I’m writing this because I care. For a while now, The Sims 4 has been showing signs that it might be on the verge of a nervous breakdown, the sort that would end with it covered in its own waste fluids in the middle of an executive meeting, babbling about the Keen rocketship that it’s building using old tin cans. We’re told that this game is a well-rounded emotional being and an architect – a partytecht, if you will*. It has a robust yet fluid Build mode and enjoys social engagements, but it cannot plan a pool party because it’s incapable of building a pool. Observe.
No pools (or toddlers), and yet it can build rocketships in its shed and grow giant carnivorous plants. It’s as if this particular architect showed up to a building site without any blueprints but hoped it could distract everyone with a comedy tie, or by doing a kerrazy dance.
It’s not that I expect unlimited resources to be spent on the game. Some content will be held back for expansion packs – that’s the way of it in a series that is never shy of piling on the pounds post-release – but the focus on the weird and wacky in the base game may well be at the expense of the ordinary construction features that were once the heart of The Sims. I’ve been unfortunate enough to play the previous game with every expansion pack and it’s a bloody awful mess. Too many ideas clash and it’s impossible to make an autumn salad without being distracted by several thousands types of collectible object, a time portal, robot butlers, zombie hordes and (golly!) an alien judge. Maybe not the last one but my point stands.
If I want to zany up my neighbourhood, I’ll gladly buy expansions that add magic and monsters, but the fantastical appears to be taking over the neighbourhood. Maybe it’s silly to complain but, as I said, I care about The Sims. I think there’s great potential for emergent behaviour and storytelling in a simulation of something approaching the soap opera of modern life, but when I see a rocket flying over the neighbourhood, I think of a player grinding skills and construction.
There’s more oddity in the strange interactions between intelligent entities, whether articially so or not, than in a canned animation that happens to involve a Rube Goldberg machine that makes pies. I hope The Sims 4 hasn’t lost sight of that.
The sad truth is that I’ll probably be fairly pleased no matter what else has changed as long as the pathfinding really is improved. I’m easily won over in the few spheres left with little competition. The Sims 4 may not be the soap opera sim I’m looking for but for all its wackiness, it might still be the closest thing.
*you really shouldn’t