Moving is a hassle. In the best of circumstances, you have to pack up everything you want to take with you and leave some stuff behind. This can be a good thing—moving is the perfect time to upgrade your furniture and rethink your taste in art. But other times things you really like are just too hard to move or get lost or broken in transit. Even if your new digs are more impressive than your old place, those losses can be a blow.

Transitioning from The Sims 3 to The Sims 4 feels a lot like that. It’s easy to be excited when you first move your Sim into town. Designing the look and personality of your character has been a game in and of itself throughout the entirety of the life simulator series, and The Sims 4’s creation system is both incredibly nuanced and easy to use. You can simply drag the mouse to morph your Sim’s body and choose from a huge spectrum of looks and colors for clothing, skin, and hair.

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The user interface for home design is also much improved. Instead of relying on imprecisely drawing lines to indicate where you want to place walls, you can pick from a variety of angles and designs. If you decide your house needs a second bathroom, you can just choose a premade one and drop it onto the lot. Looking for a specific piece of furniture? There’s now a search button. Want to see how things look together? There’s a mode that resembles flipping through an Ikea catalog.

But after sinking in some play time, the things that got left behind start to stick out. The Sims 3 came out in 2009 and since then Maxis has released a massive amount of content that enhanced the base game, including allowing your Sims to have pets, go on vacation, or go to college. None of that is possible in The Sims 4. If you had those expansions installed in The Sims 3, you’re rewarded with a lamp in the new game, with a different color option for every expansion you owned. That kind of prize might be exciting to the family in A Christmas Story, but here, it feels almost insultingly paltry.

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All these extraneous activities will almost assuredly be delivered through future expansions and purchasable add-ons. The problem is that The Sims 4 skips out on the very points that helped The Sims 3 feel livelier. A simple case-in-point: The Sims 4 doesn’t have drivable cars. Vehicles are constantly passing by your home, but there’s no one coming to pick you up for work and you can’t buy your own ride to drive into town. More than anything involved in your career track, the type of car your Sim cruised around in has long been a visible measure of success. Now when you want to go somewhere, you just click on your smartphone icon and are seemingly teleported there—after a loading screen, that is.

Unlike the open world of The Sims 3, where you could watch your Sims cruise from home to the center of town and then freely move from building to building, you hit a load screen almost any time you leave a lot in The Sims 4. That includes going from a lounge to the museum next door, even when you can see both buildings on your screen.

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That said, those public buildings are a significant improvement over Sims 3, where they were just black boxes that enabled you to do a specific activity or level up a skill. Maxis has created vibrant spaces like a bar where you can hit on the bartender, dance to music, or just make some new friends over drinks. Unfortunately there are very few public buildings or even houses. Play for just a few hours and you’ll get to know everyone in town.

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The Sims themselves have seen quite the step up in detail since The Sims 3, as well. There are a few particularly nice animation touches that make them feel more alive, like the way they slump over when tired and do a sort of crab walk when they really need to pee. Your Sims can also now multitask, meaning you can meet needs like eating dinner while still fulfilling the fleeting desire to chat on the phone.

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The biggest change is the added complexity to Sims’ moods and personalities that plays into an expanded menu of social interactions. For instance, a Sim that loves the outdoors will often want to enthuse about her passions but can only do that with someone who feels the same way. If a Sim is embarrassed, he might want to hide under the bed or give himself a pep talk in the mirror. Circumstances have big impacts on their moods. When my Sim set herself on fire cooking scrambled eggs (a surprisingly risky activity in The Sims series) she was understandably pretty stressed, with her thought bubbles devoted to fire, until I could get her to take a nice bath and chill out.

Once I settled into The Sims 4, I discovered that I didn’t want to go back to The Sims 3. This is definitely an upgrade, but with the small towns, loading screens, and all the missing content, it doesn’t feel quite finished—it’s like moving into a fixer-upper. After a bit of construction you might actually have your perfect house, but it’s going to take some time and will likely be quite expensive.

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The Sims 4
Developer: Maxis
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platforms: Mac, PC
Reviewed on: PC
Price: $60
Rating: T

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