If there's one thing that The Sims 4: Cats & Dogs has taught us, it's that digital pets are a whole lot of work. In fact, they almost seem to be even more work than our own two boisterous felines, who, when they're not busy bringing back dead birds, pestering for food, or brawling on the stairs, are mostly happy to chill in a comfy spot and watch the world go by. Meanwhile on The Sims, however, our little nuclear pet family has had four different illnesses, ran away from home a dozen or so times, and brought back no less than three action figures between them. Oh, and our kleptomaniac neighbours keep stealing all our pet food bowls too.
But such is an average day in the crazy world of The Sims, the much-loved virtual dolls house-cum-life Sim which has been eating up our spare time for the best part of two decades. Now on its fourth iteration, the (comparatively) recent console port of The Sims 4 has been playing catch up with the PC version, and the myriad of expansion packs have started to hit the Playstation 4 and Xbox One - with Cats & Dogs having long been the most anticipated of the lot (just behind Seasons). Pets have always been one of our favourite additions to The Sims, and Cats & Dogs brings the most realistic furry friends yet, along with a swish new veterinarian career with a bit of a difference.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Cats and Dogs expansion without an all new pet creator, and luckily, this expansion doesn't disappoint. A fully-fledged Create-A-Pet tool, which is almost as all-encompassing as its human equivalent, gives you preset mutts and moggies of almost every breed imaginable, which you can tweak and combine to your heart's content to make your own unique cross breeds. Each pet has its own personality, too, and just like with your Sims, you can pick three traits to help define how they behave - clever dogs have an easier time learning tricks, gluttons are especially food motivated, while vocal cats can make a right racket at 2am, when your Sim's trying to get some essential shut eye. There's also a variety of costumes to dress your poor unsuspecting pets in - which is why our ginger tom, Cheeseburger, is currently sporting a top hat and bow tie. Our female feline, Noodle, actually happens to think he looks very dapper - to the point where there may be the pitter-patter of tiny paws some time soon... If she can find enough free time in her hectic fridge-staring schedule, anyway. A friendly springer spaniel by the name of Bert rounds out the trio, and his love of squeaky balls and swimming pools knows no bounds.
Being more than a little hyper, Bert seems particularly keen on his morning walks. In fact, "keen" might not be the right word, as the first one we missed actually saw him up and leave home, much to the chagrin of his owner, Veronica. The worst part was it wasn't even laziness, as we'd had an unfortunate midnight run-in with the local vampire (a game pack bought courtesy of a recent PSN sale) that left poor V in an exhausted, bloodless heap on the bedroom floor, in no shape for walkies, let alone her day job as an astronaut. Totally oblivious to the black-caped intruder, expert guard dog Bert slept straight through the ordeal on the sofa (those darn cats had stolen his dog bed once more), giving no thought to his anaemic owner come the morning, when he packed up his squeaky toys and strolled out the front door. Fortunately, 'running away' in The Sims 4: Cats & Dogs is only ever temporary, and thanks to a missing pet post online, he returned safely - albeit a lot muddier - the following day, much to Veronica's relief. Little did she know, these adventures would be an almost weekly occurrence...
Now, the eagle-eyed among you may have noticed Veronica works as an astronaut - not the new Cats & Dogs-exclusive vet career. From the moment she was created (about a week ago), Veronica Eterinary has dreamed of being a vet, and her cat lover, dog lover and animal affection personality traits give her an innate understanding of all things cute and furry. Unfortunately, the vet career in The Sims 4: Cats & Dogs functions a little differently from your average job, where you work your way up from a lonely cage cleaner to head vet. For anyone who's played Sims expansions like Get to Work and Dine Out, it'll be more than a little familiar, but in the world of Cats & Dogs, you have to go straight in at the top and buy your own Vet Clinic, running and managing your own little animal hospital all by yourself.
