Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Sims 4 Hands On: Review

Speculation has been running wild for months about The Sims 4 as the information slowly trickles in.  A tweet here, a blog post by a guru there.  But now, with The Sims 4 Creator Camp, we have a flood of information.  Because a group of creators and simmers were allowed hours and hours of actual hands-on experience with the game.  The whole game.

The first thing you need to know is that we were allowed to only take a limited number of screen shots.  I chose to focus mine primarily on build mode...both because that is what interests me the most as a builder and because I felt like there has been the least amount of coverage released about that aspect of the game.  I think between all of the variety of creators in attendance, we should have a good variety of things to show you. Even so, I failed.  I was having so much fun playing and exploring the game that I didn't do as good a job on taking screen shots as I could have.

So...where to start?

My overall impression is that The Sims 4 has the potential to make me actually play ( as opposed to just create) more than previous iterations of the franchise.  I found the worlds to be appealing, interesting places I wanted to explore and the sims inhabiting them to be quirky, funny, and full of personality.  I was intrigued and charmed.

Like any typical player, the first thing I did was to go into Create-A-Sim and make a sim to place in the world.  The Gallery is available to download other player's creations if you are not in the mood to make your own, and even with a limited number of demo copies released, it is already chock full of fascinating creations. Although I had already spent weeks poking around in the Create-A-Sim Demo, there was still plenty to discover about this aspect of the game:

  • The outfits shown in the demo really are just a portion of what is available. The demo only shows Young Adults.  But other than the children, there is no age restriction on the outfits.  Elders can wear Young Adult outfits, and Teens can wear Elder clothing.  This makes the pool of clothing choices to pick from more vast than the demo.  Huge plus!
  • The kids are adorable.  Seriously adorable. The outfits for the kids are cute and have a lot of personality.  The hairstyles are much better than what we saw in the base game for The Sims 3.  
  • Teens look deceptively similar to Adults.  Much has been made of the fact that teens are the same height as Adults. I question the effectiveness of this design decision.  It really can be very difficult to identify teens from adults. While they do have narrower shoulders and a somewhat more "scrawny" build, you can easily adjust these features and make a teen that is virtually indistinguishable from an adult. 
  • You can select multiple outfits for each category.  For instance, you can set up 3 different every day outfits for the same sim.

  • The randomizer tool uses a sophisticated tagging technology to ensure that even though outfits are random, things kind of "go together" or make sense.
  • The randomizer can pinpoint exactly those aspects you want to change, allowing you to discover new looks while keeping things you like.

  • The genetics tool is smarter and effectively blends half the traits from one parent with those of the other.  We saw children that were a true blend of the parents and maintained some very clear family resemblances.  The "sibling" generator seems to take half from the sibling and the other from random traits, as there appeared to be much wider variation. 
For a more in depth look at Create-A-Sim, click here

As I have said previously, I feel like I have a lot of tools in Create-A-Style to make a variety of interesting, attractive ( or not so attractive) sims.  So let's get into the game!

What in the World?

One of the first things I noticed was the clean, modern look of the UI.  Everything is backed in white, as opposed to blue, and this makes it easier to see and read.  The controls are present, yet unobtrusive and I felt like they receded nicely and allowed the action on the screen to take center stage. I like the look.

There is a very strong design aesthetic at work in The Sims 4.  It reminds me of hand drawn animation cels.  For those who prefer a more gritty, realistic look, this might be considered a negative.  I found it to be in keeping with the humorous, "adventures unfolding around every corner" feel of the game and I enjoyed it. I felt like I stepped into my own personal story book.

The lush world of Willow Creek

The world lighting scheme is also a very powerful, defined look.  It might be just a little too heavy handed, as I found it skewed the colors of things enough to make building problematic.  The morning light is a very strong yellow, while the daytime lighting makes anything white appear to be more blue toned.  Shadows are a very strong deep purple color and almost appear to be an object, the outlines are so clearly defined.  While I could appreciate the additional ambiance the lighting scheme contributed to the world look and feel, a completely neutral "build mode" light scheme for creators wanting to accurately view the colors they are working with would be extremely helpful.

There are actually two worlds to select from for your Sim's home base: a lush suburb reminiscent of the New Orleans Garden District and a vivid, painted desert setting similar to The Sims 3 world of Lucky Palms. Each world has 5 neighborhoods and a large park.  There is a "manage worlds" control button that allows you to do things like delete and replace lots, choose a different lot for your sim, and such.  While I was excited to see 2 different worlds in a base game product with such distinctive looks, I was also a bit disappointed by the relatively small size of the worlds over all.  There are only 4 venues in each world along with the large park.

The painted desert of Oasis Springs

There ARE loading screens between lots.  In practice I did not find it obtrusive or bothersome.  The transitions were very quick, though I would be concerned that those with slower machines might find this problematic.  The result of loading one particular area at a time is that your active zone is much more vibrant and alive.  I cant count how many times while playing The Sims 3 I sent my sim to a location only to find that it was fairly empty and devoid of other sims.  I cant imagine my sim being lonely in The Sims 4.  There was plenty of foot traffic near my home lot and when I visited a night spot, it was full of a variety of sims to interact with.

Lot sizes range from 15x20 to 50x50. Most of the lots in the neighborhoods already have houses on them, but you can easily demolish them with a bulldozer tool to make space to build your own creation or swap them out with something from the player created Gallery.  We noticed that it was very easy to change your sim's home.  You didn't have to move them out or anything.  Just a few clicks and boom!  New home.

