Welcome Back To The Neighbourhood

The lives of a new generation of virtual people has become my obsession, after I picked up The Sims 4 during the anniversary sale.

June Kay receives a rose from Steve Fogel in The Sims 4

I’ve loved playing The Sims since its first iteration back in the year 2000. The game is all about virtual people, known as sims, who live out their lives and are controlled by you. You can choose to be benevolent and try to keep the sims happy by fulfilling their wants and needs, or be malevolent and make their lives a living hell.

2017 is the 17th anniversary of The Sims franchise, and so the publisher decided to have an anniversary sale. It’s been a long time since I last played a Sims game, and so the opportunity to grab The Sims 4 at a massive discount was too good to miss.

Generation game

The Sims is an open game that never ends, and where the gameplay is dynamic – each simulated day, you don’t know what random things your sim will want to do and who they will randomly meet. Could they meet the love of their lives and start a family? Or could they accidentally start a fire while cooking and burn to death?

The possibilities of an ever evolving neighbourhood story that goes on for as long as you want to play is what appealed to me, and it’s probably the same for other gamers as well, which is why The Sims franchise is the best-selling video game of all time.

My love of this game series really reached a peak with the release of The Sims 2 back in 2004. Everything about this new iteration of the game was an improvement over the original, with vastly improved 3D graphics and more life-like sims that were extremely fun to play. For the next five years, I picked up every expansion pack for the game that came out, and generated tons of screenshots and story content that I shared with other players on The Sims forums. It was a great community to be a part of, and a fantastic gaming experience.

The Broke Family in The Sims 2

Things changed in 2009 when developers moved on to their newest cash cow, The Sims 3. For some reason, this version of the game never really clicked with me or had the same instant appeal the previous titles did. The art style of the game had moved towards more realistic looking sims which seemed somewhat “off” to me. The gameplay had also changed with the new open world introduced in this version of the game. Instead of focusing on playing one sim household at a time, the entire neighbourhood was being simulated all at once. While some people love this, and I admit I found it intriguing too, it didn’t fit with my play style from previous games, where I’d play a rotation through the neighbourhood spending time with each household.

In The Sims 3, while you’re playing one household, “story progression” could kick in and you could find that by the time you wanted to go back and play a different family, they’d moved out-of-town into oblivion, randomly married someone or all aged into elderly pensioners. This didn’t appeal to me at all, being a control freak, and having the idea that I could be missing out on stories happening across town.

There was also more of a nickel-and-diming approach with the release of content via an online store, favouring micro-transactions for trivial items. So a combination of things I didn’t like about the game, along with my starting MMO gaming in 2010 led to me drifting away from The Sims franchise.

I have to admit, my interest piqued when I heard about the release of The Sims 4 back in 2014. The developers described it as having a more “simsy” feel in the design of the character models and world. From what I saw in screenshots and videos, it looked a lot like The Sims 2 which I loved, but with much better graphics. There were criticisms that it was missing a lot of features that were present in previous iterations of the game, such as a lack of basic building features like swimming pools, and most contentiously for some players, the absence of the toddler life stage for sims. I decided to stick with my other games… until now.

The game I’ve been waiting for

The Sims 4 has had three years to mature, along with a multitude of game packs, expansions and free online updates. They’ve ironed out bugs, patched in missing features like the before-mentioned swimming pools and in January 2017 they finally integrated the toddler life stage into the game with a free update. With the game going on sale to celebrate the 17th anniversary of the franchise, I decided that the time was right to give it a try.

From the moment I started up the game for the first time, I was hooked. It has that instant appeal that I remembered from previous games. It feels a lot like The Sims 2, but with better graphics, a slick and intuitive user interface, and some of the features of The Sims 3 I liked, such as moodlets giving sims temporary mood enhancements.

Andre DaSilva and Babs L'Amour take a selfie during a dance party in The Sims 4

I’m getting to know and love the new sims, and enjoying seeing their stories unfold. They each have their own quirks and interesting personalities, and most importantly they are fun to play.

Sims in The Sims 4 are smarter than in previous versions of the game, and can take care of their own needs – so you don’t have to micromanage sending them to go to the toilet, for example. I have yet to see a sim soil themselves, die of starvation or collapse from exhaustion (although with a little bit of extreme manipulation, all that can still happen).

Instead, the focus of The Sims 4 is in the new feature introduced with this generation of the game – emotional states. The sims now have emotions and can mood swing from happy to sad, from bored to confident, and so on. This affects the gameplay by offering new options and opportunities that appear while sims are experiencing a particular mood, for example, a sim feeling flirty can perform more romantic options, and a sim feeling confident can show off their muscles. I found it very amusing when I found out that I could send a sim with a bad temper to go “take an angry poop”!

Endless wonder

When I play The Sims 4, I’m reminded of the happy times I had when I played the previous games way back years ago, but also with a more contemporary and up-to-date experience, such as having current pop songs by famous artists sung in simlish language on the radio, and with all my sims having smartphones and taking selfies, or trolling forums on their tablet devices.

At the moment, I’m very pleased that I’ve made a return to The Sims franchise, and that I waited a little while for The Sims 4 to mature into a more complete feeling game experience before taking the plunge.

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