Developed by EA Maxis. Published by Electronic Arts. Released September 2, 2014. Available on PC.
If The Sims 4 does one service to the world, it's this - it displays the folly of propping up a game with a ton of downloadable content and expansions, then wiping the slate clean with a sequel and expecting people not to notice. EA Maxis' long-awaited followup to the ultimate voyeur's fantasy already courted controversy when it was revealed the game would be missing popular items like swimming pools and toddlers, and the list of absent features only grew from there.
After everything that had been added to The Sims 3, this new game feels like a hard reboot to factory settings, brushing away a lot of what fans have come to enjoy without really adding much in the way of fresh content. While some may argue that it's unrealistic to expect all the expansions and DLC from The Sims 3 to show up in the sequel, I'd argue it's equally unrealistic to try and turn back the clock on everything we've gotten used to and not expect anybody to notice. In fact, with Electronic Arts' predilection for DLC well known, it's hard not to be cynical and view this as a bare-bones core, something upon which we're all expected to bolt extra content onto at a price.
It doesn't help that, in addition to not adding any of the extended content, the basic game appears to be suffering from multiple reductions in its own right, leading to a game that feels inadequate in the face of its predecessors.
There are tweaks to the gameplay, that much is true. Sims can now multitask, able to play on their phone while chatting, or dance and schmooze at the same time. The gibberish-spewing demihumans are also capable of expressing a wider range of emotions, and maintaining their good mood while performing tasks that capitalize on the current emotion often turns out to be a quicker, trickier balancing act.
There are more options for creating your own Sims and building their homes, with an improved user interface that makes customization swifter and more convenient. It takes only a few moments to pull, stretch, and dress your Sim to fit your exact needs, though the color options are lacking and the menus for buildings can still prove a little too cluttered when trying to find things. That said, searching for objects by name is a nice touch, allowing one to find trash cans or television sets without having to pour over menus.
Once your Sim is out in the world, you'll notice that the "world" itself isn't exactly a land of opportunity. Your chosen town will be broken up into various sections, and you'll need to sit through a loading screen every time you want to go from your home to the park, or from the park to the nightclub. In an industry that strives for bigger and better with every sequel, it's surprising to see a game that's chosen to erect more walls and impose further limitations on its environment. It's now a hassle to move from place to place, and the world consequently feels smaller as a result of the division.