The Sims 4 Exclusive Hands-On Preview

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On the 12th August I travelled to Cologne, Germany for a 4 hour preview of The Sims 4. During this short period of time we were allowed to do anything we wanted with the game and learn more about it. After a lot of travelling, almost missing a few trains and being sleep deprived – I am now in a position to tell you about the things I have seen in-game and write an honest opinion based on my experience at the event.

The Sims 4 is the next generation of The Sims franchise which focuses on the mind, body and heart of The Sims themselves. All-new emotion based gameplay has been introduced, among many new features, which makes a huge impact on your Sims’ behaviour when they perform actions or in social situations. A term thrown about was that they’re now “3D on the inside”, and I completely agree with this.

Just a quick note before we continue. The Sims 4 is a deep game and it would be impossible to discover everything in detail during the session we had. Some of my notes for certain features are short so some areas may contain less detail but I hope everything you read is of interest.

The Basics

Main Menu

When you start up The Sims 4 you are greeted with the new main menu. It’s clean, simple and allows you to hop right into the game. You can either load into a recent saved game or hop right into Create A Sim. The menu screen changes between different clips of Sims performing different actions. In addition you can quickly access the gallery, saved games, notification wall and options.

menu

When you are playing The Sims 4, you can also hit the ‘Escape’ key to access other menu options too. In The Sims 4, we have the following options:

  • Save
  • Save As
  • Game Options
  • Help
  • Lessons
  • Patch Notes
  • Credits
  • Achievements
  • Manage Worlds

Most of those are self explanatory, but let me quickly clarify ‘Manage Worlds’. This allows you to exit back to the world screen, a little like ‘Edit Town’ in The Sims 3, and edit lots, add new families or even switch to a different household.

Within the game options you can also change a few settings for Live Mode too. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at how ageing works within The Sims 4 and found that there are two settings. “Auto Age Unplayed” and “Auto Age Played” – this gives you control over the ageing of Sims within the world.

Controls

The controls for The Sims 4 are extremely similar to previous Sims games.

Live Mode

Sim/Household Controls

  • Switch to next Sim in household: Space or N
  • Switch to specific Sim: Click Sim portrait
  • Lock camera to Sim: Right-click Sim portrait
  • Center camera on active Sim: Enter

Time Controls

  • Pause Game: P or 0 or `
  • Regular/Fast/Ultra Speed: 1 / 2 / 3

Camera Movement

  • Move left/right: Arrow Left/Right or A/D
  • Move forward/back: Arrow UP/Down or W/S
  • Move Faster: Hold Shift + Camera Mov’t
  • Zoom in/out: Z/X or +/-
  • Toggle Map Mode: M

General Controls

  • Undo/Redo: Ctrl + Z / Ctrl + Y
  • Cancel: Esc
  • Toggle cheat window: Ctrl + Shift + C

Build/Buy Mode

Object Placement Tools

  • Rotate Object: , / . (once object is selected).
  • Delete Object: Del or Backspace
  • Off Grid Placement: Alt (while holding object)
  • Off Angle Placement: Alt (while rotating object)
  • Move to slot: M

Create A Sim

The Sims 4 boasts an all-new CAS which allows you to push and pull Sims as if they were a piece of clay. I did not focus on this much at the event as I have already compiled The Ultimate Create A Sim Guide” which features tonnes of information about Create A Sim. It’s a powerful tool and the removal of sliders allows you to easily create anyone you know by manipulating different parts of the Sim. It does take some time to get used to but once you get used to it you’ll find it hard to go back to The Sims 3.

You can create Children, Teens, Young Adults, Adults and Elders in Create A Sim and, of course, customise them to your hearts content. I pre-made my family with the CAS demo before the event and quickly downloaded them with the new Gallery feature, which replaces The Sims 3 exchange, and then added a Child to the household.

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Children have their own aspirations in The Sims 4 which you can work towards during their childhood. These are:

  • Creativity which leads to “Artistic Prodigy”
  • Mental which leads to “Whiz Kid”
  • Motor which leads to “Rambunctious Scamp”
  • Social which leads to “Social Butterfly”.

These unique aspirations mean that children have things they can work towards in The Sims 4 as they did not take on an aspiration in The Sims 3 until they were teenagers.

In addition to all of this, you can also play with genetics but do it in the opposite way. No longer is this feature just for making children! You can now create siblings and parents which can be used to develop your Sims’ stories.

