TheMorty escapes into real life to avoid virtual life in The Sims
Friday night. I’m shattered. I’ve just got home from a stressful week at work dealing with a nightmare boss. Too much work to do, so I skipped lunch. Awful commute home left me badly needing a shower. There’re bills on the doorstep that I’m worrying about how to pay and I still haven’t cleaned dishes since Sunday. The Dog needs feeding and taking for another walk and the wife is nagging that I haven’t spent any time with her. There’s a crying baby somewhere in a house I haven’t finished furnishing because I spent all my months wages on a huge TV that has since broken from over use. I have no idea of how to repair it and really need a to call a repairman to help fix. I haven’t studied anything in months and am forgetting almost every word of the extra language I started learning. I haven’t practiced the guitar or seen my friends in ages and I’ve no idea what a Gym is. I’ve really aged, I mean, in almost a week my hair has gone from thick, silky and dark to thinning, coarse and grey. When will this life end, when will I just be put out of my misery.
Anyway, enough about my life… I remembered the original Sims fondly from 20 years ago. It was a game that gave you the chance to live vicariously through an on-screen avatar, back when RPGs were all about action. A life simulator where you went to work in a job you could never get IRL – like a comedian, an athlete or a spy. You bought pointless, expensive commodities and you had the chance to randomly chat up married women that lived in your street without being thumped by their massive, brick-shedhouse of a husband. Somewhat more entertaining, was the fact that the game presented the opportunity for you to be an architect, designing and building structures on a modest plot of land. Fast forward to the 4th iteration of the game and the nostalgia has well and truly evaporated. The game has lost its simplicity and has around 50 add-on packs for pets, dating, holidays, university – and of course the pointless cosplay outfits for your Sim’s inner geek.
Your first task is to create a sim. Either singular or a whole family. I started by playing the game on Easy Mode – i.e. just creating an early 20s single guy. Just like any RPG, this brings with it a lot of pressure and, often, remorse. Throwback to my first Oblivion playthrough where I got 5 hours in before instantly regretting my character class of Archer – why didn’t I choose Paladin!? Here, you get to choose from a number of superficial ‘Traits’. These aren’t Perks, they’re just to determine how whiny you’re going to be. You can try to select the Family’ Perk but you’ll lose happiness if you don’t spend enough time with your friends, the ‘Love’ trait? Nah, you’ll just lose happiness if you don’t go on dates. Choose ‘Athletic’ at your peril, as you’ll have to spend most of your days working out. This isn’t like Fallout, where the Perks you choose can greatly increase your ability to play the game, on the contrary, in The Sims the traits restrict you to playing a certain way and, if you go off-piste, your character can moan at you or even have a nervous breakdown. This isn’t a fun game at all.
I create my single lad in his 20s – choosing only abilities that will make the game easy. Things like ‘Food’ – because obviously I’ll have to eat to survive. The next step is selecting my neighbourhood. ‘Oasis Springs’ sounds pleasant but, with a modest wallet of around $20,000 Simoleans, I’m not going to have the capital to purchase a decent home. I decide to start from scratch and crack on designing the perfect pad. Big kitchen, huge lounge, game-room for the snooker table, outdoor bar, hot-tub and swimming pool, basketball court… alas, after getting as far as the kitchen and its appliances I’ve run out of cash. The building materials are so expensive! I better downsize the plot of land… after a few goes I soon realise my wallet isn’t going to be enough to cover anything more than a small plot and enough timber for a modest, starter bungalow. So, I try again, making all my interal doors and windows cheap, going for the cheapest wallpaper and the most plain of floor tiles. but, again, I run out of cash shortly after the roof is on. I downsize and downsize some more, repeating the process for about 90 minutes before I finally just decide - to hell with it. Let’s just have one room, stick everything I want in it. No separate bedroom, no separate bathroom (well, I’ll stick a partition wall in of course – I’m not playing as a savage), I’ll chuck a microwave in the corner, a TV, a computer, a single bed, a mirror and a pool table. Before I know it, I’ve created a bet-sit fit for a 45-year old divorcee at the peak of his mid-life crisis.
