After the massive success that was The Sims 3 and over 20 different expansion packs, EA has released the next iteration of this popular franchise – The Sims 4.  The Sims 4 features a brand new game engine, packing in plenty of new emotions, a simplified building tool and a more developed skills system. The big question is; does the core Sims 4 experience pack enough of a punch to keep you coming back for more?

Presentation

From the very start, the new Create-A-Sim interface is elegant and streamlined, removing the layered menus from previous experiences entirely. While this may take you a bit of time to get used to it’s a much more intuitive experience. Clicking around on your Sim in this mode allows players to fine-tune their shapes, sizes, outfits, tattoos and aspirations in a surprisingly entertaining process. There are plenty of ways to make each Sim unique, and even eight different walk animations to choose from – although most are quite ridiculous. Players can also hop into a new in-game feature called The Gallery, where a catalog of user-created Sims and houses are readily available for you to select from.

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Overall the new engine looks good, the load times have been reduced quite considerably (on a  higher end PC) although there are a few sacrifices that have been made. The world of the Sims 4 is much smaller with gameplay defined to specific “lots” as opposed to the free reign that you had in Sims 3. What this means is that you can expect a load screen (albeit a very short one) every time you travel between lots. The graphics have definitely improved and provide a great platform for would-be architects to zoom around, admire and screenshot their creations.

Content

This is by far the biggest disappointment in The Sims 4, the lack of content. Coming from the previous version that was bursting at the seams with content (both from the vanilla Sims 3 package and the expansions) the world of The Sims 4 feels very empty. It really shows up EA’s monetisation strategy quite dramatically, if you plan on playing the Sims 4 extensively be prepared to shell out for some of the expansion packs that will be coming out – in fact add the money to your gaming budget now already. The reason that this is such a pity is that The Sims 4 has improved several key elements of the game such as Build Mode, which is now a very easy to use and sophisticated building tool. I really enjoyed fine tuning the design of my house but then was quite disappointing when trying to furnish it and discovering the limitation on things like couches or lighting. Not to mention the fact that there are NO pools or hot tubs!

SIMS 4 build mode

This is something that EA will undoubtedly address in the coming months although at the expense of your credit card.

Gameplay

What EA have done is wipe the slate clean and improve the underlying mechanics of the game. Sims 4 is the best working Sims yet with far fewer bugs and issues than previous versions. Add to that a bunch of improvements such as the ability to multi-task (listen to music while cooking or read a book while on the loo) and you start to see just how good The Sims 4 could be.

Skills have been largely expanded upon, leading to plenty of fun and new paths to head down. Cooking, for instance, eventually expands into an optional gourmet cooking skill for the aspiring chefs, and even playing video games can lead to improving that skill set. Enter tournaments, and a bad showing might leave them feeling sad. These kind of risk/reward scenarios are placed throughout the game, and the new emotions add a layer of depth to day-to-do life that wasn’t there before.

One new feature is the inclusion of the Emotion Engine, expect sims to react depending on their surroundings, actions and actions of other sims. These range from feeling depressed or confident to feeling creative or focused. When a sim is in one of these emotional states they will feel like doing specific types of activities for example when feeling creative your sim may want to paint or cook.

The Sims 4 starts on a clean slate with improved mechanics, a great new engine and some fantastic creative tools. However, it sacrifices content quite dramatically leaving you with the feeling of a beautiful but quite empty world for your sims to live in. Once a few expansion/content packs are released the game could change but for now it has all the base ingredients for a great sim baked cake but is missing the icing.