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Worlds

The base game ships with two worlds called “Willow Creek” and “Oasis Springs”. They both connect together and with the return of short loading screens (honestly, they’re super quick!), you can travel between the both of them without any fuss. Every save game contains both of the worlds and it no longer works like Sims 3 whereby each world is a new save game. This new system will be perfect for when expansion packs arrive and new worlds are added – we will no longer have to start a new game or move house.

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Willow Creek contains 2 empty lots for you to build on without demolishing pre-made homes.

TS4_OasisSprings
Oasis Springs contains 3 empty lots for you to build on without demolishing pre-made homes.

One important thing to note that like The Sims 3 base game, you can not actually edit the world and place down new lots. We may get this feature in the future, like we did with The Sims 3 Ambitions, so there’s always a possibility we will get that ability.

Secret Locations

There are two secret locations for you to discover in The Sims 4. One of these secret locations are in Willow Creek and the other is in Oasis Springs. The secret area in Willow Creek is called Crick Cabana and in Oasis Springs it is called the Forgotten Grotto. I took a look at the one in Willow Creek during the preview event.

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Within Willow Creek you need to view the tree at a nearby community space several times and eventually you will gain the interaction to view it’s leaves. This will take you on a text adventure and if you successfully complete it you’ll be on your way to the beautiful Crick Cabana/Sylvan Glade.

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I didn’t visit the Forgotten Grotto in Oasis Springs as you need a level 10 Handiness skill which would have took up too much of my time at the event. Once your Sim has reached this skill level they can find it within the neighbourhood by heading to the Desert Bloom Park.

User Interface

One of the big changes that all players will notice is how different and modern the user interface is in The Sims 4. You can clearly see that it’s been heavily influenced by the SimCity user interface. I was told by EnglishSimmer that the new user interface only uses 11% of the screen so we now have more space to focus on the game itself. I felt very lost to begin with but once you learn where everything is then you will really begin to appreciate the UI.

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This part of the UI is found in the bottom right of the screen and tells you everything you need to know about your Sims. From right to left, the icons are:

  • Needs
  • Simology
  • Inventory
  • Relationships
  • Skills
  • Career
  • Aspirations

These can be viewed any time by clicking on them and will remain open until you close them. If you wish to keep the motives tab open and keep a closer eye on how your Sim is, then you can. If you choose to keep these minimised, the icons act as a visual indicator and change colour when they want to alert you of something (e.g. Needs icon going from white to red).

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 22.19.53

You’ve also got the expected time features on the UI – you can easily pause, play and fast forward the game and view the day and time. Unlike Sims 3 when it first launched, Speed 3 is incredibly quick so there’ll be no waiting about in Sims 4.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 22.21.55

In the top right of the screen you can access build mode, the gallery, change floor levels, change how walls display, record content, view the notification wall and access the options menu.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 22.19.48

One of the biggest changes to the UI is the addition where emotions display. Your Sim displays in the bottom left and the emotional state is shown too. The Sim will change depending on the emotional state they are in as will the colour behind beside them.

The traditional actions queue is present to the left, you can select the Sim you wish to control, use your Sims mobile phone, see how much Simoleons they have and also view their Wants and Whims… more on these later 😉

Build & Buy Mode

In The Sims 4, build and buy mode has been combined into one and I was extremely eager to try out the new build tools despite being unable to build anything decent in previous Sims games. I am pleased to report that if you are in the same position as me then you have hope! Building is fast, smooth and fun – I spent a long time playing about with the tools and trying to make lots and I had a blast.

I can understand that, for some, build mode has been an overwhelming experience due to the amount of tools available and especially as there are some talented folks in the community who create stunning lots. The Sims 4’s build mode makes the building experience more accessible to everyone and I think it will create a whole new generation of builders.

With the new stylised rooms tool you can plop down pre-created rooms and drag them to the size you want (as shown in the above video). You can even download custom ones from the gallery or share your own, which encourages greater creativity than in The Sims 3. All stylised rooms come in a variety of colour combinations and I believe that EA will add more throughout the lifespan of the game.

From build mode I was able to quickly open the gallery, search and quickly download houses made by Sims Camp attendees – it’s that simple. So if you are not a builder you can quickly plop something down and tweak it to your liking and it removes the process of manually downloading and installing through the launcher.

Ts4_Gallery

In build mode you can also pick up, move and rotate rooms and play them wherever you want at anytime with room based building. No longer will you build a house and have to completely destroy it to move everything 1 tile along. Simply pick up the room and drop it. I used this feature a few times when I was building a home and it was pretty nifty and quick, as you can see in my video, and builders will appreciate it.

For the first time ever you can also change the height of foundations and walls on the lot. One thing that players may dislike about foundations as of writing this preview is that you either have them turned on or off – you can’t have a room on the ground without foundations if they’re turned on and vice versa.

