in the middle of my third city, one that was able to leverage off all the other upgrades my previous towns had. It’s also very clear that some locations are far more ideal than others as any place with hills in them is pretty much guaranteed to be unusable, so whilst choosing a lake frontage with mountaintop views sounds like a good idea initially you’ll likely hit its limit far faster than you would a boring, flat patch of dirt in the middle of nowhere.
Now I deliberately avoided playing Sim City until things had calmed down in the hopes that I could avoid some of the issues that causes such an uproar. I did have a few teething issues stemming from my Origin not being installed properly (although all other Origin games work fine, strangely) and the installer simply refusing to run but I was past that I was always able to login. Unfortunately I was unable to play with one of my friends due to him starting on region 2 and I on region 1, something which I thought wouldn’t be a problem but EA has locked those regions down to only those who’ve played on them before. Sure we could start over again but that’s not what we wanted to do, which was a little annoying.
Whilst that was irritating it was nothing compared to the dumb as a rock AI that SimCity uses. Now there’s been quite a bit of investigation into why this is but it all boils down to the pathfinding algorithm which is used for pretty much everything in the game. Sims, cars, electricity, etc. all use the absolute shortest path to get to a destination. Because of this you get a whole lot of really illogical, emergent behavior from various systems. The best (or worst, really) example I can come up with is in one of my towns there’s 2 garbage dumps, each with numerous trucks. However upon picking up rubbish they will all go back to the same garbage dump, even though it’s full and the other one is not much further away. The only way to get around this is to make them almost identical in length (I.E. right next to each other) which is a right pain in the ass. You’ll also find that this will affect things like buildings in certain areas (some commercial/industrial places will never get workers and be routinely abandoned). You can work around this with careful city planning but realistically you shouldn’t have to as the AI should be smart enough to apply costings to paths that would avoid those situations completely.
There also comes a time when your city has reached a certain point and there’s not much more you can do to it until you get more money or your population increases. When this happens you’re pretty much relegated to waiting out the clock which can get rather boring. Indeed I found that once I was getting around the 75,000 population mark there was little I could do to speed up the population growth as anything I did either did nothing or caused a dip before it recovered again. Now I just might not be getting it or reached the limitations of my current city design but since all my advisors weren’t saying anything productive and my approval rating was 85% I struggled to see what else I could do. Searching for some guides also didn’t really help out either, which just led to me giving up on the city and trying again.
I found it pretty easy to lose a lot of time on SimCity as the initial stages are always a fun little balancing act that drew me in much like Anno 2070 did. Still there was always a timer ticking in the background, counting down to the point where I’d be unable to see a way to grow my city further and would simply go again. I’m glad to say that the majority of the issues that plagued its launch are gone now but there are still some teething issues with the initial game process and the dumb as bricks AI can’t be updated quick enough. Overall it’s an average game which unfortunately falls short of many of the expectations placed on it, but none of them are beyond fixing. Well, apart from Maxis/EA’s reputation however.
Sim City is available on PC right now for $99.99. Total play time was 9 hours.
About 9 years ago a game company with a knack for creating in depth simulation games decided to take a crack at something new, letting people take control of other people lives. The game company of course was Maxis and the game was The Sims. Initially it was just a curiosity, basically a digital sandbox for putting all your dolls and action figures in and making up a story for them. I must admit at first I really didn’t understand what kind of market there would be for a game like this, until I discovered the two sides of the game that attracted people to it.
My first impression was that I was already living a life, why did I need a game to simulate another one for me? Well the bastard child inside me managed to find a something pretty quickly, and that was torturing the little buggers. Anyone who’s played the sims for any length of time will tell you that eventually true human nature takes a hold of you and all you want to do is make life miserable for your little simulated person (or, the other sims in the game). This culminated in what I liked to call the house maze, whereby everything in the house was connected to each other by a long and tedious string of doors, walls and dead ends. Want to cook your breakfast? Well you can get the ingredients from the fridge but heaven help you if you want to cook them, that will take at least 20 minutes just to get to the stove! Want to sit down to eat? I hope you have your afternoons free for this.
So queue many hours of manic cackling radiating from my bedroom as I watched my poor sims struggle to cope in a house that was built to torture them endlessly. Sure after a while that got boring and I decided to reward them with a real house and lots of nice things, but that’s when the game play sort of fizzled out for me and I left the game for a long time. What surprised me was how popular the game became amongst the fairer gender, until I realised that this is the kind of game that would appeal to such a demographic. I’ve noticed that most of the gamer girls I know (yes they exist, shocking!) enjoy being able to make something their own and the sims is like the ultimate customisable doll house. Top that with the ability to create a soap opera with a cast of your choosing and you’re onto a winner.
I missed the whole expansion pack mania and sequel to the original game but I did however pick up a copy of the recently released Sims 3. What I did notice is how similar to the original it was in many aspects, with the needs system and general overal feel of the game. The addition of traits, lifetime goals and various extra-curricular activities add quite a level of depth to the game and I must say I’ve already lost a couple hours building a world for my little sim. I haven’t yet succumbed to torturing them yet but I can’t say that it isn’t far from my mind, what with him being a neurotic, evil, dare devil athlete who loves to party. I guess his career in the military is satisfying his need to revel in other’s misery as he always comes home extraordinarily happy with himself.
Looking back on the sims empire I noticed one thing, they pioneered what we now call episodic content for games. With their seemingly endless expansion packs for the games EA continued to guarantee consumers something new to do in the world of the sims at regular intervals, something which kept their dedicated mass of fans coming back. The releases of the sequels then brought in things that couldn’t be added into the expansion packs, typically things like underlying changes to the game or what parts of your sims life you could control. It’s a very good business model for a game like this as there will always be things missing from the game that exist in real life. That means there’s an endless amount of IP available to these guys, something the publishers must be drooling over.
I’m actually kind of sad that I missed the whole sims 2 game as I can’t make a decent comparison between this version and the last. From what my friends tell me though it’s a good refinement of the game with a lot of the unecessary junk removed and lots more of the fun stuff added in. From the few hours I’ve spent playing the sims 3 I can tell you that its addictive and there’s something in the game for everyone. Right now I’m focused on making my sim an astronaut, since that came up as one of his lifetime ambitions, and really, who am I to deny him that? 🙂