What can I make?

Speaking of new homes, it is no secret that I am a builder.  My absolute favorite part of any of The Sims franchise is creating and building lots.  That being said, I spent a huge majority of my time poking around in Build mode.  We have seen a CAS demo and game play footage, but the coverage of build mode has been a bit on the light side, so I wanted to correct that.  Overall, I found many things to be delighted with and plenty of new tools and functions to expand my creativity.

For an in-depth, detailed look at Build Mode in The Sims 4 CLICK HERE

Animations, Emotions and Multitasking...Oh MY!

Once you have your sim settled in a home ( a single sim starts out with $20,000 simoleons!) and you start playing, one of the things you will immediately notice is amazing animation improvements.  Sims really do move and interact with each other in a more natural manner.  I saw one sim cooking and talking to someone behind them.  As they cooked, they occasionally looked over their shoulder to address the person behind them.  I had another sim working at a computer desk in a bedroom.  When his wife came in to talk to him, she sat on the edge of the bed very naturally. All of the animations are brand new for this game, so the sims are constantly doing something interesting...and hysterical.  The new dances had me laughing out loud. Between the animations and the new emotion system, I found the sims much more interesting to watch.

Feeling proud?

Much has been said about the emotions of the sims and I was curious to see how this was different from previous games in the franchise.  Right off the bat, you will notice that your sims thumbnail portrait in the corner is not static, but changes to reflect your sims emotional state. There are also colors to reflect this emotional state...orange for "uncomfortable", pink for "playful" and blue for "inspired" just to name a few. The descriptions of these states give you hints at what you can do to either enhance or mitigate your sims current emotional state.  Of course, you can also just look at your sim to see how they are feeling.  When my sim was mad, she stomped around and looked like she was ready to hit someone.  When she came home tired from work, she literally drooped with exhaustion. it was fun to watch.  I can see a lot of potential for story telling and machinima makers.  You can also see three desires or "whims" for your sim and hints as to what might happen if you fulfill them.  The action queue is also down at the bottom directly above your sim portrait and you can line up 6 actions at a time.

My sim had an awkward social interaction and she became embarrassed.  This opened a new option to "hide from everyone in bed"  It was so amusing!

 I particularly appreciated the clean, modern look of the UI.  Everything is backed in white, as opposed to blue, and this makes it easier to see and read.  The controls are present, yet unobtrusive and I felt like they receded nicely and allowed the action on the screen to take center stage. I like the look.

The level of multitasking is a delight. I had a sim child do homework and chat with a friend at the same time.  She would alternate between doing the school work and looking up to joke with her friend...earning relationship points with the friend at the same time she was finishing her chore.  Fantastic!  Sims can chat with the person on the treadmill next to them while watching a cooking tv show and develop a relationship, earn fitness skills, and cooking skills all at the same time. I love this.

What is the bottom line?

  •  Very strong game play and entertainment value.  
  • A distinctive look that could be a "love it or hate it" depending on your taste 
  •  A robust build mode with a plenty to offer but a few  shortcomings.
  • More of the humor and quirkiness that are the hallmark of The Sims franchise

The fireflies near the river were such a lovely detail 

Over all, my hands on time with The Sims 4 flew by and that is an excellent indicator of an entertaining, engrossing game.  One day it seemed like we had just gotten started and it was already lunch time.  Hours had passed without me hardly noticing because I was so thoroughly captivated by this funky, vibrant colorful world of The Sims 4.  Will I be buying the game?  You bet!


  1. Thank you for your in-depth review of TS4. It was very enlightening. I have to say since creator's camp the enthusiasm of those who were invited to attend has helped me be a little bit more comfortable with the changes. I am still on the fence for playing it myself, but I feel like that is slowly resolving away. I still have strong reservations about the lack of CFE, MOO, CASt... but I am sure they will find a way to at very least bring back CFE and MOO. I'm pretty sure CASt will not be returning, but more preset options would be very nice indeed.

  2. 45rpm here. Thanks for the informative detailed review. I play very different from you and I dont think I ll be happy in Sims 4. 4 venues No colour wheel. I could go on and on. I will likely not buy it and end my relationship with the Sims after playing from Set 1. Its a huge step backwards in my opinion. I do however believe it will be a huge success.

  3. After reading several of your post I'll just comment once. I have made up my mind and will be getting Sims4. I won't enjoy the loading screens but can live with it. I too hope they give us more preset colors to work with. I was always disappointed when I could not match things in Sims2. I like how they have included so many things in the base game. I will like being able to adjust the curtains to fit the windows and being able to place wall objects wherever I want. Love the counter placement thing too. Of course I will miss toddlers and pools but surely they will be added at a later date. Thank you for taking the time to share all this information. Clutter for the world!!! :)

  4. Thank you so much for this blog post. I am still on the fence about the game until I have my hands on it and am able to check it out for myself but at least your post makes me want to see how the game play is. I don't play TS3 very often except to play test lots as I primarily use it for building so by the sounds of it I may use TS4 more for game play.

  5. I like the style how sims wear. Truely a big fan of this game.
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About Me

I build lots for people to use in the Sims. I have created hundreds of lots that have been downloaded by people all over the world. My work has been featured on the official Sims 3 site, several Sims 3 fan sites and in Game Informer magazine.
I am a mom...a gamer...a book worm...a worrywart...a fan of architecture, interior design, and all things Grumpy Cat.