I’ve always loved the idea of The Sims, even before the game existed. The first time the idea of a life simulator came into my head, I was 3 or 4 years old. I remember playing Dream House on my older brother’s Commodore 64, and I always imagined people inhabiting the houses I was playing around with.
Okay, so Dream House was more of a coloring book and sticker set than boundless architectural tool and life simulator, but nevertheless, something kind of like The Sims has existed since 1984. By the time The Sims was released in 2000, I only had a vague memory of Dream House, but The Sims clearly reminded me of how fun it was to design and decorate a house in a video game. Of course, it was the inhabitants of the house that really brought The Sims to life, and it’s no wonder that the franchise has sold over 175 million copies as of September of 2013.
Though the success of The Sims cannot be overstated, there were a few missteps over the years that have resulted in my losing interest in the franchise. By the time The Sims 3 came out, we had already experienced The Sims and its 7 expansion packs and The Sims 2 and its 8 expansion packs. That’s just a ton of content across two generations of games!
Then The Sims 3 showed up, and it felt incredibly sparse compared to its predecessors. I remember looking through the available furniture and saying out loud, “That’s it?” I mean, granted, I was able to recolor the pieces that were available, but that didn’t make me feel any better at the time. Meanwhile, EA was trying to sell me new pieces of furniture off of The Sims 3 Store that were ludicrously expensive. Seriously, who is spending $1 on a single piece of virtual furniture, or nearly $30 on a set of it? $30! Whole expansion packs cost that much, complete with engaging new gameplay and features! Why would I spend that much on some tables and chairs? It felt like I had been sold a fraction of a product for the price of a whole one, and then expected to buy the rest of it piece by piece for hundreds of dollars.
The Sims 3 Store drove me away from the franchise for quite some time. But after a couple of years, I got the urge to play again, so I bought a few expansion packs during a 50% off sale and gave it a try on my brand new computer, confident that I would have fun. I was incredibly wrong. The game performed poorly on my new gaming rig. Load times were obnoxiously long and the frame rate was frustratingly low. It was clear that The Sims 3 was not capable of taking advantage of my powerful computer, and that the engine was buckling under the weight of how much expansion content had been added to the game over the years. Barely scratching the surface of the new gameplay that was available to me, I shelved The Sims 3 yet again.
The Sims 4
When The Sims 4 was finally announced—after no less than ELEVEN expansion packs for The Sims 3—I was skeptical to say the least. “Here we go again,” I thought. “This is just going to be the start of another generation of incomplete games with overpriced DLC and poor optimization. I shouldn’t even bother to watch the trailer.” But then I watched the trailer.
Well, crap. Now I have to buy it. I may be falling right into EA’s trap yet again, but I can’t help it. The Sims 4 looks fantastic. I love the new Create-a-Sim, which allows players to adjust the physical appearance of their Sims just by clicking and dragging. Similarly, building structures looks effortless; rooms can be plopped, pushed and pulled into shape, and they can even be picked up and moved to another part of the lot all at once.
But my favorite new feature is the emotion that has been given to the Sims themselves. They can be happy, sad, angry, depressed, bored, confident, hysterical, cranky, focused, passionate, inspired and more, along with varying degrees of intensity of each. And that emotion has an effect on how they can interact with other Sims and objects. Likewise, the kinds of objects placed around the Sims will affect their emotions accordingly. That’s a huge step forward for using The Sims as a tool for storytelling and should make all aspects of gameplay more fun and entertaining.
But I do still have my doubts. This could very well turn into The Sims 3 all over again if the game is launched with a lack of content, tons of expensive DLC and inadequate optimization. But there is some good news! The Sims 4 will be playable offline, and won’t include any always-online features, so at least we don’t have to worry about another launch disaster on the scale of SimCity, assuming the Origin servers can keep up with demand for people downloading the game. Though now that I think about it, that’s a pretty big assumption. In any case, for the next couple of months—and quite against my better judgment—I’ll be eagerly awaiting The Sims 4, which will be released on September 2nd in North America.