Review: The Sims 4 Seasons

Dynamic weather ought to be considered the starting point for video game immersion, especially in an open-format game that ostensibly aims to simulate real life. This is probably why the previous two ‘Seasons’ expansions for The Sims 2 and 3 have been among my favorites; they rely on such a simple concept yet still breathe so much life into the game.

No longer do our sims exist in an endless summer but instead in a changing world, the whims of which can often be dangerous and out of player control. Thunderstorms, for instance (my favorite weather type in both real life and fantasy) are brutal. Lightning will often strike the lot (leaving collectible crystals and elements in its wake) and it’s best to make sure your sims seek shelter if you care for their well being. Or not, because it seems possible to grant your sims temporary superpowers by having them be struck by lightning. If they survive, that is.

Lightning will also destroy objects on the lot if it strikes. This has only happened for me with outdoor objects that sims happen to be using at the time, and the sim using it gets a tense moodlet to show for their close call. All sims on the lot also get a small tense moodlet for as long as the storm’s duration. It seems unlikely that weather will eventually become inconsequential  background dressing in our sims lives.

Blizzards, freezing temperature and heatwaves are equally as dangerous. Spending too long out in the heat without appropriate clothing will cause sims to overheat and die rather quickly. The same is true for the freezing temperature. Blizzards are similar to thunderstorms in that a sim will autonomously run indoors rather than being trapped outside, but unlike storms, once inside, they don’t particularly mind whatever is going on outdoors.

All of this danger can be disabled in the options panel if one so chooses, but why would you ever want to?

Less deadly weather includes heat, cold, wind and varying levels of falling snow and rain. Unlike in previous games, snow on the ground doesn’t fall in two levels and knee-height snow banks are a thing of the past. This has been a cause of contention in the community so it bears mentioning, but it hasn’t actually had an effect on my own immersion. Sims still leave footprints in the snow and small snow drifts form that require shoveling and give the snow cover some illusion of depth. There’s also a really lovely glittery effect on the snow that still screenshots doesn’t quite capture.

Enough rain also forms mud puddles, which look a tad too cartoony (even for The Sims 4) but sims can get a negative moodlet from stepping in, or even slipping in, them and a nice big drop in hygiene. As far as I can recall, these are completely new to the series.

The weather control machine is back, but this time purchasable in the buy catalogue instead of for reward points, further making me question why The Sims 4 even has reward points. This one works forever, but seems to still have a chance of failure, which can be upgraded away with the Handiness skill.

But enough with the weather itself, as the system encompassing it deserves some coverage too. No longer is weather determined by the season alone, but also the world itself. In The Sims 2, Strangetown players were forced to either deal with unrealistic heavy snowfall or miss out completely on the buff to family relationship gains brought about by winter. Now, you can still experience winter temperature drops in Oasis Springs, and all the EAxis holidays that go along with them, but it’s a much more deserty winter than what you would find in, let’s say, Brindleton Bay.

A sim fishing during a heat wave.

This is a really great system but it kind of misses the mark in several cases. For instance, the swampy Willow Creek is seemingly based on the subtropical New Orleans but experiences heavy snowfall and no more rain than similarly green worlds. Another case is the distinctly European Windenburg, which experiences the same heat waves as more tropical or deserty worlds.

I’d love for a neighborhood to eventually be introduced that stays cool all year round, in contrast to Oasis Springs and Selvadorada’s warm climates. It’s too bad that that oppurtunity wasn’t taken with Windenburg.

Speaking of the worlds themselves, there isn’t one included with Seasons. Those resources seem to have instead been dedicated to updating assets in all existing worlds to change accordingly with the season, as well as adding seasonal food stands and pop-up skating rinks to pre-City Living worlds. If you’ve found yourself wanting for more play space then this is a disappointment, but I can’t say that the worlds don’t look great all dressed up for winter or autumn.

Returning from The Sims 3 Seasons are holidays, and they’re much better implemented this time. Although the default ones that the game ships with are similar to 3’s highly Americanized set, just generic enough to give off the illusion of secularism, we can create our own this time around. In my game I have deleted Maxis’ Thanksgiving lookalike and have replaced it with my own version of Guy Fawkes Night, of which my traditions include ‘Fire’ and ‘Fireworks’.

