There aren’t many series that can claim to have created an entire language, and even fewer that can proudly state they got Katy Perry, Carly Rae Jepsen, and My Chemical Romance to sing some of their most iconic songs in it. But then again, there also aren’t too many series like The Sims.
First released 22 years ago today, The Sims is one of the most iconic video game franchises of all time and for good reason. Not only did the simulation game revolutionize the genre upon its release and act as a major entry-point into games for so many, the series keeps improving upon it, and remains one of the most inclusive and inviting gaming experiences around. However, while many of The Sims’ innovative changes seen throughout the series’ 22-year run have been winners, we can’t deny there’s been a few duds in there as well–such is the cost you pay when constantly reimagining one of gaming’s most beloved series. So, here’s a list of all the features we simply can’t get enough of, as well as the parts we’ve been glad to see go.
The best part? Its progressiveness.
From both a technological and sociological point of view, the first Sims game marked a massive turning point for video games. Though both simulation games and role-playing games were alive and thriving in the ’90s, The Sims was unique in how it mashed the two genres together–letting players assume various personas, hone their skills, and lead them through human stories, all while also providing a challenging and incredibly intelligent simulation experience. It was also socially significant, allowing players to play out different social scenarios, try on different lives, and explore empathy and relationships in an entirely new way. When I picked up the game as a 7-year-old, it was the first time I had played something that allowed for gay relationships, and that feature ultimately made me more aware of my own bisexuality. The amount of room The Sims gave its players for social exploration cannot be overstated and remains incredibly important.
The worst? Limited gameplay quickly makes the game feel repetitive.
While impressive at the time, The Sims series’ humble origins were ultimately just that: humble. With limited character customization, ways to interact, careers paths, and lots available to move into, it didn’t take long to feel as if I was ultimately telling the same story over and over and over again. Sure, it can absolutely be argued that it takes a certain degree of imagination and projection to make The Sims games enjoyable in the first place and that monotony is part of their charm, but the first entry in the series required a lot more give than most of us would probably be comfortable dishing out nowadays. While I still poured an ungodly amount of time into the game–and adored nearly every moment of it–much of that time was also spent yearning for more options. The game’s fantastic expansion packs helped make the game more charming and wild, but compared to later titles, it lacked the feeling of infinite possibilities.
The Sims 2
The best part? Its immersive and completely-and-totally-out-there stories.
The Sims has always been weird–just pick up The Sims Makin’ Magic or Livin’ Large and you’ll see what I mean. But whereas every other Sims game has players opt to dive headfirst into the series’ strangeness, The Sims 2 grabbed your mouse-wielding hand and yanked you right in. There are three neighborhoods where you can live in the base version of The Sims 2: Pleasantview, Veronaville, and Strangetown. And while you might be under the impression a big, empty sandbox awaits you in each–as is the case in every other Sims game–you would be wrong to assume that here. In The Sims 2, each town is filled with capital-D Drama and loads of preexisting relationships. In the Shakespeare-inspired Veronaville, you can play out modern versions of Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and more. In Strangeview, you are drawn into a tale of alien abductions, and while Pleasantview seemed the normal option, the whole town was essentially one, big telenovela–filled with infidelity, gold digging, distrust, and more. Jumping into these preexisting character’s lives–filled with new little cutscenes and silly stories–was a blast, and I truly wish the series still built its worlds this way.
The worst? Needy sims.
While they might have been the most quirky and fleshed-out characters to ever grace The Sims series, the good folks of The Sims 2 were also the neediest. Despite having the same number of needs as The Sims 1, it often felt like you just couldn’t keep up with your Sims’ demands in the series’ second entry because of their rapid mood decay. Sure, the game offered significantly more things to do and some of the best expansion packs to ever grace the series, but actually enjoying them is pretty difficult when you’re too busy whipping up grilled cheese sandwiches and showering all the time.
The Sims 3
The best part? Its ambitious open world.
While the technological leaps between Sims games are always substantial and interesting, the ones between The Sims 2 and The Sims 3 are by far the most game-changing. One of the biggest selling points of The Sims 3–aside from the inclusion of traits and the Create-a-Style feature–was the game’s open world, which sought to put an end to those pesky loading screens and make your Sims journey more seamless and freeing. The idea worked, and–when coupled with the new background time progression feature–made for a Sims game that let you feel more like a member of a living, breathing neighborhood than ever before. It was a vital evolution, and if it weren’t for the next point on this list, I’d be way more frustrated it was ultimately scrapped in the game’s next installment.
The worst? The game chugged.
Unfortunately for us Sims fans, the best part of The Sims 3 was also the biggest contributor to its worst: The Sims 3 ran extremely poorly. Presumably due to the game ditching loading screens in favor of an open world and implementing the Create-a-Style feature, the game had the tendency to make your PC sound a bit like a jet engine–even if you had a fairly beefy build. On top of that, the game was also prone to crashing, making frequent saves an annoying but incredibly necessary task. While The Sims 4 decision to ditch 3’s open-world concept and CAS feature seems like a devolution of the series’ on paper, those who struggled through The Sims 3 know it was ultimately a necessary sacrifice.
The Sims 4
The best part? Its robust and inclusive character creation.
While everyone has their favorite aspect of The Sims–whether that be slowly creating your dream home, rising to the top of your sim’s respective career, becoming a world-famous vampire, creating interesting neighborhoods, or watching your favorite family grow over the course of several generations–they all have one thing in common: It takes some well-made sims that you simply love playing to make these things worth doing. Thankfully, The Sims 4 features the most in-depth and inclusive character creator yet–and even includes regular, free updates to help ensure the game is keeping up with the times. In The Sims 4, you can choose how your character expresses their gender without any limitations. You also have a great deal of freedom in regards to adjusting their size, skin tone, hair, teeth, body modifications, and more. Lastly, one of the game’s coolest updates–the ability to enter in your own pronouns–is just around the corner. While it would be great to see even more body diversity and the ability to create characters with disabilities, you can tell the team is striving to give us the tools to create the most realistic sims yet.
The worst? The amount of content stashed away in pricey packs and expansions.
Coming off of The Sims 2 and The Sims 3, the amount of content in the base version of The Sims 4 is a bit, well, disappointing. While the series’ expansions packs have always been enticing and a fantastic way to keep the game alive, some of the packs in The Sims 4 feel required to make the game alive. As of right now, The Sims 4 offers 11 expansion packs, 10 game packs, and 18 stuff packs, making for close to $800 USD in additional content available. However, many of these add-ons fail to add all that much to the game, making it more frustrating that certain things weren’t merely included in the base version. Of course, I’m a sucker and have bought quite a few of these anyway (though nearly always on sale, mind you), but it’s definitely not something I’m a fan of.