Some things in life are certain - death, taxes and of course, a steady stream of expansion packs for the Sims. Since it's 2014 release, the latest iteration of the award-winning dolls house-esque life simulator, The Sims 4 has seen three expansion packs so far - and while we're still keeping our fingers crossed for the inevitable Pets add-on, each new expansion has certainly brought something new to the table, keeping the game fresh for seasoned Sim-ers everywhere.
The latest expansion, dubbed City Living, mixes things up further, by moving your Sims into the bustling city of San Myshuno, a vibrant metropolis composed of four distinctly different neighbourhoods, from the cheap and cheerful Spice Market to the snooty Uptown. Technically speaking, The Sims 4: City Living doesn't really do anything hugely revolutionary - most aspects of the expansion, from the apartment living to the festivals, have been covered in older expansion packs for older Sims games - but City Living still packs a nice enough collection of features, and a different enough style of play to give you a great reason to jump back into the Sims 4..
As the name suggests, City Living is all about moving your Sims out of the quiet suburbs and into the bustling city - and that can mean only one thing. Apartments. Previously, when you moved a new family into your neighbourhood, you'd pay a large, flat-out sum for a plot of land/house, and by and large, that would be it. All your expenditure would be over and done with in the space of just a few clicks, with any cash you brought home from your job either being used to pay off the odd bill, or put on one side to save up for that most-wanted extension.
In City Living, that's all changed, and now your Sims get to move straight into a ready-made flat at the bargain price of a couple of hundred Simoleons - a week. As in real life, seemingly renting is the new buying, and while the initial outlay may be less than buying your own home, living in an apartment does kind of scupper your ability to expand. With the size of your home being somewhat limited, all you can really do with your apartment is tweak your internal walls and furniture, with no scope for extensions.
An interesting touch is that each flat now comes with it's own set of 'lot traits' - a bunch of random effects that are exclusive to the apartment in question, some of which are good, and others of which are... less good. For example, our apartment, 17 Culpepper House in the (cheapo) Spice Market Quarter apparently has 'Gremlins' - and whilst we've never actually seen the bothersome green beings, we do sometimes wake up to an entire apartment full of broken electrical goods, or some well and truly bost plumbing, which can make the morning pre-work routine a little bit complicated. Fortunately, we've now become a dab hand at barely-awake toilet fixing, grabbing some orange juice on the way past the fridge, and making a mental list of everything we need to fix later. You'll want to fix it all ASAP too, because the sheer depths of depression one Sim can reach just by sitting in a kitchen with a busted stereo is somewhat surprising. Other lot traits include having good schools nearby, an increased likelihood of having twins (which will likely fill you with dread if you've played The Sims before) and a slightly spooky sounding haunted apartment. Even the aforementioned Gremlins have a good guy alternative - the Gnomes, who'll fix all your broken stuff while you sleep. Should you be so inclined, you can also make your own flat, and give it both the Gremlins and Gnomes effects, before sitting back to watch them wage war over your appliances in the dead of night...
Part and parcel of the new closer-quarters living arrangements is the potential for all sorts of easier interaction with your neighbours, now with nothing but a thin connecting wall or a small hallway separating you. Depending on who you have the (mis)fortune of living next to, noise levels may quickly become one of your biggest problems, as we soon discovered.
Our little apartment in the Spice Market area of town saw us living next to a chef called Raj and his mother - and boy, were they noisy at night. Almost every night, our Sims leapt out of bed at 2am complaining about the noise, before seemingly winding themselves up so much, they refused to go back to bed. Whether it was some late night bhangra music or a heated argument, there was way more noise emanating from the flat than you'd ever have thought it possible for a middle aged guy and his mom to emit. When knocks at the door went unanswered week in week out, and after many a late night angrily stomping around the flat, rage eating cheese sandwiches (because why not use the time productively and get some of your morning routine out the way?), we resorted to fighting fire with fire, staying up till 4am practising the piano, blanking mama Raj's complaints in the process.
Night time noises aside, we actually ended up getting on pretty well with Raj, often having our turbaned neighbour over for a few games of Party Frenzy. Welcome wagon fruit cake aside, which seems to give everyone who eats a slice a bit of a dodgy 'uncomfortable' status and puts them in a bad mood for hours (a bit of an unfortunate skill for Raj to have, considering he's a chef), he's actually a pretty nice guy, and we hit it off almost immediately. His mother, on the other hand, is less of a welcome face, and a seriously grumpy biddy, with every conversation we've ever had with her ending negatively - if not outright turning into an argument - before we end up simply blanking her for the rest of the day until she eventually heads home of her own accord.
We do have one… small issue with Raj though. Maybe it's his professional chef status, but we literally cannot cook anything without him coming knocking on the door angling for a bite, supposedly drawn in by the nice smells wafting down the hall. Grilled cheese sandwiches, cookies, BLT sandwiches - even that most pungent of meals, salad - whatever it is, Raj will want some of it. He doesn't just stop at meals though, and will occasionally come knocking on the door in the middle of night, asking to raid our fridge because he's starving. Obviously his mother keeps their fridge closely guarded, and if he wasn't a 30+ year old guy who is clearly more than capable of cooking for himself, we'd be a little worried about child abuse to be honest, given how desperate he seems for food. Instead, we're more worried about the recurrent want our Sims have to give a friend an apartment key - if we were to give Raj the Hungry a spare key, he'd eat us out of house and home!
