When it comes to life simulators, there's only ever been one true front-runner. Second Life and IMVU drew their fair share of respectable interest back in the 2000s, offering teenagers a video game-tinged social network before we even had the term for one, but Maxis's series of The Sims games have remained a genre mainstay – and for good reason.
2004's The Sims 2 is the crowning jewel of the franchise, fondly remembered and still played to this day despite The Sims 4 being the developer's latest iteration. With the release of The Sims 4: Growing Together on the horizon, things are finally looking up for the beleaguered fourth generation. Yes: all these patches, base game updates, and hotfixes later, The Sims 4 is almost in as good a shape as its decades-old predecessor. But why in the world did it take so long?
From the dramatic character backstories that came baked into each family to the infamous way that Sims couldn't get out of pools without a ladder, The Sims 2 held a certain chaotic charm that spoke to us, capturing our imaginations for years to come. It was enough to trigger a litany of community-made mods, music videos, and custom content to let us live out our wildest, most problematic suburban fantasies. Baby on the grill (opens in new tab), anyone?
The Sims 3 launched in 2009, but I still had my nails dug deep into what I considered the best Sims game ever. Sure, the third generation saw open maps that allowed you to travel across town with little in the way of a loading screen, and The Sims 3: Supernatural expansion pack had the most comprehensive range of occult types ever seen in a Sims game. But the character models were decidedly uglier, with square-shaped heads that took a bizarre turn from the more realistic graphics of its older sibling. I missed the detailed pizza slices, the Caliente family's WooHoo drama, and even thought The Sims 3's Plantsims looked more like rebellious green-haired teenagers than photosynthesizing leaf people.
When The Sims 4 made its debut in 2014, my hopes were admittedly too high. I was dreaming of a game with the graphics and lore-heavy gameplay of Sims 2 tempered by the open world, creative sandbox freedom of The Sims 3. But while The Sims 4 certainly looked better than its late-2000s rival, something about it still felt hollow. I craved the memory system, the little bios written by the developer for each pre-existing family to establish their dynamics, backgrounds, and social circles. In The Sims 2, I felt like I was being given godlike control over a world of real people. The Sims 4 was more like playing with a wooden dollhouse.
The first Sims 4 expansion packs, Get To Work and Get Together, were released shortly after launch, riffing off similar offerings from the first, second, and third instalments of The Sims. These were cool and all, but it took four more years for Seasons to reach The Sims 4. For me, Seasons was one of the most integral packs to The Sims 2, making the world feel that much more alive. Even The Sims 4: Cats & Dogs fell short of my expectations; I mean, we had the chance to own horses in The Sims 3, and even little hamsters and fish in The Sims 2: Pets.
So began a trend of half-baked expansions that never seemed to live up to our expectations. My fond memories of previous packs were all too prevalent. I couldn't help but wonder why they wouldn't bring back certain features that were so popular in the past, resulting in expansions that felt noticeably lacking, poorly thought out, and ultimately unfinished.
I'm a huge fan of making occult Sims, so I was incredibly excited for the mermaids of Island Living, the spellcasters of Realm of Magic, and The Sims 4: Vampire's fanged children of the night. But it was only a year ago that Sims 4: Werewolves finally arrived, and that never sat well with me. Sure, I took my pick from the best Sims 4 mods to expand upon the bare bones given to us by EA, but surely it says something when people are making mods such as Expanded Mermaids to give these creatures a little more in the way of type-specific abilities.
It spoke to a larger problem, and to me, it felt like packs were being churned out before they could be properly finished. The Sims 4 had made an enemy of its own history, and for that, it was hard to look the other way.
Return to form
Despite these problematic peaks and troughs, I'm relieved to say that The Sims 4 is in the best shape it's ever been in. Thanks to free base-game updates patched in by the developer, we now have a Wants and Fears system, functional babies, and even a likes and dislikes system to rival those of The Sims 2. These features have completely changed the way I play the game, allowing me to make detailed decisions to enhance my chosen stories. It is a relief that the developer is finally listening to the opinions of its playerbase, giving us the opportunity to create worlds that feel lived in and alive with enough potential to take things further still. Yes, I still want cars.
With body positivity features like stretch marks and birthmarks, as well as gender-affirming clothing and sexuality options, many of my favorite mods are becoming obsolete. While that might suck for the modders, it's good to see the game giving us these smaller details that really should have been there in the first place. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a vampire legacy family to pit against the werewolves in the ultimate turf war for Moonwood Mill.
If you're still not feeling The Sims 4 these days, Life by You could be its first real alternative.