The Sims is one of the most popular game series’ in the world, and for good reason. A careful balance of deep simulation systems, humour, approachability, and social commentary made it a franchise that anyone can enjoy. In any given game, there’s a huge range of things to do and ways to play, and the emergent stories that come from that are something that only a game can deliver. Since 2014, PC players have been enjoying the latest iteration of this powerhouse in The Sims 4. Now, finally, console players can join in on the wacky life-sim fun.
The Sims 4, like each game before it, has a simple premise: you create a character (known as a Sim) or a household of Sims, designing their appearance, hobbies, personalities, and goals, then you drop them into their new home and watch their lives unfold. Everything from that point on is more or less up to you. You decide how involved to be, from voyeuristically watching what happens with almost no input, to directing your Sim’s every movement and effectively role-playing that character.
You can decide what to focus on, be it career, love life, creative pursuits, socialisation, or something else entirely. You can choose your Sims’ jobs and help them move up the corporate ladder. You can decide how to decorate and renovate their home and garden. You can choose who they spend time with, and how they interact with other people. Or you could let them do all this according to their own AI, and simply watch what happens. Some things, like initial job choice and housing upgrades, require your input as a player, but each Sim is more or less capable of living their own life without your guiding hand.
The result is a game that’s wonderfully open, giving you the freedom to play it as you please. If you’re anything like me, The Sims 4 is basically a dating sim; my every interaction involves a lot of flirting, and my first Sim was engaged to her neighbour within days of moving to Willow Creek. You might see it as a chance to exercise your inner interior designer, as you design and redesign your Sims’ home to suit your mood, or get your landscape architect on in the garden. You might decide to focus on your career or hobbies, doing everything you can to develop your Sims’ talents and earn those promotions. Or, again, you might decide to just be a creepy voyeur and watch how things play out.
That said, this isn’t an entirely freeform sandbox game; there are a bunch of simulation systems in place that you have to work within if you want to achieve whatever your idea of success is. Each Sim has a variety of needs that need to be kept in check, like hunger, energy, and hygiene; they tend to be able to handle these themselves, but only if they’ve got the means, and personality might see some Sims neglecting certain needs in favour of others. Keeping all of a Sim’s needs in check isn’t difficult, but does mean that you can’t just forego food and sleep to grind their painting skill (well, you can, but the results are disastrous and hilarious).
Likewise, Sims need money (Simoleons) to live, which you earn by working, selling things, and completing objectives. Without money, you can’t buy food or pay rates, and your Sims will end up sick, starving, and ultimately dead. A job is the main source of income, but you can also earn it by doing things like selling artwork your Sims create or, if you’re that way inclined, robbing banks.
These systems give the game a structure and “gaminess” that a lot of sandbox games lack. Likewise, there are a lot of optional goals and progression systems that you can pursue if you want a more traditional gaming experience, from fulfilling a Sim’s short-term whims to mastering a particular skill or career. On the other hand, if you do want that limitless sandbox experience, The Sims 4 has a number of cheats that you can use to bypass the game’s various systems.
One of the new things introduced in The Sims 4 is a deeper emotion system. Each Sim drifts between a wide range of emotional states depending on their situation, which in turn affects other aspects of the game. Certain activities have are more or less effective while in a certain state—for example, a Sim who’s feeling inspired is much quicker in creative endeavours than one who’s neutral or angry. When talking to other Sims, certains interactions have a boosted effect—feeling flirty general makes romantic actions more effective—and some options are only available while in the right frame of mind.
Moreover, a Sim isn’t limited to one emotion at a time; after all, feelings are complex. Different combinations create different effects and outcomes, and related moods can even influence one another—flirty and happy have a way of feeding each other, turning your Sim into an unstoppable ball of charm and cuteness.
Finally, emotions also influence whims, which are little short-term goals that can net a few Simoleons as a bonus. An inspired Sim might have an urge to cook a meal or play some music, a happy Sim might feel the need to brighten someone’s day, a flirty Sim might want to go out and flirt with a stranger.
One of my favourite things about The Sims 4 is how much freedom it gives you in creating your characters. There’s a wide range of body types, clothing styles, and what have you, which is typical for The Sims, but a very welcome addition this time around is custom gender options. In short, beyond the basic choice of male or female, for each Sim you can choose whether they have a masculine or feminine frame, their clothing preferences, whether they can get pregnant, and whether they can pee standing up.
Want your Sim to be a woman who prefers wearing masculine clothing? Done. Want your Sim to be trans? There are a few different ways to do that. Sadly, there’s no option to create non-binary, genderqueer, or intersex Sims, but maybe we’ll see that in the future—after all, the current gender options were added to the PC version a couple of years after release.
The Sims 4 also allows for same-sex romances and marriage, and same-sex couples can adopt children. Depending on their pregnancy gender settings, same-sex couples can have biological children as well, and Create-a-Sim mode lets you generate biological children for any couple, regardless of gender settings. Unlike earlier games in the series, there’s no distinction between same-sex and different-sex couples in The Sims 4, which is great to see.
The console version is a direct port of the PC version, and it’s made the jump very well. For the most part, you control the game with a virtual mouse, which takes some getting used to, but it gets the job done. There’s also another control scheme that lets you navigate through different UI elements with the D-pad, which is a far quicker and easier way to access things like the build menus, Sim stats, and so on. You can switch between the two methods on the fly; I found myself using the virtual mouse for all “in-universe” actions (like interacting with Sims and objects in the game world) and the D-pad method for cycling through the menus, which worked well.
Unfortunately, the console version has limited DLC at this stage—only last year’s City Living expansion and a couple of game packs. It would have been nice to even just the first expansion or two included with the base game on consoles, seeing as they’re already a couple of years old now, but they’re not available at all. I assume they’ll be released later on (as well as more recent stuff, like the new Cats & Dogs expansion), but for now the options for adding more to the base game are limited.
Still, there’s plenty of fun to be had in the standard package, with a wide range of careers, hobbies, and items to discover and explore. Expansions build on the experience, but the core of The Sims is what makes it so compelling—the creativity and the freedom of it all. The Sims 4 captures all of that wonderfully, and it’s a game I know I’ll be coming back to often.
The Sims 4 is developed by Maxis and published by EA. It’s available now for PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, and PC.
A press copy was supplied by the publisher for this review.