I spoke about my experience playing The Sims games as a non-American previously in my Get Together review and the new holiday system is a really great step in allowing international players to personalize their game. I’m also not a fan of annoying genericism in general, so the ability to allow people to turn ‘Spooky Day’ into ‘All Hallow’s Eve’ and ‘Winterfest’ into ‘Shitscram’ is welcome.

And really, the feature is just inclusive as hell all over. Some traditions that you can add to your holidays also includes ‘Festive Lighting’ (lighting a menorah, kinara or Christmas tree), ‘Attend Holiday Ceremony’ (a rabbit hole event that can be used as a stand-in for attending some kind of religious service) and even fasting. Some other fun holiday traditions include fighting, streaking and a cute countdown to midnight interaction on the TV. I hope the holiday systems end up like the club system, where it gets updated with new traditions as more content is added to the game, because there’s a lot of potential here.

Oh and the stupid gnomes that teleport around and break things are back. Fuck those creepy little assholes.

I’m a tad disappointed in the ‘wear costumes’ tradition, as the costume options that the self-interaction gives you only include costumes available in the base game, and none of the (frankly better) costumes from the Spooky Stuff pack. It’s odd, because the candy bowl added in that pack interacts with the ‘trick or treat’ tradition (allowing kids to take sweets from the bowl instead of bothering you) so there is some integration with that pack, just not enough or as much as there could be.

All of these holidays can be tracked in the new in-game calendar, which should have been part of the base game patch considering its insane usefulness. It also tracks school and work days, weather forecasts and allows you to plan parties and the like for specific times and dates in the future.

You can also decorate for holidays and your neighborhood will also decorate accordingly. Sadly there weren’t any giant neon Father Christmases added in build/buy mode so I cannot accurately recreate what Christmas is like in my parents’ neighborhood. There will never be enough neon in the game for that…

A thunderstorm.

The CAS and build/buy stuff is pretty uniformly great and nothing bears particular attention except the really, really, really, really nice bathroom set. Swing sets are back! And toddles now get swimwear for the new kiddie pool.

Gardening received an overhaul with the base game patch, and installing Seasons expands on it even further. Each crop now has specific seasons that it can be harvested in, and lie dormant for the rest of the year, and there are new AoE interactions for watering and weeding, making maintaining a massive garden less of a chore (and more profitable to boot). There’s also a scarecrow and you can fuck it. Standard Sims stuff, really.

Flower arranging is back from The Sims 2 Open for Business, tying into the new gardening career. It’s its own skill although highly benefits from having a competent gardener around in order to procure fresh ingredients. The skill itself is interesting, but not quite my thing. There are a lot of different arrangements that can be made but the arrangements themselves don’t really have any mechanical differences. Instead, sims can ‘scent’ arrangements that are of high enough quality and the chosen sent determines what happens when a sim smells or receives the bouquet. Scents seem to mostly just bestow emotional moodlets but there are few more interesting ones. Arranged bouquets don’t seem to live for very long, so that may put a stopper in any plans you have of running a flower shop.

Beekeeping has also returned from The Sims Makin’ Magic and 3’s Supernatural. Honey isn’t used for any otherworldly purposes this time around, it just seems like it’s good for making a new kind of tea on the tea infuser and a new cake. Sims with good relationships with their bees can also collect swarms of bees from the box and sic them on other sims, which, let’s face it, makes this the best iteration of beekeeping so far.

Children can also take up scouting as an after school activity. They level up in the ‘career’ by earning merit badges from doing various things around the game (sadly, the volunteering rabbithole from Parenthood doesn’t grant any badge) and as a reward for hitting the highest level grow up with a trait… increases the skill gain across all skills. If they keep adding childhood reward traits that increase skill gain our kids will eventually end up with everything capped before they age out of teendom. A nice feature that gives our youngin’s something to do, but disappointing that they couldn’t come up with a more creative reward for maxing the career.

The after school activity UI seems awfully open for a feature that so far includes only one ‘career’ track, so hopefully this is something that gets added to in later content. In retrospect, I’m surprised something similar wasn’t already implemented with Parenthood.

