Posted Wed Sep 3, 2014 at 10:00 PM PDT by Brian Hoss
It's still the one.
After roughly twenty hours spent submerged in the colorful world of the 'The Sims 4,' I have a number of conclusions. Chief among them, it's going to be a long time before I can turn out enough of the game's content and systems to have a proper, thorough review, and more importantly, everyone, from fans, to developers, to even reviewers, is a winner when it comes to the launch of 'The Sims 4.'
Naturally, 'The Sims 4,' the latest in a series that has become one of Electronic Arts' core series, has launched with a few slices of built-in fan frustration. While this stems from a number of places, the key may be that if you are set to hate the game, that may just happen. This is the kind of game that players can pour upwards of a 100 hours in, and still say "it's a travesty" for one reason are another. ("and such small portions.")
For me, a veteran player of the original, 'The Sims,' 'The Sims 2,' and a half dozen 'The Sims 2' expansions, much has changed in the world since the series' debut. Many of the elements that fuel 'The Sims' gameplay, developers and all, were shamelessly extracted and became a massive social game craze. 'The Sims 4' though, is not some free-to-play monster.
Old 'The Sims' Habits
After tearing around the game's theoretical core structure, the Create A Sim, Build Mode, and Live Mode, I have to admit that my old 'The Sims' habits have emerged. I created two Sims and built them a home from scratch. One was meant to be a straightforward Geek, renaissance type guy who enjoys talking about ways to achieve world peace and looks uncomfortably like a young Richard Nixon, while the other was a blue-skinned, evil, and mischievous woman.
With diametrically opposed aspirations and personality traits, I was sure that these two roommates would drive each crazy, and completely check my tendency to go for the career goals. Ultimately, while Aisha likes laughing manically in the middle of meals, brawling, and even using her government trained abilities to stealthily agitate her enemies/random NPCs, she gets along with the portrait-painting Thrilla without issue. In a manner that only damns myself, I have entered a cycle of doing everything possibly (shy of cheating) to get them to the head of their career tracks, which means that Aisha needs plenty of friends to get promoted in the Secret Agent track.
Moodelts and Whims
In spite of my overall play style regressing to 'The Sims' of yore, playing the Live mode feels different thanks to a number of additions, including the new moodlets and whims. Whims are moment-to-moment, per Sim, challenges, and they yield several results. Since Aisha is ostensible evil, one of her three whims usually involves being mean to someone, making an enemy, fighting, or playing pranks. Indulging these whims, along with the Sim's normal needs and aspirations, activates moodlets. (Eventually I learned that whims can be dismissed in hopes of getting better ones.) Multiple moodlets can be in play at a given time, but the leftmost one has the greatest influence. If one roommate walks into the bathroom at the wrong moment, then bam, the other one is embarrassed.
Sounds bad, right? Well, it is when your job calls for you (ideally) to be Confident or Inspired, but moodlets, while negative and positive on their face, enable special actions. If follow the right whims, you get the right moodlets, and you fulfill the right aspirations and you earn rewards such a lasting traits. Whims can easily take over your sims agenda, but there is in-game payoff.
These elements have all been in past installments to a degree but now, each Sim has a running list of short term desires and long term goals that, when expressed on their sleeves, means more emotive and dynamic Sims than ever before. That, and it just makes sense that if Aisha has been brawling, she would have earned a few hours of woozy time.
I had Aisha learning programming, which of course can be done on the computer, a custom retro model awarded as a job perk for Thrilla, or through textbooks. She was working the second skill level, so I bought (with simoleans) the Programming Vol. 2 book. She read it, and then, no kidding, got stressed out for reading a book beyond here skill level. Oops.
She got stressed out again the next day. As a secret agent type, she needs to search the web for Intelligence to read up on when at home, and this time around, she read something disturbing. It's a little thing, but it's these little things that pepper activities, and for the most part, make good sense.
Like clockwork, all the cheap appliances in the house began breaking, including the stereo, which, since no one minds it being on, is always on, and breaks frequently. Whenever it breaks, I could easily replace it without bothering the sims, but I prefer waiting until Thrilla has time to repair it, as it yields repair parts which Thrilla a can use to upgrade other appliances. He can even talk about repair tips with other Sims. It's like each interaction has another hidden feature or unique item hidden within it.
The first time Aisha invited a date to a bar, I thought the game crashed. I hit invite, and suddenly there was a momentary load screen. Once in the bar, old issues cropped up as the two Sims constantly walked around the bar and furniture, never really finding perfect pathing for all of their interactions. It's an issue, but so what, I just befriended the bartender, Kloe, instead, and wow, is she crazy. Aisha likes to yell at her when I'm not paying attention.
