If there’s one franchise that has crossed into the mainstream in the last decade, it’s The Sims. Sure, the likes of FIFA and Call of Duty are pretty much everywhere these days, but there are an awful lot of players outside of the folks who play those annually who would consider The Sims to be their one gaming vice. The various console ports have been hit and miss – generally due to the different attempts at trying to convert the mouse-based inputs to work with a controller – but this time around – as is always the case – there’s renewed hope that EA has managed to get it right.
That hope lasts for about 10 minutes after you boot The Sims 4 up. At first glance, it seems as if the Xbox One version falls foul of the issues which plagued the previous ports. Navigation is primarily handled with a cursor controlled by the analog sticks, and while the cursor speed isn’t particularly great for accuracy, it works. But, then there are times where selecting an option will suddenly tie you into a traditional selection system where you’re jumping between items as if they’re in a list. When this happens, the cursor disappears, and you need to press the B button to get back to where you were. Now, that would be fine if it was predictable, but it isn’t. Some items in a menu can flick you into this mode, whereas others in the very same menu (or in a menu that looks like it should work the same way) don’t. This leads to confusion every once in a while that only serves to remind you that you’re playing a game that was initially designed to be played with a mouse. Unlike earlier console versions though, it does get better the more you play. Things become more comfortable and start to feel more natural, even if there are still times when you’ll be tripped up.
The main thing to bear in mind is that the input problems don’t get in the way of the game itself, which is – as you’d hope and expect – an addictive experience that has the potential to eat up many hours and days. Things play out as they always have. You start with an almost blank palette, so you can create as many characters as you like to serve as the players on your virtual stage. As you run through the initial steps of naming your first character, styling their features, setting their life goals and psychological traits, you’ll realize that you can create an entire fantasy world from scratch. Alternately, you can do what everybody else does (but usually won’t admit) and put pretty accurate representations of your friends and family into your world. It’s fun to see who sets fire to their own house while cooking bacon, and whose kids turn out to be an absolute nightmare. Oh, and who wets themselves in public because they’re too dumb to use the toilet, of course. You can play as just a single household, or a single person if you wish. Alternatively, you can jump between controlling different households and manage the whole town.
Pretty much everything you would expect to be able to do – building your Sim’s careers, managing their love interests, getting married, having kids – is on the table. A successful in-game family will have children who will grow up and have their own careers and lives, to the point that an achievement is on offer for living through 26 generations. It isn’t an award that seems impossible to get, either, given the way that The Sims 4 can gobble up your gaming time. Despite the issue with the control method switching that I detailed before, you can wield a surprising amount of power to keep things feeling fresh as the days, weeks, and lifetimes tick by.
In fact, the only issues with The Sims 4 are nothing to do with the console port, but with the design of the game itself. Things don’t feel as open as they did in previous entries in the series. Formerly, you could send your Sims outside and leave them to wander around in the big, wide world all by themselves. In The Sims 4 however, the world isn’t that big or wide. Residential areas are separated from commercial zones by periods of loading, so you’ll never find your Sims going out on the town on their own. Another thing that breaks up the simulation is that while you can manage multiple households, those outside of your control don’t progress as you’d expect. Sure, they grow old and die, but they never start romantic trysts, get married, or have children without your direct control. This kicks the idea of running your own virtual soap opera into touch somewhat.
As to whether this causes a problem to you as a player and ruins your experience comes entirely down to how you intend to play. If you’re looking to go solo, you’ll be the one sending your Sim to the gym or proposing to your girlfriend, anyway. If you’re looking to run the whole town, then things will seem a little disjointed unless you’re constantly switching back and forth between households, due to the way the game has had its wings clipped since The Sims 3. Spend more time with one family than the rest, and you’ll find that they’ll end up with more children than the entirety of the town.
To balance the feature list up, a new emotion system has been brought into play and is critical in ensuring that your Sims live up to their potential. A sad Sim won’t be able to woo a potential girlfriend since he’ll be too depressed to be funny and charismatic. A confident Sim might go the other way and sweep his potential beau off her feet. Then again, if a Sim with a gloomy disposition happens upon a Sim who is sad, that might cause an attraction. Managing how your Sims feel from hour to hour is key to giving them an overall happy life. This emotional management is made possible by the improved autonomy that your characters have. Previously, if they were hungry and you forgot to tell them to eat food, they’d often drop dead of starvation. Now, if they don’t have any other actions queued up, they’ll run off to the kitchen to whip up a salad to satiate their hunger. With these more mundane tasks taken care of for you more frequently – though you will have to intervene sometimes – you’re free to work on making sure that your little family is truly happy.
What all this boils down to, is that The Sims 4 is mostly what you make of it. The major goals revolve around reaching the top of the career ladder in your Sim’s chosen profession, but outside of that, you’re left to your own devices and have to set your targets yourself. The developer has added a set of up to three constantly changing day-to-day challenges for each character, but they don’t provide enough in terms of rewards to really be anything to write home about. Even without any really compelling goals to shoot for, there’s still plenty of fun to be had in setting up your own scenarios and seeing how they play out. This console port – while not perfect – has been carried out with enough skill that those who want to create their own slices of domestic bliss will indeed be able to do so, even if they’ll occasionally trip over some of the less polished aspects of the control system.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which was provided to us by EA.
The Sims 4 is a relatively solid console port that provides the tools for players to create pretty much any scenario of which they could think. It won't be for everyone, but those drawn to the idea will get hours upon hours of play for their money.