Speaking of traits, there are no new traits available in CAS, as all new traits in the pack are bought from the rewards store. This is a choice I actually agree with because not only doesn’t my love of thunderstorms make up an entire third of my personality, but also the reward store in The Sims 4 has a severe wanting for things to buy that aren’t just straight-up cheats. Through aspiration reward points sims can acclimatize themselves to different kinds of weather or just make themselves immune (still cheaty…).

Oddly enough there are no new lot traits included in Seasons, which is a missed opportunity. Traits that make the lot run hotter or cooler than the world around them would be an interesting and thematic addition and are a striking absence.

Snow thawing in spring.

Finally: technical bits…

The pack has been extremely stable on my end. I haven’t experienced any out of the ordinary lag or game-breaking bugs. Once I had an issue where snow had fallen on the ground but hadn’t shown up visually, but restarting the game fixed that and I haven’t come across the bug again. Several frustrating bugs came with the base game patch that accompanied the expansion release, but fixes for those were pushed out in a patch earlier this week. There are two remaining issues that I’m experiencing:

Thermostats don’t seem to work on rental lots, but I’m not actually sure whether or not that is a bug or a (bad) intentional design choice. While it is understandable that a dinky little forest cabin doesn’t have complete climate control, not so much for the large lakeside mansion my richer sims winter in.

The second is that leaf piles out in the world don’t seem to despawn on their own and instead stick around, rotting, for the entire year. There’s one right outside my sims’ house and no matter how many times they try to burn it away, it inevitably returns. Apparently leaves in the sims’ world aren’t bio-degradable.

The Sims 4 Seasons is going to the top of my ‘must-have’ list of Sims 4 content. Not only does the content from this pack add to every part of the game in a way that no pack has done (so far?), it’s also the best Seasons expansion in the series. Not only are the new weather effects immersive as hell (and gorgeous to boot), the more extreme of the weather patterns also add back a sense of danger that has been missing from the series since The Sims 2. My game has also been ridiculously stable. Seasons and pets are usually the two primary performance droppers in Sims games and yet I’ve noticed no drop whatsoever with this expansion.

There are flaws, as mentioned, in how some of the new features integrate with those from previous packs and I do feel that certain features could have been better implemented than they were. But so far, Seasons has been a solid, stable experience and now that weather is out of the way I’m interested in seeing what Maxis comes up with next.

As flawed as expansions like World Adventures and Into the Future were, you can’t argue that they weren’t creative. And that’s what I’m looking forward to in the future now that the crowd favorites of pets and weather are out of the way. I had problems with how The Sims 3 implemented a lot of things, but The Sims 4 right now could do with a healthy dose of its predecessor’s adventurousness.

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Disclaimer stuff: My copy of the expansion was paid for by my mother, who gifted me my pre-order for my birthday. Thanks, mum! I’ve played The Sims 4 for roughly 60 hours between installing Seasons and publishing this post. Information about the computer I ran the game on can be found here.

Review: The Sims 4 Cats & Dogs

It’s that festive time of year again! That’s right, it’s time to play another The Sims 4 expansion. The year’s gap between Get Together and City Living doesn’t seem to have been a fluke now, and it looks like that will be the new norm for this particular format of Sims 4 content.

Pets have consistently been one of the most requested features in every Sims game. Forgoing a cool name like “Unleashed” or a straight-to-the-point one like simply “Pets”, Cat’s Ampersand Dogs is the first Sims expansion that sets out to actively make URL’s more confusing.

But other than that it’s pretty good.

Smaller critters aren’t included in this round of pets that sims can keep, and the focus of the pack lies entirely on its titular creatures. While this is a disappointing direction to take for someone who very much enjoyed keeping birds in The Sims 2 and 3, the cats and dogs in The Sims 4 seem to be, in exchange, more fleshed out than their previous game counterparts. Cats and dogs are appropriately differentiated from one-another (something which I felt that previous pets installments lacked) and both species have unique behaviors and interactions available. For example, cat’s cannot be walked or swim, but they tend to keep themselves clean, enjoy climbing on everything and will harass pests (both from the newly included mouse hole and the lot-trait-locked one included in City Living).