And yes, there are no swimming pools in The Sims 4 base game. I do not personally view this as a downside however some players do and everyone is entitled to their opinions. At the preview event most of us agreed that the fountain tool is an excellent replacement for now and allows you to create some very pretty decorations.

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As shown in the video, you can also change the time of day when building between 4 settings. Morning, Afternoon, Evening and Night. This may be handy if you want to see how your lot looks at different points or want to capture a screenshot in different lighting.

Overall, build mode is very impressive. It has been redesigned and makes it appeal to those who haven’t spent much time in build mode in the past, and at the same time is extremely advanced and will allow builders to create masterpieces. I enjoyed using it and feel more confident with building in The Sims 4 than I have in the past and it’s difficult to make a mistake that you can’t easily fix.

Emotion-based Gameplay

Since The Sims 4 was shown off at Gamescom in 2013, the Sims team have been talking about how The Sims have emotions. I didn’t truly appreciate how game changing this new emotion-based gameplay is until I saw it in action. The phrase I used earlier, “Sims are now 3D on the inside”, is true. Every Sim has different emotional states and each of these emotions have different stages (e.g. Inspired, Very Inspired or Angry, Very Angry). SimGuruLindsay said she thinks there are 14 different levels of emotion when I interviewed her.

Your Sims emotions influence their wants and whims. If your Sim is inspired then they may have a want that relates to that emotional state. You will be able to tell which one relates to their current emotion as it will be a different colour from the grey whims (blue in the image below).

Screen Shot 2014-08-16 at 22.16.43

Emotions bring different interactions for your Sims that can only be performed at those times. If your Sim is angry, they’ll be able to denounce their friendship, for example.

Screen Shot 2014-08-16 at 22.19.50


An angry Sim provokes another Sim and denounces their friendship

I fell in love with the emotion-based gameplay at the preview event and it made me laugh quite a lot. When my Sims were at the park I saw a sad Sim slowly walking by and his lip was quivering to portray his sad emotional state. A lot of thought was put into this system and the attention to detail in portraying emotions is fantastic.

One example that I have of the emotion system in play is when my two Sims were Trying for a Baby and their child walked in on them. He was shocked, became embarrassed and ran to his room to hide under the bed covers! I thought it was brilliant and it builds upon the humour of the series and breathes new life into the Sims themselves. Check out the video below where I re-created this moment…


Please note that in this video that the “Hide from Everyone” interaction cancelled due to the child walking BACK through the parents room, so he became shocked again, which is why I had to force the interaction.

Something that I thought was pretty nifty is that your Sims can create emotional masterpieces with the easel in-game. You can enable an “emotional aura” so that it conveys the emotional state of the creator when they painted it. If your Sim was angry and created a painting, then Sims who view it or nearby will have this emotion conveyed to them. This can be used for good or evil, depending on what type of player you are 😛

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One thing that I dislike about the emotions is that a sound plays when your Sims emotions change. This sound played regularly as I played and it became quite tiring as it kept playing the sound. It would be nice to see EA tone down this sound or for a mod to fix this, but that is just my personal view and it may not bother everyone.

Your Sims Are Smart!

With what EA calls “SmartSim”, your Sims are much more intelligent than in previous games. They are extremely aware of their environments, route around lots well, and can multi-task. An excellent example of the multi-tasking system in action is where you Sim could be working out at the gym and also watch the cooking channel, so they’re working on their body and cooking skills!

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In my game I had Bella and Shania talking but at the same time they were listening to the music at the bar. After they spoke, every so often they would start moving along to the music.

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Sims are much smarter too. They are aware of their environments and of what is going on as you play. I always felt that Sims in The Sims 3 were unaware of their environment – they would shuffle about to interact, pause before going up stairs and take quite a while to do things from time to time. Sims carry out tasks instantly and behave appropriately.

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In my game there was a fire (make sure you level up that cooking skill) and my Sims were aware of this. In The Sims 3 they would run towards the fire but now you can tell them to “Route to Safety” and they all ran out of the house waving their hands in the air! It was a funny thing to witness. During this time though I was trying to work out how on earth to get a firefighter to tackle the fire but there are none in-game, so your Sims will have to extinguish the fire themselves – so send your least favourite Sim to handle that 😉 Update: There are fire prevention units in-game to stop fires

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Jobs & Services

There are a variety of careers for your Sims in The Sims 4. Teens can get part time jobs and adults can get full time jobs. Here are some of the jobs available for adults in The Sims 4:

  • Tech Guru
  • Entertainer
  • Writer
  • Astronaut
  • Painter
  • Criminal
  • Secret Agent
  • Culinary

The following services were also available too:

  • Pizza
  • One time maid (you have to pay an extra §20 for this).
  • Scheduled maid

Cheats

If you’re like me and love to cheat in The Sims then you can continue to do so in The Sims 4. Kaching, rosebud and motherlode will all give you some extra Simoleons to spend and testingcheats true will let you access the in-game testing cheats (handy for maximising your Sims’ needs). At the moment, moveobjects and CFE are absent from the game which is a shame for machinima artists and builders.

