In some ways, The Sims peaked early as a dollhouse franchise. From the beginning, players could create a Sim, trap it in a tiny cage of walls, and watch it die in a mess of its own starving filth. Really, how much higher could Wil Wright’s quirky creation-station reach from there?
That’s all catnip for diehard fans, but anybody who has fallen out of Sims favor has been waiting for something along the lines of The Sims 4, which seeks to shake up the series’ core without disrupting its addictive qualities. In some ways, this iteration steps closer to the personality-centric dollhouse stuff you’d expect from a rival like Nintendo.
During last week’s E3, we sat in on a few gameplay sessions from Sims 4 producers, where we heard the repeated claim that “we’ve made Sims three-dimensional… on the inside.” In spite of the cheesy phrase, however, the game’s robust character creator makes us wonder what took EA and Maxis so long to make something like this, doling out equally robust sliders for faces and character interests.
Taking a whiz
After making solid-looking cartoony versions of themselves, complete with personality-linked aesthetic choices like how they walk, Sims 4 staffers went to trait town. Each character opens with a number of choices that flesh out its general attitude, including aspirations, hobbies, emotions, lifestyle, and social style.
These don’t merely adjust when happy and frowny icons appear; one character’s “computer whiz” aspiration will dole out a personality bonus if a goal is achieved, and a corresponding trait for being computer-savvy will lead her to that goal, whether while working or just being social. Another character’s proclivity towards fitness and being a “bro” put him in an angry state more often, which producers put to a more positive use by having him do push-ups and hard-labor chores.
From there, familiar Sims play emerges: Build a house, pay attention to your residents’ needs, then watch disparate people come together and develop every range of relationship, from friendship to love to hate.
Where the new range of emotional reactions and emotion-specific interactions comes to life is in The Sims 4’s out-of-house locations, which let you follow your characters around a bustling world. A computer whiz will have more happy opportunities at a computer-filled café, while an angry bro will build a lot of positive stats, both in fitness and sense of accomplishment, at the game’s giant gym.
Other locations include piano bars, libraries, nightclubs, and a dense, activity-loaded park that appears to be the game’s public hub, where your personal Sims will meet pre-made characters with wildly varied interests. If you want to take care of your Sims without venturing afar, you’ll be able to build the house of their dreams and leave them be, but jumping from locale to locale is easy enough and leads to location-specific scouring for materials (plants, free decorations) and activities. This change appears to have been liberally lifted from the likes of Animal Crossing, and good on EA for this welcome theft.
Careful with the cupcakes, Kim!
What’s more, unlike the always-online debacle of the recent SimCity reboot, The Sims 4 won’t require an Internet connection or collaboration with other players. The virtual game world may have expanded with cool Sim-play possibilities—like befriending an Elton John lookalike at a piano bar or getting workout advice from a Chuck Norris lookalike at the gym—but it remains each player’s own personal zone of madness.
That’s not to say there isn’t a welcome Internet option this time. Past Sims games have included out-of-game content browsing capabilities, which required digging through annoying Web interfaces to find community creations. That annoyance has been thankfully rectified, as characters and homes alike can be found in The Sims 4’s in-game browser, which comes up with a simple click during live play. In the case of homes, players can even chop out specific rooms or portions from a pre-made house to insert into their own home, along with a “furnished” toggle if players don’t care to import associated furniture.
From there, your rooms old and new can be dragged-and-dropped with a slick wireframe visual effect, while walls and ceilings can be dragged around on the fly to make rooms bigger or smaller without having to commit to total rebuild processes.
Much of the demo felt a little too choreographed, of course. For example, producers caused chaos during a house party by way of lousy roommate Kim Jong Un, who set the kitchen’s cupcake maker on fire just when Chuck Norris was about to show off his dance moves. We can’t imagine every bar visit, house party, and library stop being that action packed in an average Sims 4 session. That being said, the new elements on display felt like perfect, sensible additions to the long-addictive Sims formula. Frankly, we were surprised to leave the demos awaiting the game’s September 2 launch on PC.