Surprisingly for The Sims 4, pet customization is amazingly robust. The best part of the new ‘Create a Pet’ by far has to be the ability to paint directly on your pets’ coats with a full color wheel in the same manner of 3’s Create a Style and quite a lot of brushes to choose from. Other customization options previously present in previous games are also there. Sadly, CAP does fall short in one place. There are only two available animation skeletons for dogs; large and small. This makes it almost impossible to recreate some of the more peculiar dog breeds, specifically Dachshunds and their particularly short legs. Perhaps The Sims takes place in a fair universe where humans never subjected animals to aggressive inbreeding. Or perhaps EA just didn’t think it worth the time and effort to implement unique animation sets for the weird looking breeds. Whatever the reason, it’s a sad day for those of us who want to simify our low-to-the-ground pups.

Pets in this pack aren’t controllable, unlike in 3. And unlike 2, there is currently no cheat that makes them so. I wasn’t a fan of playable pets in 3, but I know this could be a deal-breaker for a lot of people so it bears mentioning.

New in the pack is the veterinary skill and the ability for sims to own vet clinics. Much like Vampires, this pack seems to hold the uncanny ability to make Get to Work seem worse the longer it’s been out. The vet skill plays similarly to the doctor career from GtW, but with marked improvements. Although it’s still possible for the experienced player to identify and treat the illness by sight alone, new visual cues have been added to the pie menu for treatments. From my experience with the skill, it’s also impossible to get into a situation where one has to guess which diagnosis to make. I would really like to see a patch or mod that brings the doctor career in line with the new standard set here.

Being a vet plays like a combination of Get to Work’s doctor career and running restaurants in Dine Out. Played pets can get ill and be taken to the vet, which was something I had been hoping to see in Get to Work, but didn’t. Again: modders, we should get on this. I know Python. Call me.

There is also a new Pet Training skill, but.. I’m not quite sure why it actually exists. It’s pretty neat, and maxing it allows sims to teach their dogs new tricks faster, and to run obstacle courses with them. Tricks are cute and you can also run your pets through obstacle courses and better trained pets with better trainers have a higher chance of doing it successfully. But there’s just not really an end-goal to the skill. Unlike Unleashed or 3, there are no pet competitions or shows that can be entered. And unlike 2, pets cannot hold jobs that are advanced by learning new tricks. A positive moodlet can be earned from a successful obstacle course, but the same benefit can be garnered from talking to the toilet.

Pet jobs never made sense to me, so whatever on that front, but being able to win contests with my amazing obstacle course skills would have been nice. As of right now the skill, and everything associated with it, just kind of exists to be cute. But it is cute, so mission accomplished I guess.

The new world, Brindleton Bay, is pretty nice. I do wonder why Maxis insists on making coastal worlds with terrible water textures, though. The shaders on swimming pools are wonderful and it’s incredibly jarring to have, right next to it, a body of water that looks about ten years of computer upgrades behind. The world is designed after a New England coastal town (Stephen King country!) and has a distinctly more rural feel than any of the others. I still think the game is missing a farming town in the same vein as Riverview, but Brindleton is closer to that than we had before.

Brindleton Bay also holds the first pre-made, 100% confirmed gay couple in Sims history. Small victories.

Now on to the less interesting bits…

There’s not a whole lot special in Build/Buy this time around. Notable things include new sofas that can be placed in bay windows, a Roomba-like robot vacuum and, of course, pet items like beds, toys and litter boxes. There’s a definite ‘American rustic’ design style going on with the new objects, but it’s not as defined as the similar style included with The Sims 2 Seasons and ends up feeling a bit like a thrift store selection. Random, worn and like the previous owner only parted with it when they died of old age. There are a couple treasures in there, like the new fireplaces and nautical-themed pub items, but this isn’t a pack that’s going to sell solely on its decorating content.

CAS (for humans and assorted bipedal monsters) is pretty take-it-or-leave it, too. There are a lot of jumpers; probably to go with the the new world. There’s a new kids’ outfit that I really like and all the hair styles range from great to average. If you’re not interested in the pet gameplay, then you probably wont be wanting this expansion at full-price.

And last but not least: the music. The new radio station is called “Singer-Songwriter” and consists of folky pop to match the rural feel of Brindleton Bay. The real treasure lies in the background track, though. I don’t know who had to be hired or fired for it, but Maxis has been absolutely killing it on loading, CAS/P and Build/Buy tracks. Damn son. The composer of these tracks has managed to find a way to make those weird choir soundfonts actually sound good.