In order to fund both the rent, and Raj's gargantuan diet, it soon came time to find ourselves some jobs - and luckily, City Living brings with it a number of new vocations. Given our editor Ian's propensity for going off on politically charged rants, it seemed only natural that he'd take the Politician path, which left Sarah with either the new (Food/Art) Critic or Social Media careers. Given the fact she's tweeted a grand total of nine times ever, and her Facebook status changes on average every 8 months, the Social Media career seemed like the obvious choice - although whether she'd branch into Public Relations or try her hand at becoming an Internet Personality remained to be seen. As with many of The Sims 4's careers, there's a few job-specific reward items (mostly signed posters/prints/paintings in this case) you'll unlock along the way, but by and large, jobs are jobs really, and the best way to get yourself some cash. Short of Rosebud-ing your way to billionaire-dom, anyway.
As anyone who's ever tried to manage a Sim and their fluctuating emotions before well knows, all work and no play makes for some seriously depressed Sims - and City Living has a whole host of things to keep them entertained. From karaoke bars to basketball courts, the hustle and bustle of San Myshuno means there's plenty of stuff to cheer you up outside of staying in with a games console and a penguin-shaped TV. Arguably the biggest addition are the new festivals - special events which take place at regular intervals in your Sims' calendar, and are the perfect opportunities to meet new Sims, try out some new stuff, or pick up some funky souvenirs. Whether you're taking part in the gaming and hacking competitions of Geekcon, having some flirty fun at the Romance Festival, or getting your spice on with the Spice Festival's curry challenge, there's something for everyone at festivals, making them a fun little diversion from your Sims' usual daily grind.
Hitting up the Romance Festival, we were perhaps a bit too keen to try out our very first of the new festivals - on an evening after a long day at the office, following a bhangra-disturbed sleep the night before, it was perhaps not the best time to pay it a visit, but we had a review due so forged ahead. With low light, pink petals and a distinctly lovey-dovey feel, there were a handful of unique items and interactions to try out at said festival, from throwing petals over the object of your affection, to having a sip of the mysterious Sakura Tea, which is heavily implied to have aphrodisiac effects. There's even an impromptu church set up, should you be so heady with Sakura-induced passion that you want to tie the knot with the object of your affections ASAP. Unfortunately, our whirlwind romance didn't go quite as planned, as in the hurry to get out the house in time, one of our Sims had to forgo a shower, prompting everyone at the festival to hold their noses and point disgustedly at the pong enemating from his armpits. Instead of sipping on Sakura tea, he spent the evening sobbing to himself outside the toilets, before falling asleep on the floor - while the object of his affections got up close and personal with a Casanova called Ace instead. Or at least, as up close and personal as a shouted conversation from two benches at opposite ends of the park can be. Ah, romance.
Unperturbed, we vowed to do better at the next festival, which turned out to be the Flea Market. As our one Sim was otherwise occupied with work, we instead decided to bring good old Raj along for the trip instead, hoping to score some interesting trinkets and bargains in the process. However, no sooner had we arrived at the festival than our turbaned friend cleared off, never to be seen again, leaving us to peruse the stands all on our lonesome - although we did make friends with a pink-haired feminist called Miko instead. To be honest, we found the Flea Market a bit lacking; there were only a few stands, and none were selling much in the way of anything, but not wanting to come away empty handed, we plumped for a lurid green sofa, and one of the MySims collectable figurines a shady guy was flogging, bringing home the mad scientist Dr. F as a souvenir for the Sim who'd to stay home.
Given that these festivals are designed to encourage you and your Sims to go out and about exploring, though, it seems a bit of a shame that almost every time we tried to leave our flat, the game crashed. Seemingly an issue with the transition screens when going from lot to lot, we soon made a point of saving before moving from home to town and back again, just in case. As The Sims is a PC game though, and there's near infinite configurations of operating systems, graphics cards and processors, it's difficult to say where the problem lies, except that, by running on our somewhat old and knackered machine (that still runs Windows XP), it conked out from time to time.
Shaking up your Sims' living arrangements and bringing with it some festivals that are a nice change of pace, The Sims 4: City Living is a pretty decent expansion pack, perfect for those who are finding the usual cycle of house extensions a bit of a drag. Full of quirky default characters, like our perpetually hungry Raj, there's a fair amount of fun to be had in the cramped, oft-noisy, bustling town of San Myshuno. Unlike the more solitary family-orientated main game, life in City Living is a whirlwind of shooting hoops with friends in the park, hanging out at festivals and partying till the early hours of the morning, neighbours knocking on your doors to complain about the noise. Outside of apartments, it may not add a great deal, but it's a nice enough shake up.