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One Thing I Really Love…

I freaked out with excitement when I first saw this happen in my game, but Sims can now all walk up the stairs at the same time! They don’t hang around and wait for other Sims to move out of the way.

Just me? Ok… let’s go to the conclusion.

Conclusion

Things I Liked

  • The performance of the game is fantastic. Everything is buttery smooth and I’m pleased the team focused on high performance for Sims 4.
  • The world and lots are full of Sims and life! With loading screens, our lots are now populated and full of Sims living out their lives compared to empty lots in Sims 3.
  • Emotion-based gameplay is a game changer. You don’t appreciate it until you try it out but it makes our Sims behave more realistic than ever before.
  • Multitasking is fantastic and allows your Sim to focus on more than one thing, such as increasing their social need while cooking.
  • Loading screens are very fast and there is no initial long load like in Sims 3 and time continues unlike loading between lots in Sims 1 and 2.
  • Willow Creek and Oasis Springs are all within one save game so you can travel between worlds without having to start a new save or move and lose things.
  • Build mode is easier yet it is more powerful – I fell in love with build mode and I think it will inspire a new generation of builders.
  • Create A Sim’s removal of sliders means we are no longer restricted when creating the Sims of our dreams! It’s fast and allows for unlimited possibilities.
  • The user interface is clean, modern and there’s much more space for the game.
  • You can take a pregnancy test to find out if your Sim is pregnant.

Things To Improve

  • The emotions music needs to be played less frequently as it can become irritating.
  • More lots to build with would be nice in future worlds.
  • Everyone jogged everywhere in my game for some strange reason – hopefully this is fixed in the final build.
  • No firefighter – I found it quite difficult to work out how to extinguish the fire as I couldn’t call for help and don’t want to put my Sims in danger.
  • There needs to be an option to disable tutorials as they can become intrusive when you’re playing. They are handy but sometimes they wouldn’t go away until I performed a specific task.
  • Family trees would be a nice touch.

Final Verdict

The Sims 4 is a solid base game in terms of features and performance and will be great for future expansions to the game. When I now play The Sims 3 I find myself missing many aspects of the game such as the new tools in build mode and the buttery smooth performance.

I love the new emotions in Sims 4 as they bring something new to the table and, like I said at the start, they make Sims “3D on the inside”. I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw my Sims react to different situations which I did not expect to happen when playing!

Although I can understand that some are upset about the absence of toddlers and pools, I believe that The Sims 4 has more than enough features so that Simmers will be lost in the game for many hours. The game is not perfect, but what game is? I think a few things do need to be improved but with Maxis helping modders, future expansions and patches, I think The Sims 4 has a healthy life ahead and I’m excited for the future.

The Sims 4 is definitely worth investing in if you’re a fan of The Sims franchise and I’m excited for the release in September. It’s the best Sims game yet.

40 COMMENTS

  1. I completely agree on emotions music. It seems quite annoying and it would be really nice if they would have an option to either mute it or to lower its volume.
    About the firefighter. At first I thought that it’s a step back, why would they remove it. But then I realised, when in real life would you call firefighters for such a small fire?

    • I’m not that fussed about the firefighter, but I was confused that I couldn’t call for one to begin with – thankfully my Sim didn’t burn!

    • I wonder if it’s in the options menu under sounds?? Like how you could turn off build/buy mode music in the past – maybe you can turn off/decrease the aspirations sounds?

  2. One thing that i’ve heard is Story Progression isn’t in the game. Other sims in your world will not have children which means it will be a lot harder to play long games.

    • No it won’t. Because you will be now forced to focus on your own families. How often did you ACTUALLY pay attention to the other families in Sims 3?

      Besides, it’s been said you can turn on aging, and once a household dies off a new one will be able to move in. Besides, you can now freely switch to other families to make sure “prgoress” in terms of generations IS made.

      • Some of us like a town that doesn’t die off and live out their life. In the TS3, I use NRAAS StoryProgression since it’s more polish than the EA-standard, but without a default, it might not be possible to program in.