Overall, Cats & Dogs is incredibly strong in the gameplay department, but not so much where it comes to build/buy obejcts aimed at human sims, or their new CAS options for that matter. I would probably bump this expansion to one of the top spots on my “buy this stuff first” list. If you’re not interested in cat and dog gameplay, however, there wont be a whole lot here for you. Horses and smaller critters were sacrificed this time around in exchange for things like the veterinarians and the ability for cats to jump on pretty much anything, but feels like that sacrifice wasn’t wasted.

I would like to see a game pack in the future that involves smaller pets like lizards and hamsters, but I would say that I’m already pretty satisfied with The Sims 4’s rendition of a pet-themed expansion.

Oh and there’s no bloody life state again. That I’m not satisfied with. Werewolves in 2 were so well implemented… I mean I guess EA remembered that supernatural life states exist because they added an option for vampires to harvest plasma packs from animals using the surgery machine. I just kind of wish my favorite part of the series didn’t seem to be getting pushed to the wayside so much.

Although… I guess ghost dogs (which are a thing, by the way) technically count as far as supernatural beings go, but I’m not happy about it.

Now if you would please follow me to the salt circle where we will attempt to summon a weather expansion for next year. And also werewolves.

Please Play Doki Doki Literature Club

Please play Doki Doki Literature Club. It’s on Steam right now and it’s 100% free. Please, just play it.

Don’t like visual novels? Great, me neither. I have a short ass attention span and aren’t that interested in anime tropes. But this cutesy-looking VN was tagged as “psychological horror” on Steam and that’s something that I am all about.

I can’t go into much detail without spoiling some very good storytelling but this game has a total of three content warnings before it even starts. That’s how real this shit is.

It’s a short play overall, it’s a bit of a slow roll to get going, something I’m not a fan of in games. But horror is one of the few genres where this approach works wonders and it really does so here.

Holy shit.

 

Please play Doki Doki Literature Club.

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Let’s Review: Tacoma

Coming off of the heels of their previous game, Gone Home, Fullbright released Tacoma on August 2nd, 2017. Tacoma follows the same general idea as Gone Home, in that the player is dropped into an unfamiliar and uninhabited environment, and the goal of the game is to find out what happened.

The walking (and sometimes floating) simulator is a polarizing genre, but I’m a fan. There’s something intriguing about being thrown into a strange new situation and having to track back through what’s left behind in order to make sense of things. In this aspect, I think Tacoma does even better than its predecessor, if not for the sole fact that your missing sister’s disembodied narration is replaced with a more immersive plot device.

Much like the dark and stormy night of Gone Home, the creepy glitches and corruptions present in this game’s AR GUI set up the feeling that someone here has gone terribly, terribly wrong. This seems to be the real strength of Fullbright’s games; setting up a foreboding mood at the beginning and surprising the player with where the plot goes from there. Most of the major plot points are disseminated in AR recordings, which the player can rewind and move about as they please. The ability to peek into characters’ brain computers during these scenes allows the player a look at the private world of these characters, in addition or contrast to their outward speech and actions. Combine all that with incredibly detailed common environments and crew quarters and you end up with an exploration game that lets the player come to know each and every character without ever meeting them.

While the environments are finely detailed, the game… isn’t actually that much to look at. There’s one section at the very start that seems like a perfect opportunity to break out some stunning graphics, but sadly that doesn’t happen. As it stands, a view lauded to be beautiful is just kind of… there. I’m not a graphics evangelist, but space has the potential to be real goddamn pretty, so this feels like a missed opportunity.

The largest flaw I can find in Tacoma is one that I find with most other ‘walking sims’: that the genre would be served so much better with more direct puzzle solving. To me, the first person exploration game ought to be the direct evolution of the classic puzzle-adventure game. Think: the Nancy Drew point-and-clicks in full 3D. Although Fullbright games make puzzles in and of themselves out of finding every little bit of hidden story (see: the funny uncle subplot in Gone Home), I’d like to see a little more depth to the ol’ ‘find a keypad and backtrack until you find a code for it’ puzzle gameplay.

But honestly, Tacoma is still a damn good game and I look forward to coming back to it in a few months with pseudo-fresh eyes. It’s an experience of only a few hours (I played it in one sitting) and it’ll put you out $20. If that sounds like an investment you’d want to make, I highly suggest giving Tacoma a playthrough.