The catch, of course, is that this requires quite a large financial outlay - you'll need enough money in your Sims' accounts to cover a whole new building, outfitted with some rather fancy (and therefore pricey) equipment, which in our case, meant Veronica needed another job in order to make ends meet, whilst putting in the hours at home brushing up her Veterinarian skill in the meantime. Once she'd managed to squirrel away a good 20,000 simoleans or so, she could finally afford to cough up for her dream vets - a small clinic on the outskirts of town, with the bare minimum of equipment to be getting on with. And then the fun really began.
Unlike your average Sim career, vets don't simply disappear into the abyss during work hours. Instead, you travel with your Sim, and help them make crucial cat and canine-related decisions during their day. Sims show up at the clinic with their pets in tow, and it's up to you to examine them, figure out what's wrong with them, and treat them, earning simoleans and building a better reputation for your clinic as you go, with a better rep in turn drawing in more patients, and the potential for money too. Once you've coaxed an unwilling pooch or persuaded a petrified pussy up onto your examination table, its simply matter of giving them a look over and filling in a short laundry list of symptoms to make a diagnosis, before picking out the right treatment and sending them on their merry way. Unlike real life, every ailment has a cure, but being able to make the correct judgements requires you to put the time in to level up your veterinarian skill first. Essentially, as you examine different parts of the animal, different possible treatments will be written off to leave a single solution, shown with a green thumbs up. However, if you lack the appropriate knowledge, you'll probably find several left at the end with an ambiguous question mark, meaning you'll have to make a bit of an awkward decision - guess and risk getting it wrong, or give them the dreaded cone of shame, which, while it's a guaranteed cure, does not impress the owner, or pet, very much.
It may be a fairly simple process, but that doesn't mean being a vet is a dull occupation. Far from it, in fact, as we've had more than our fair share of absurd Sims moments during our tenure. One of our first patients, a big dopey chow by the name of Rosie, managed to cover our waiting room in vomit in the short space of time it took our Sim to have a quick toilet break, and left a strange puddle behind when she left the examination table. As our vet clinic is run on a bit of a shoestring budget, we spent so long mopping up that the next patient had the audacity to complain about the long waiting times. Another time, a guy brought his cat in for a routine check up, and after pronouncing it perfectly healthy, we chose the 'Dismiss patient' option in an attempt to send him on his way - except it turned out to be more of a 'chuff off you're wasting my time' option instead, earning us a bit of a bad review. Later on, we discovered you can give healthy animals a 'preventative shot' for the owners' piece of mind, and which also avoids any potential customer service issues too. Other important discoveries we made that day were that you can not only neuter, but you can also de-neuter animals; you can craft different pet 'treats' that seem to have no purpose other than making the animals you feed them to ill; and that trying to make and eat a simple bowl of nachos can take all afternoon when you have a constant stream of sick animals hitting your clinic.
But arguably the most entertaining event was the time my own Sim - you know, the one who runs the vets, and was working in the vets at the time - stopped by the surgery with my own dog in tow. Despite the fact he'd been totally fine when we'd left him all of an hour ago, Bert had managed to come down with a bad case of glowing red paws, and my doppelgänger was so concerned about him, she'd rushed him straight there. What followed was a rather surreal examination where my Sim in vet clothes examined the pooch, whilst my Sim in her every day clothes looked on, worried and occasionally gasping and moaning, obviously expecting us to have to lop off Bert's feet and bury them 50ft deep in a lead-lined bunker. Fortunately, the treatment for his radioactive paws is a simple injection, which patient Veronica should have really known herself, given her level 8 veterinarian skill - but seemingly she leaves her vet brain at the office along with her uniform.
It may be predictable, but adding pets to The Sims is always a blast, and The Sims 4: Cats & Dogs is no exception. Furry friends really do liven up the whole experience, and this latest expansion brings with it cats and dogs that are more life-like than ever. The ability to run your own vet clinic is a bit different too, and is a nice change of pace from a bog-standard Veterinarian career where your Sim simply disappears for eight hours each day - although setting one up does require quite a large financial outlay, and takes more than a little bit of planning. Personally, however, The Sims 4: Cats & Dogs is like all our virtual Christmases came at once - cute, fluffy, and kitten-shaped.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4