        Personally, I might turn off Auto-Aging, so I can preserve the pre-mades and their genes.

        • This is what I’m going to do. I’m going to turn off aging for all but my playables.

          This is practically to how the game behaved in The Sims 2.

        • The town will not die off. Empty houses due to death will always be filled with new families if you don’t disable that option.

      • I actually pay attention to other families in TS3 a lot. I use NRAAS, and even that is not perfect, but better than vanilla. I like to watch other families progress and then try to influence them indirectly with my family. I love seeing their legacy progress and then mary one of my sims to their great grand children. The one thing I was hoping for the most was a much, much better Story progression in TS4. But I can learn to live without it I guess. Too bad though. Still hoping that one day (in my lifetime) a game is made that has this.

  3. Thank you for this- it’s really insightful 🙂 Just a quick question if you don’t mind- how simple is it to switch between playing different families? I like having at least two families on the go and in Sims 3 loading the different households became quite time consuming. I’d love if that’s been improved in Sims 4.

  4. Thanks for this! The base game is a start and as they expand I am sure it will keep improving and intriguing us faithful simmers! I am really excited about the game… pools and toddlers can wait… maybe they will be in future games. I am so excited about the September release, that going to work that day is going to be a drag of a day! Thanks Maxis!

  5. I’m so ready for The Sims 4. Great preview. You went into detail but didn’t give everything away. Learned a lot of new things too 😀

    • hmmm one is Johnny zest, he was a landgrabb until he dropped out of school. They cut him off comepletey, now he’s nearly broke.
      Theres the caliente family. and of course the goths. All I can remember right now

  6. I will admit I was mad at all the things taken out of the sims 4 compared to sims 3 and 2.. however now I am looking forward to the game again no.. the gameplay seems a lot more smooth.. Only thing I want for future expansions for sims 4 is Toodlers!

  7. What about patterns and choosing/changing colors like you could in the Sims 3? I’ve heard that customization through patterns and colors is very limited compared to the Sims 3 in that you can’t customize a pattern and can only select from a specific selection of colors.

    • There is no create a style tool, you have tonnes of pre-set patterns though and the custom content community are making tonnes of new colours/patterns already 🙂

    • I struggle to play Sims 3 after playing Sims 4. TS4 is a much better game and it’s something you need to try to get hooked on, they’ve really focused on the behaviour of The Sims and it pays off.

  8. What a great overview. I’ve had my doubts for a while about TS4… but after a lot of researching gameplay over the last few days I think I’m coming around to it. 🙂 I know I will miss the toddlers a lot as I have always enjoyed playing families in Sims games, but it looks like there is more purpose to children, lots of fun interactions with adults.
    Thanks!

  9. So… the child gets a trauma from seeing his parent woohoo (trauma is probably not part of the game) and the parents just ignore it? Stupid…but let’s call it weird.
    STORY progression is missing from a game that wants us to tell STORIES? Stupid, but let’s call it weird.
    I am looking forward to TS4, but I hate the fact that it is not an improvement over TS3, it is just a ‘new’ game, which is fine I guess.

  10. GOSH!!! I’m so excited to play… It seems like 2 more days couldn’t pass on by any quicker.I completely agree with you. No game is perfect, and I wouldn’t think the creators of the sims 4 are going to completely abolish pools.(Maybe toddlers.. heh)

    I’m so excited once again. lol

  11. I love it. I haven’t had time to miss toddlers or the pools. There is seriously so much more stuff you can do with your sims. It’s also the little things the sims do, like they really like drumming along to music now when they are sitting or talking to other sims. The fact that the sims can do more than one task at a time is great. I also love the fact that they scrape the remains of food into the bin before washing up. I could go on about endless little things i have noticed but there are just too many to list.

    I think these are the most complete sims i have every played (I am talking about the sims not the game) Yes the neighbourhood can seem a little small at times. But once my sim was in a venue it got full. It’s just adorable to watch my sims going through so many emotions and acting on it. I haven’t been able to load up my Sims 3 game now. Yes i have all the expansions and stuff packs but Sims 3 has never kept me playing for long hours. I used it more to make sims. (that’s only been really possible with all the cc and sliders.)

    Now the sims in sims 4 actually look okay without cc. They are well animated to reflect emotions. I have to say i didn’t believe all this emotion stuff. I watched gameplay videos of the sims but i don’t think it did it justice. You need to play it for yourself. I give it a massive thumbs up. I didn’t even touch on how vastly the clothes have improved, not just the range but the texture and look of the clothes especially the Up all Night party clothes.

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