Let’s Review: The Sims 4: Parenthood

Since the introduction of generational play in The Sims 2, family and parentdom has been a key part of the Sims series. However, the most recent two entries in the series received complaint from some (myself included) to the tune that childhood and teendom felt underdeveloped, especially compared to the wide variety of content that later expansions added for older sims. For 3, Maxis’ response to this was the Generations expansion which focused on younger sims and elders. Parenthood seems to be the Sims 4 equivalent to that.

Now let’s get this out of the way first: I hated Generations, as anyone who’s ever brought it up in conversation with me would know. But I hated the pack for reasons relating to its implementation, as opposed to it’s ideas. Idea-wise, Generations was solid, and I feel the same way about Parenthood. There’s nothing wrong with adding more depth to several life-stages that felt like they were added to the game as a second thought because someone at Maxis remembered them when the game already had one foot out the studio door.

But should most of the content of both Generations and Parenthood have been in the base game releases and none of us should have had to pay extra for it? Yes, absolutely.

Moving on…

Gameplay

Hey look it’s the bit that matters the most. The pack is solid here. A lot of expansion has been done on the interactions between young sims and their parents. There’s a new Parenting skill that lets adults get better at being a parent as they gain more experience with the role. The skill unlocks a number of interactions that sims can perform on their kids in order to help them develop better (or worse) traits as they age into young adults.

Speaking of traits, there are (a whopping, considering the track record) 11 of them included in this pack. 1 of them is gained by completing the new Aspiration, while the other 10 can be earned from the new “Character Values” system.

A new element has been added to Toddler, Child and Teen sims Simology panel that tracks the status of five values. They can be in either the positive and negative, and getting any of them high or low enough will award a trait once the Sim ages up to a Young Adult. This is a really cool idea. I often think that Sims games could improve by having sims develop their personalities through their lived experiences, as opposed to being chosen by the player every birthday. Character Values seems like a step in the right direction.

Parents can take an active role in encouraging certain values but they can also be developed through everyday actions, like cleaning the dishes or being nice to others. There are also chance card-type events that can affect a sims character. All in all, this feature feels very well integrated with the rest of the game.

The awarded traits themselves do indeed affect how the sim plays. Argumentative sims seem to have trouble forming new relationships and ill-mannered sims wont autonomously clean their own dishes, to name two examples. As the main mechanic of this pack, Character Values worked out really well as both something to do while your sims are children, and something that fleshes them out for the rest of their short, pointless lives.

As for other gameplay stuff, curfews are back from Sims 3. They’re optional this time (thank god) and they’re not enforced by psychic police. They’re a nice feature and the ability to break them helps characterize teens as more than just slightly shorter adults.

CAS

There’s nothing particularly notable about the new CAS assets this time around. There’s an acne face detail, which is a tad disappointing. It looks fine, but I was hoping that zits would be a gameplay thing, as they were in 2. There are a few new hairstyles, but none that I’m particularly enamored with save for maybe the cute twists with the flower clips that female children get.

As for the adult to elder category, there are a few pieces obviously aimed at teenagers and I like the jeans with a plaid shirt wrapped around the waist. But that’s about it.  I can see myself using the stuff, which is more than I can say for what came with some packs.

Build/Buy

There’s nothing in Build mode save for a cute door intended for children’s rooms, two windows and some new wallpapers.

The real treasure is in Buy mode. Bizarrely, there is absolutely nothing in the way of new toddler toys or beds, but there are two really nice new single beds. There seem to be two styles of decor in this pack, the weathered country theme and generic kid-friendly furniture, like something one would find in the children’s section of an IKEA,  all round corners and extra storage. The new counters follow the rustic theme and are absolutely lovely. There are also some new 4×4 coffee tables, which are a neat. There’s a new shower/tub combo that has some really nice shower curtain options and a lovely sink that looks like it could belong in a utility room. And I am absolutely in love with the new stove.

Just look at this thing. It looks like a car.

There’s also a decorative bread box(!!!), but that’s the highlights of it. Everything else isn’t anything we haven’t seen before.