The next time, when Aisha went to the lounge, I found out how her newly career earned hand tranquilizer interactions worked. In essence, it's really fun to start pushing a random NPC's buttons, make them an enemy, and thes watch as they collapse in a tranquilized puddle on the floor.
Leaving Thrilla at home, I still had some high-level control over him, sort of along the lines of when he is at work, but I prefer to let him have those rare moments of freedom.
'The Sims 4 'Engine
'The Sims 4' engine is understated in a lot of ways. I had to set the game to native resolution (2560 x 1440) in order to get all of the small sub options (smoothing, uncompressed textures, post-process) to work, but this is the best we've seen the series by far. There's a serious amount of geometry that goes into each scene. Seems wasteful since I mainly play zoomed out, but the game is smooth. Once I enabled the 'Sims 3' camera option, I almost found the camera control that I was missing when building the house.
There's a lot going in each scene, but a serious gaming PC can handle the game (and it's 7.1 sound) on ultra without issue. Bigger venues full of Sims are the real test, with so much going one, it's tempting to push the game to try to break it. Why would I do that you ask, is it cause I'm a jerk or anti EA? No, but it's a game about testing limits.
That's the thing, starting out in 'The Sims 4' is likely to be a little frustrating. There are touches here and there that cry for a change. Why can't I look directly at a house when deciding where to move a family? Because that's in a different mode. Why can't I change my sim's physical appearance whenever I want? Because there needs to be a game reason… for some reason. Meanwhile, 15 hours in and the tutorial pop-ups are still activating for things I've been using for hours.
Never mind pools, what happened to auto roofs? What a time sink. It took a while for me to figure out that I need to always bring the z scale of the roof down manually to make it not be ridiculous. Fortunately, all of he bugs I encountered were very minor. Simple stuff like, pathing and clipping, and a conversation window that hung around hours after the sim had left. (For the record Aiden was feeling bored during that time.)
Don't Be Obtuse
And that's just it. If you narrow your 'The Sims 4' pursuits down to one thing, and micromanage your sim(s) to death, the game might seem limited, but really, 'The Sims 4' is a throwback to when PC Games offered unique experiences that did not fit into tidy sub genres. There are all kinds of different ways to play, build, progress, make crazy things happen. What other game lets you change all the levels and all of the major NPCs? In fact there really aren't any true NPCs, any character you meet can become your sim's friend or paramour. They can be invited in to stay and then be controlled directly by the player.
Just walk down the neighborhood and dozens of sims will go by, each one with the full potential to be your next focus. Or maybe you just never seem again.
From When PC Games Were More Than Just Prettier
If 'The Sims 4' was a new franchise, there's no way all of this craziness would be supported. Look at 'Mass Effect' and the Mako. The Mako gameplay was rough and all of those planets were samey, so it was excised for 'Mass Effect 2' and '3.' Ditto the combat. (Also see 'Dragon Age.') The point being, 'The Sims 4' is archaic in (mostly) the right ways. It's vaguely a strategy game, but it's also a sandbox, and a RPG. Fortunately, you can pause and fast forward play to your liking, and both the Create A Sim and Build modes are fully supported along with the Live mode. Back in the 90's, PC games like 'Dungeon Keeper' and 'Conqueror AD 1086' sported this kind of in-game variety, but most developers today would never even think of attempting such a robust mix.
Gallery, Screenshots, and Streaming
There are other peripheral modern elements as well. While less integrated than my tastes (I like screenshot, tweet, done), the game has an ability to take screenshots and post them on Facebook. They can also be made into memories in the game.
As with other, um, platforms, the game relies on its launcher for what should have been better implemented, streaming. More front and center is the Gallery, and the community is already working overtime packing it with downloadable lots, sims, etc. The in-game achievements are nice as well.
I think I'll spilt Thrilla off, and let him become a family man. It should fit right in with his desire to be well-rounded Renaissance man. Aisha, in contrast, should become her adult evil self. I think I'll move her from house to house, corrupting and/or destroying each family in its turn, dancing on graves as though it's some kind of Bizzarro Footloose.
I can't play 'The Sims 4' for just five minutes. Much like a good strategy game, the 'one more' whatever is too addicting. But if I could limit myself to five minutes, there's no way I could get through it without finding something new and something familiar. The game is a must-buy for 'The Sims' fans, and PC gamers (as well as the community at large) should be pleased that the game supports such a vast variety and hasn't been streamlined into a one-size fits all experience.
(Impressions) Bottom Line: Endless Hours of Entertainment Not Found Elsewhere
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