After wasting nearly 3 hours setting up my life, I stop building and start playing. My Sim goes for a wander around his new surroundings, making small gasp-faces and jumping up and down like a young Dale Winton whenever he spots a new appliance. Must say, this isn’t often and he’s visibly unimpressed with my budget décor. My Sim opens the fridge there’s 40 options to eat, all with varying prices, the cheapest being $2. We are certainly not playing as a Vegan as the cheapest non-carne food is $16 and I don’t even have a job yet! This is the time my remorse sets in – why did I choose the Foody trait?! He’s going to be so annoyed living off the darts players diet of crisps. My Sim eats and I send him off to the computer to look for a job.
I open the job page, opting for the job with the highest paid starting salary. Computer Programmer, that’ll do. I watch a bit of TV before getting an early night, ready for my first day at work. After a couple minutes of watching the screen on fast forward, I wake up, eat basic food, shower and off I pop to work. While I’m out, a few random neighbours pop round to welcome me to the ‘hood. Thankfully, I’m not home so I don’t have to turn the lights off and pretend I’m out (I’m playing as an anti-social village weirdo). I have a few things I need to adjust while at work, basically, just how hard I’m working – which has to be hard if I want to climb that career ladder and move home. I get back, exhausted, hungry and desperate for a toilet break. I take care of all of those things and then its an evening of TV before bed before another day of work. This routine goes on for two more days before I’m promoted and get a small pay rise. Nice.
So far so good but I’m struggling to find the enjoyment in this game. There’s no mini games and it doesn’t have the architectural draw that SimCity, Rollercoaster Tycoon or Theme Hospital had. The fun stops after your home is built and it’s just a mundane chore simulator. A neighbour pops round in the evening, we chat about nothing. Literally, nothing. Just mumbles with pictures of what we agree on. I have a few options to try and make friends, most of which are just repetitive flirting – telling awful dad jokes or complementing them. This game doesn’t discriminate against any sexual preference – chat up whoever you like! Male, female, single, married. If you’re an adult, you’re fair game in The Sims! I’m chatting to a woman and its bed time, so I end the conversation and hit the hay, but she’s still in my house… The screen fasts forward and she’s just pottering about, eating my food and leaving dishes on the table, reading books and leaving them on the floor. What’s going on? She eventually leaves at around 2am. Was I supposed to kick her out? The next day starts as any other, I get up and go to work. While I’m out, my new lady friend pops round and rings the doorbell and waits for 2 hours before going home. TWO HOURS? This is weird. Does the game have stalkers?
Honestly, I am so bored of this game. It’s painful. I’m around 6 hours in and all I’m doing is working all day and stressing about eating, sleeping and cleaning all night. I try to treat this as a game, but there’s no end in sight. I study to try and build up my skills so I can progress in my career, but you must do it slowly and it takes a lot of time. If this was a traditional RPG, I’d be focussing on building my XP right now, but there’s no side missions to do that, just a linear path to death.
If struggling with the gameplay wasn’t bad enough, the UI is abysmal. With a mouse and keyboard this would perhaps have been palatable, but the console port makes navigating too much like hard work. You’re constantly rotating the camera to access your appliances behind walls and 90% of the time you’re undoing actions from repeatedly clicking the wrong item.
The Sims in the neighbourhood are annoying, but you may enjoy this game is if you’re full-on psychopath. There’s nothing stopping you from inviting all the neighbourhood over to your home, entering build mode and removing the doors, trapping them before unleashing traps akin to a 2000s horror movie. Letting a neighbour use the swimming pool – only for you to remove the steps, making them keep swimming until they’re beyond exhausted and, eventually, drown. You can kill your neighbours and even your own sim in a variety of different ways but you’d have to have a screw loose if you wasted a whole day setting up your home and building relationships with neighbours for this to happen.
All simulators in the marketplace have unique attributes that set them apart from their competition; be it the comedy of Goat Simulator, DNA splicing in Jurassic World Evolution or even the survivalist nature of Planet Base. With Sims 4, it feels like there’s nothing new, it’s the same old-same old we’ve seen in 4 iterations without any improvement. While it’s a little more high-res, there’s nothing different between this and it’s prequels. Quite how they could justify this as a £50 game on release baffles me. Even if you’re a huge fan of the franchise, there’s no ‘Game of the Year Edition’ where you can get all the DLCs in one place, in fact, if you wanted to purchase each of the DLC packs to have the full Sims experience, you’d be looking at a total price close to £150.
Often, simulators are a pleasant surprise or at the very least a good way to kill a few hours, but here you spend so long just setting up your Sims life that it’s neither fun nor is it worth wasting your time with. From now on, I’m sticking to goats