Brand new items include a diary, a building block (think Lego) table, a toy doctor’s kit and school project boxes. The diary is pretty boring. Sims can write in it for a positive moodlet and an increase to Emotional Control, reread it to gain back the mood that they were in when they last wrote, and other sims can snoop if they so choose. The table is nice but I’m kind of over this whole trend of adding new activities that can only be done on specific tables. I’d much rather be able to place a block set, a deck of cards or drawing set on any given 1×1 dining table rather than fill my sims’ house with ten different mismatched tables.

The doctors kit comes in two varieties, teddy bear and baby doll. They’re functionally the same, and both are adorable.

The school projects are neat. Kids will sometimes bring them home from school and they can also be bought from the catalog. There seem to be grade bonuses for completing the project quickly and doing the project sloppily or carefully affects the project’s final appearance. It’s a small little feature, but I like it a lot.

Misc.

This pack followed Vampires’ lead and added some truly lovely new music to Build/Buy and CAS. If new packs continue this trend, or we gain the ability to disable certain tracks, I could see myself muting the game during long stints in build mode a lot less.

I don’t know who they had to fire to get this to happen, but I’m glad they took their horrible plinky piano noises with them.

Conclusion

I like this pack. It approaches the same problem that Generations did, but implements it a lot better (for half the price, no less). I still feel that most of the content in Parenthood ought to have made its way into the base game, as playing children and teenagers without it just feels empty and half-baked. I’m not going to go off into conspiracy theory territory and posit that it was left out of the base game in order to charge and extra $20 for it later. But I do think that a fully fleshed out childhood in a series where family play has always been a focus shouldn’t be locked behind a $20 DLC.

But I did love the pack, and would highly recommend it as a first buy for anyone just getting into the game’s addons and who enjoys playing families. It doesn’t add any great new adventure to the game like University or World Adventures did, but it’s something more in the vein of Freetime, that adds to the sims’ daily lives, making them feel more human.

Let’s Review: Kathy Rain

Hey so here’s a game that came out over a year ago and I didn’t hear about until two days ago. I find it pretty weird that I never heard about Kathy Rain for an entire year after it was released because I goddamn love point and click adventure games.

Kathy Rain is an adventure game in the style of a classic LucasArts title, which makes me hard as hell. The pixel art is lovely and there’s a lot to be said for the character and scene design. The plot holds a lot of intrigue and there are even one or two legitimately spooky moments, despite not being a horror game.

The voice acting is great and really helps bring each character together as a distinct, believable person. Kathy herself is an interesting character, with just the right combination of obnoxious edgelord and vulnerable young woman to come off sympathetic, yet flawed.

The final section of the game (you’ll know it when you see it) is a tad weak and I feel that several plot threads went unresolved after all was said and done. This was probably done for a sequel hook, but apparently the first game didn’t sell too well so a Kathy Rain 2 is hardly guaranteed. I have a big problem with questions left unanswered in media that isn’t likely to warrant a follow-up.

The game’s puzzles are pleasantly devoid of ‘moon logic‘ and many of them are difficult, but definitely fair. Everything you do as a puzzle makes total sense in the context of the game’s plot, which is a nice break from adventures such as Her Interactive’s Nancy Drew series, which, while being one of my favorite series, features puzzles such as solving a 2048 game in order to open a lighthouse.

Kathy Rain is a pretty short game (I finished it in one six hour sitting), but that might be on par with other point and clicks. It’s on the individual player to decide whether or not that warrants whatever price the game is currently selling for (in my case, the full price of $14.99).

At any rate, Kathy Rain is a well put together point and click adventure game, reminiscent of the genre’s golden age back in the 90’s. It falls apart a bit at the very end but the ride to get to that point was very enjoyable nonetheless. Unlikely though it may be at this point, I’m going to start holding out for a sequel.

Let’s Review: The Sims 4: Vampires

In an attempt to steal the award for least imaginative add-on title away from the likes of Pets, University and City Living, The Sims Studio came up with The Sims 4: Vampires. The fourth in a series of $20 ‘game-packs’, Vampires does exactly what it says on the tin.

When the vampire leaks first came to surface, I was pretty skeptical. Since The Sims 2: University, each and every Sims expansion included a new ‘life state’, a playable monster or supernatural kind of sim tangentially related to the expansion’s theme. With monstery and otherwise weird sims being one of my favorite aspects of the series, it was disappointing as hell to see both Get Together and City Living ship without a new life state. It was even more disappointing when combing of new patch files brought to light the possibility that EA would start packaging off my favorite part of the game and selling them separately. For $20 a pop.

