October 3, 2014

A month later, how is The Sims 4?

So now that it's October, and most of us have had about a month to play The Sims 4, how does it hold up?  Many others have said that this version feels more like an update to The Sims 2 than it does as an update to The Sims 3 (I wonder if that was part of the reasoning for making The Sims 2 Ultimate Collection a free download last month).  For me, it's mostly good.  There are a few things I miss from earlier versions, a few new features that I like, and there are a few things that I absolutely detest.

My top picks on features that I miss from earlier games, are these:
  • Open world - The Sims 3 had the open world done right.  Once a world was loaded, my sim could travel to any location and go into most buildings.  There was a lot to explore, and I didn't have to wait for the game to reset everything when my sim visited a neighbor or went to the beach.
  • Vehicles - This goes right along with the open world.  Sims needed ways to get to the other end of the world, and they were able to use the most appropriate vehicles to get there.  The Sims 2 handled cars a little better in that sims actually opened the car door, got in, backed out onto the street and drove away, and The Sims 3 let us follow the cars (or bicycles or even witches' brooms) all the way to their destinations.  But in The Sims 4, all of the vehicles are just background scenery.
  • Playable careers - The Ambitions expansion pack for The Sims 3 added some careers that included some extra gameplay during a sim's work day.  The ghost hunter career was my favorite and the traits that enhanced this career path are the ones that I would more often choose for my sims.  While The Sims 4 does include some "homework" in the gameplay in order to get promotions, and they are more appropriate than just building up your friend list like it was all the way back in The Sims 1, a sim at work in The Sims 4 is simply non-playable.
  • Basements - I grew up in Los Angeles where basements were exceptionally rare, but I moved to the Midwest about 20 years ago, and around here, it's rare for a house to lack a basement.  The basement is often used as an extra living space, but can be converted into almost anything that the homeowner wants.  In The Sims 3, the basement tool was an invaluable tool that I used to expand the living space on every sim house I made or had my sims purchase.  I made wine cellars, theaters, gyms, art studios, servants' quarters, trophy rooms and garages, among many other room types.  The basement was an easy place for me to stash the extra skill-building items that didn't fit into the usual house decor.
Okay, so what do I like?  Well...
  • It works! - More than anything else, I love that I can play The Sims 4 on my current computer.  I'm using a refurbished laptop that is a couple years old now.  The game installed and worked wonderfully out of the box for me, and got a little better when I turned on the "laptop mode" option (with this option turned off, I actually had my computer automatically shut down due to overheating, but have not had that happen yet with this option on).
  • Visual style - I wasn't too keen on the more cartoonish features when the early screenshots were released in Spring and early Summer, but I've gotten used to them.  Touching on the fact that the game runs on my computer, the reduced detail on game items that is most noticeable in the characters' hair, reduces the computing complexity.  Every object in the game seems to fit its environment, and there are lots of little details to find (like the fact that the curtains will subtly wave back and forth as if blown by the house's air conditioning).
  • Conversations continue - I love that I don't have to queue up 80 different interactions when my sims are in conversations.  They will usually keep going with smalltalk between the interactions that I ask them to do.
  • Reusing birthday cakes - In earlier versions, getting multiple sims to age up at once was nearly impossible.  It was a little easier in The Sims 3, but I was still stuck with waiting for each birthday interaction to completely finish before aging up the next sim, then I had to buy a completely different cake for the next sim and go through the whole process again.  In The Sims 4, I can have a sim make one cake, add candles to it, and then add candles again and age up the next sim, and the birthday interactions are much faster than they were in previous versions (and there is finally a birthday song in the game too!)
  • Multitasking - I am continually surprised with the tasks that sims choose to combine.  My sim will change clothes on the way to getting breakfast out of the fridge, chat with other sims while repairing or upgrading objects, move to the ambient music while sitting and performing other actions (like writing a book on the computer or eating a meal and chatting with other sims in the room), and I finally saw one of my sims make a phone call from the toilet.
  • Build mode roof tool - Finally!  Now I can really put the roof pieces the way I want them without all the hassle that were roofs in the previous versions.
  • Sim path selection - I love that a sim in a small bathroom will not be blocked in by another sim at the door any more.  The two sims will be able to get past each other even in very small spaces.
I mentioned that there a few things that I absolutely hate in The Sims 4, and I would be remiss if I didn't list at least a couple of them here.
  • Loading screens - Every time I send a sim to a different building, no matter where it is, I have to sit through a loading screen.  Even going immediately next door forces me to wait for another loading screen.  Sure, having exactly one active building at a time can reduce the computing complexity, but this is overkill.
  • Unreadable text - My vision isn't quite what it used to be, and as a professional photographer, my computer screen is correctly color balanced to help me ensure that I am getting the exact colors I need on my photos and that they will print with my correctly color balanced printer profiles that let me print out exactly the same color (or as absolutely close as possible) that I see on my screen.  That means that my monitor's brightness and contrast are adjusted away from the defaults (which are way too bright).  The Sims 4 user interface is usually a very light blue or light green text, sometimes even yellow-green, against a white background.  This is almost impossible to read.  The notification wall does it right by using high-contrast colors, but the aspirations and job homework text, where I need to read the text more closely to decide on my sims' next actions, does not.
For my style of play, where I try to follow one sim from birth through adulthood and then continue the line by following one of the sim's children, The Sims 4 lets me play.  I remember the big uproar from The Sims 2 to The Sims 3 when players found they couldn't play multiple families concurrently any more, but this was less of a change for me because I've always played in a one-sim-at-a-time manner.  I was never the player who built death trap houses, and although toddlers in earlier versions provided an almost consequence-free time span for skill building, for the most part, The Sims 4 is fun enough that I'll keep playing.

This week's update that added ghosts is a welcome addition, and I look forward to the pools that are coming in next month's update and the new careers in December's update.  It is likely that this game evolution will lead me to stop playing The Sims 3 just like that step led me to stop playing The Sims 2 before it, but I am confident that the game will continue to improve and that I'll find a way to either tolerate or mitigate the shortcomings.