The Sims is a game that needs no introduction. Whether you like to create epic love stories, build fantastical mansions or just like locking people in a toilet and deleting the door, the virtual social simulator that is The Sims has taken the world by storm. With the release date of the fourth instalment drawing ever closer, we got to go hands-on with a near final build of the Sims at giant German games expo, gamescom. While you'll already have seen what Ian got up to with the game (in a piece that became "How (not) to fall in love on the SIms 4"), I took the slightly more serious approach, and delved straight under the hood to see what's new.
Play quizzes, win prizes! Test your knowledge with our quizzes, and you could win £/$/€ 20 of PSN/XBL/eShop/Steam credit!
As always, your game starts with the character creator, where you get to design your virtual people, in a much more user-friendly way than ever before. Choosing from a number of pre-set skin tones, hairstyles and outfits, you can create your Sims in the much the same way as you have in the past - but where the funky part comes in, is that now you can make fine adjustments to their body shape. Gone are the awkward sliders (well, technically they're still there), and instead you can simply click on your characters thighs, chest or waistline and drag your cursor around until it looks right, to edit your Sim in real time 3D. It's a lot easier than before, and really helps when it comes to getting the small details right.
The other big difference is that the new editor also allows for making sims with drastically different body types to the generic, skinny people the game's allowed before. Fat or thin, stocky or scrawny, apple, pear, or whatever other fruit your body resembles, you have a lot more freedom when it comes to defining your Sim's physique - and that makes creating a Sim that looks just like your friends, family, or even yourself that much easier.
Apart from the improved interface, and the ability to make Sims with different body types, there's little else truly new here, though. Personalities, aspirations and traits haven't really changed too much, and it's still a simple case of picking three of the personality 'traits' that you think best describe your Sim - in the case of the Everybody's Plays team, that was a clumsy, music loving, goofball for Sarah, who famously injured herself three times in a single week long holiday, and our editor Ian as a self-assured, genius, geek, as he'd no doubt like to see himself. As for aspirations, the lifetime goals your Sims want to achieve before they die, Sarah fancies her chances at being a Master Chef, whilst Ian, in fitting in with his personality, wants to be a 'Mansion Baron', owning the biggest, fanciest house in the whole neighbourhood. The traits you choose will define your Sim's personality, and determine how well they get on with other sims, as well as what they get up to when you're not looking
From there, its a simple matter of buying a house, moving in and getting stuck into what the actual game has to offer. Much to Ian's disappointment, our limited funds meant we couldn't leap straight into a castle, and instead had to plump for the more modest 'Crick Cabana', which, according to the description, boasted a whopping two bedrooms and one bathroom. Unfortunately, after putting our money down, we entered the house to find one bathroom, one kitchen, and a single bedroom, with the other bedroom nowhere to be seen. Unless they're expecting you to sleep on the floor in the living room.
Having made some hasty living arrangements, all that was left was to buy the little essentials - a cooker, a fridge, and a dustbin with a dinosaur on. Oh, and a nice mat, and some carpet, and a chest of drawers, and a gramophone... and, er, a grand piano. OK, so as always, we got a little bit overzealous with decking our cabana out - but on the plus side, it did lead us to discover something interesting. With our Simoleon reserve looking a little bit low, a quick open of the console let us try out the age old "Motherlode" cheat - and a few second later, our bank balance didn't look quite so barren. Yes, the motherlode "infinite money" cheat still works - which was a relief to say the least. Having got a bit overzealous with the sofa shopping and left no money for a toilet, things could have got a bit... awkward without it.
While you ultimately have control over what your Sims do, the feelings they have are very much their own - and that plays back into how they interpret your instructions. For example, when feeling 'inspired' following her thoughtful shower one morning, virtual Sarah can build her creativity skill much more quickly when playing the piano, whilst an angry character can either take their terrible mood out on one of their housemates, or channel the extra rage into something more productive - like a rather intensive workout. Sad characters will walk around hunched over, with quivering lips, whilst a playful Ian is restless, and desperate to joke around with all and sundry. Rather than seeming like emotionless robots, It makes your Sims seem that much more lifelike, adding some much-needed variety (and potential volatility) to their interactions.
At one point, when left to their own devices, our Everybody Plays team got into a dance off (don't ask), which quickly, and randomly, took a turn for the embarrassing half way through. Suddenly overcome with shyness, both Ian and Sarah made a break for it, only to be found hiding from each other under the bed covers, in their shared bedroom.
But emotions aren't without their consequences - in fact, some of them are downright deadly. For the masochists among you, you'll be pleased to know that EA have added a whole host of new ways to kill your Sims, all of which are, somewhat strangely, tied to the game's new emotion system. For example, your Sim may find it SO hilarious when their friend accidentally sets the cake machine on fire that they actually laugh themselves to death - or, on the flipside, get so livid at the possibility of a life without cupcakes that they pop their clogs on the spot.
In the past your Sims went about their daily routines with single-minded determination - when they read a book, they read a book; when they spoke to Dave, they spoke to only Dave; and when they watched TV, not even a bomb scare could have disturbed them. It may have taken them 15 years, but your Sims have finally evolved to multi-task! Now they can chat while they're keeping fit, converse while they're catching up on the news or even take part in larger group conversations.
But while emotions, a new, simpler creator and multi-tasking are all well and good, it's not necessarily all sunshine and daisies for the Sims 4. Some features which have been pretty much standard seem noticeable by their absence in this latest iteration, some causing an uproar from fans. Like swimming pools - the definitive, fail-safe method for both keeping fit and killing those neighbours you don't like (take that Mortimer!) - won't be available from the outset, but will likely be patched in later, although it remains unclear whether that will be through free downloads or via a paid-for expansion pack. Ditto for the toddler life stage too, which has also been cut from The Sims 4.
Still - new Sims is hardly bad news, especially as it seems like an age ago when The Sims 3 hit stores. Coming to PCs everywhere on the 4th September, why not read Ian's take on the Sims in "How (not) to fall in love on the Sims 4", or take a peek at the most recent trailer below to get you in the mood: