They say the best way to spot a potential serial killer is violence towards poor, defenceless creatures. Add in setting fire to things and persistent and prolonged toilet-related accidents, and you have something called the Macdonald triad, which scientists believe can be used to tell budding murderers from sane folks.
But if those are the signs of a potential axe-wielding maniac - and hey, who are we to argue with science - what do you think they'd say about someone who locks up helpless people and sets fire to them, waits for them to go to the loo before cunningly removing the door (and the toilet as well?), or simply watches them slowly starve to death - for fun? If our gaming habits are anything to go by - that's simply your average Sims player.
At its core, the Sims 4 is... well, the Sims really. After creating yourself a load of characters (or "Sims" in the game lingo) - caricatures of you and your friends, famous people or just random folks to fill out your town - you get to play God as you watch their lives play out, and take control when you want to alter their destiny. Help them fall in love, start a family and watch them grow old; set them on fire and bargain with the Grim Reaper; or lock them in a room, delete the door and watch them slowly starve to death in a puddle of their own urine as punishment - the possibilities are endless, and it's this freedom that's made the series the heavyweight it is today. No two games are ever the same - even if you use identical Sims - and there's always something crazy happening that you'll want to share with your friends.
As the fourth entry in the long-running series, The Sims 4 plays it safe. There's nothing overly revolutionary here - and in fact, a few important bits and pieces are missing - but in all, it's simply more Sims, with a few tweaks here and there. While those expecting revolutionary changes are likely to be disappointed, for die-hard fans, it'll likely tick all the right boxes.
Like all good Sims stories, our adventure started in the Create-A-Sim editor, where we promptly made the dynamic duo of the Everybody Plays team (at least on the editorial side of things), Ian and Sarah (that's me!) - the former, a self-assured, outgoing genius with a dream to live in a mansion, and the latter a cheerful but clumsy creative, who hopes to one day find her soulmate. Instead of abstractly filling in bars to create your Sim's personality, you now get to pick three 'traits' that best describe them, which the game then takes to fill in the blanks as to their behaviour and idosyncracies. For example, clumsy Sarah can't seem to wash up without breaking a plate, whilst Ian tends to be more confident, and thanks to his dream of being rich, earns more money than usual from careers. The new body editor, which lets you simply click on your Sim, and drag parts of their bodies to reshape them, is also incredibly useful, and much easier to use than those sliders of previous years, as it's much easier to judge your tweaks and changes. It also lets you subtly reshape your Sim to reflect it's real-life counterpart more closely - like making Ian's shoulders broader or my backside bigger.
These traits also come into play with The Sims 4's biggest addition - emotions. Now, your Sims' mood will determine what it fancies doing, instead of just resetting whenever they wake up in the morning - and depending on how they're feeling, their activities can have different outcomes too. For example, Ian's confidence and self-assured traits mean he tends towards feeling confident or focused when things go well, which he can then channel into working on his programming skill, modding games and creating plug-ins (which, in an odd concidence, was exactly what he was doing in real life at the time!). Meanwhile, cheerful, creative Sarah spends most of her time in either a happy or inspired bubble, preferring to propose crazy schemes, play in the bath and rustle up some Silly Gummy Bear Pancakes for lunch.
In fact, even though you only choose three traits, your Sims can behave in a way that seems eerily familiar. When my in-game self isn't busy with her bizarre culinary concoctions, she seems to spend most of her time breaking things (which is pretty accurate). It all started when she managed to set fire to herself - and the entire kitchen - while making some eggs and toast for breakfast. After spending a while hysterically pointing and screaming while Rome (or rather, our home) burnt around her, a heroic Ian eventually pulled himself together and put out the blaze, gaining a serious boost of confidence in the process for being such a life saver. Covered in soot, smoke and burnt toast, Sim-me then decided to have a nice bubble bath to clean up and relax - except she managed to break the bath. Then the sink. And finally, the jukebox, which decided to spontaneously combust as she walked past on her way to bed. Leaving a load of broken, sparking and singed appliances in her wake, Ian spent the rest of the day mending things, no doubt while ruing the fact he'd rushed to the rescue that morning...
As funny as narrowly avoiding the Grim Reaper may be, The Sims 4 isn't without its problems. For starters, EA have opted to cut out the toddler life stage and swimming pools (with the latter disappointing sadists everywhere, seeing as removing the pool steps after your Sim had got in was one of the easiest ways to dispose of the unwanted ones in the earlier games) - apparently due to technical/time constraints, although the likelihood is that those will be patched in at a later date. During our time with the game though, we've encountered our fair share of bugs - including a potentially disastrous one where my Sim refused to enter the house altogether, instead standing outside, waving her arms and coming perilously close to dying of hunger and bathroom-related shame.
We tried everything to remedy the situation - guiding her little by little towards the house, replacing the front door, having Ian call her over - all to no avail. Next we tried to open the console and typed in the good old 'move_objects on' cheat, in the hope we could simply pick her up and move her indoors - only to find that was another feature that had been dropped from The Sims 4. In the end, we managed to fudge it into working again by mass travelling to the town library and back again, as the game has to reload when moving between lots. It was Sarah's second near-death experience in as many days.
We've also encountered some random graphical issues from time to time, where weird black and white blocks - essentially a guest appearance from the 'Pokemon' Missingno - appeared over the pause/play/fast-forward controls at the bottom of the screen, as well as some random coloured lines covering all the pictures of the contents of our fridge. As you can hover over most things and get a pop-up of what each icon does, such bugs aren't really game breaking, and are likely to be ironed out in subsequent patches - but, when combined with a missing features and buggy Sim behaviour, it does make it seem like it could have used a few more weeks - or months - being tweaked.
At its core, The Sims 4 is basically more Sims. It's not necessarily a bad thing, and the formula remains just as addictive as ever, but a few omissions and bugs mar the whole experience slightly - although there's a good chance they'll be fixed as time goes on. Pools, much like flamingo statues and llamas, had become a mainstay of the series, and while we may lament our lack of swimming facilities, it's by no means essential - the Sims, with their new emotions are as engaging as ever, as you watch them talk about underpants, spaceships and smelly socks in front of an adorably random penguin-shaped TV. For folks looking for their next virtual dollshouse fix it's a worthwhile investment, but for those who never got The Sims the first time round, it's unlikely to change your mind.