The Sims has always felt like a game of limitless potential. An interactive experience where your dreams of becoming a career criminal, a luxury mansion owner, or a hit with the ladies can be fully realised. Those of us who play primarily on a console, however, were always left with the short end of the stick. Many of the console ports featured more of a story-driven focus that catered to a more casual crowd and lacked the depth and variety that we enviously saw in the PC version. The latest console release of The Sims 4, however, sets to bring the full PC experience to our living rooms and even brings along features such as pools and toddlers, things that weren't present at launch on PC back in 2014.
For anyone who has been absent from the series since the launch of the fourth chapter we'll first try and get you up to speed. While the core experience of playing as a god-like figure in the lives of your virtual slaves is very much the same, a few tweaks have worked to benefit things overall. Sims can now multi-task allowing them to, for example, study and socialise at the same time, which makes managing their needs much easier. Build mode has also seen improvements allowing you to add fully furnished 'styled rooms' to your home - perfect for the stylistically-challenged among us. The character creation mode has also been revamped and Sims have now embraced the era of the mobile phone; allowing them to throw parties and head out on day trips with ease.
That's not to say that The Sims 4 is wholly a step forward for the franchise. Vehicles are now absent, removing one of the simplest ways of getting around as well as taking out many of our customisation options. The Sims 3 also featured more open environments beyond the realm of your Sims' home, and moving between them felt simple and seamless. The Sims 4 lots feel more fragmented and are often separated by lengthy loading screens, often butchering the overall flow. While the latest chapter does represent a few missteps, the core experience is still present, and if you found magic within any of the previous instalments then you should find something to enjoy here.
Perhaps the biggest challenge Maxis faced when readying the console port was translating the Sims experience to the controller. The Sims, like many other PC-based simulators, handles beautifully with a mouse and keyboard, making its cluster of menus seem swift to navigate. The same can't be said when cycling through with the analog stick of the Xbox One controller (the platform we played on), which felt clunky and awfully tedious. The build mode, in particular, felt more cumbersome using the analog stick to guide the cursor, and we'd often find ourselves selecting unintended options. There are, however, a few shortcuts mapped to the controller and these allow for swifter interactions. For example, holding down the LB/RB buttons enables you to change the speed of time, and pressing up and down on the D-pad allows you to view different floors in your home.
Lengthy loading screens also worked to hinder our experience. As we mentioned earlier, these often crept in when switching between areas like a nightclub or a friend's home. We also encountered significant slowdown when transitioning between areas or using the analog stick to zoom in and out. Besides these minor flaws, however, we didn't encounter anything game-breaking; it's just a shame that these issues haven't been ironed out completely. Visually, The Sims 4 appears near-identical to its PC counterpart, but as the title only presented marginal improvements at the time in 2014, the graphics do appear pretty outdated. This has always been an issue with the Sims series, however, the focus has always instead been on building on the experience with expansions rather than putting out frequent numbered entries in the series.
Whilst the console version does rival its PC counterpart in many ways, there is one thing that it is sorely lacking: user-created content. Mods and custom content gave the title a new lease of life and opened up a new sharability factor between players. The fact that this aspect is missing does make the PC version seem much more enticing, especially as by this point there is a whole wealth of content just waiting to be plucked from the Internet. While Maxis has yet to comment on whether this will be coming in the future, we have seen the likes of Fallout 4 bring mods to console, so there is some hope at least.
Of course, we can't talk about a Sims title without mentioning expansions. The game arrives with a multitude of updates integrated at launch, and there are also four DLC packs released for the console version, with the most substantial being the City Living expansion, which lets your Sims move to the big city and purchase apartments. The other three are mainly cosmetic with the most interesting, the Vampire pack, arriving disappointingly late for Halloween.
You also need to bear in mind the expense your wallets will have to bear if you're going to get your hands on this ageing DLC. The City Living expansion is currently priced at an eye-watering £34.99 and Vampire pack at £17.99. You can buy various bundles to bring the overall cost down, but this price feels awfully steep when you consider their age and the number of great games you can purchase for the same amount of even the latter expansion. The fact that the content has long been available to PC players makes us wonder why this wasn't included in the console game as standard. To purchase all of the DLC available at launch and therefore have a complete experience will more than double the overall cost, and that doesn't feel like great value.
Having a fully-fledged Sims title on consoles is certainly a big deal, but sadly it pales in comparison to its superior PC counterpart. The lack of user-created content and a clunky control scheme leave it a glaring disadvantage. This coupled this with the fact that it brings nothing really new to the series makes it hard to recommend for those who own both systems. However, if you don't own a PC and you haven't checked out The Sims 4, then you may want to give it a look as there's still a solid Sims game beneath its flaws, this thanks to an upgraded build mode, new features, and a revamped character customisation mode.