But, having played Vampires quite a bit in the past week I realize that I don’t… actually hate the idea? Of course I’d rather not spend more money, but the pack does feel like it justifies the $20 price tag.

For one, this is probably the most complete vampire implementation in the series so far. Whereas 2’s Night Life focused more on the stereotypical Stoker-esque interpretation of vampire folklore, with ashy skin, bat transformations and more Counts than you could count, 3’s Late Night implementation followed the sexier, more brooding strain of vampirism that was extremely popular in young adult novels around that time. The Sims 3 vampires also all had neck tattoos for some reason. Seriously.

This implementation, however, doesn’t limit itself to one version.

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Let’s Review: The Sims 4 City Living

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I’m always down for the Sims franchise taking a step away from the idealized American suburbia that characterized its early days. I grew up in a place that was neither American nor suburban and as a small child was deeply confused by how different the world of my favorite games was to my own. I understand now, of course, that the world is much bigger than my childhood neighborhood, but I still really appreciates the few times when The Sims seems to make the same realization.

City Living, a utilitarian name that nonetheless tells you exactly what to expect of it, is the third expansion for The Sims 4. Unusually for the series, City Living was released almost a full year after the previous expansion, instead of the timeworn standard of six months. And, unlike it’s predecessors in The Sims 2 Nightlife and The Sims 3 Late Night, The Sims 4’s urban expansion seems to focus less on a night out in the city, but on, well, life in the city at all hours. Thus the title, I suppose.

On top of Nightlife and Late Night, City Living also has shades of The Sims 2’s Apartment Life, The Sims 3 Seasons and (yes I know I said this about Get Together too) The Urbz. The ‘Uptown’ district is especially reminiscent of Diamond Heights, one of my favorite Urbz level designs; a group of buildings suspended almost precariously between multiple skyscrapers, where the rich and fashionable habitate. I wonder if there wasn’t at least some inspiration gleaned from the old console game during the production of this expansion.

Proper apartments make a return from their appearance in Apartment Life, this time combined with some features of Late Night’s half-assed attempt. Landlords, rent and loud neighbors are once again a thing and all apartments in the new world of San Myshuno are located inside structures not unlike the high-rise shells that Late Night allowed players to build houses in. It’s a nice combination of the two systems in that you get the high-rise aesthetic of Late Night and the actual gameplay of Apartment Life.

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Let’s Review: Virginia

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Virginia wasn’t what I expected. Where I was expecting a point & click adventure game in a similar vein to Deadly Premonition, I got a game primarily about a friendship between two women. There was still that mystery aspect there, but it took a back seat to this other, strangely more engaging, story. And I liked it. A lot.

There are a lot of references. The game stars FBI agents and takes place in ’92 and thusly has made all of the requisite X-Files references, as well as a few others from more recent media, including Welcome to Night Vale. Hell, Virginia basically is an X-Files episode, only Scully and Mulder are both black women and at one point Scully drops acid. It’s a really, really good time.

Without spoiling too much, Virginia tells a story that made me feel things. Lots of things. There was definitely some sadness there, a little bit of anger maybe, some heartwarmth and a good chunk of utter confusion. And it manages to do all of that without a single line of dialogue. I was a little bit iffy on the idea of a mystery plot with no dialogue. But it worked surprisingly well, especially when the narrative took its lens off of the mystery to more focus on Virginia’s true plot, the relationship between the two leads, which didn’t need dialogue.

The fact that the game completely works without dialogue is mostly down to its incredible soundtrack. As in, Virginia might have one of the best game soundtracks I’ve ever heard. It’s not just the music itself, but the fact that it fits in so well with everything happening on screen and the characters’ emotions. A lot of time and thought was put into the score here and it honestly really, really shows.

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Let’s Review: Mirror’s Edge Catalyst

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The first Mirror’s Edge game was short, unpolished, based on the highly questionable premise of first-person platforming and yet, almost immediately after its release in 2008, it became one of my favorite games of all time. For me, at least, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, released June 7th, was an extremely anticipated sequel prequel reboot thing.

Mechanically, Catalyst is stronger than its predecessor. Movement is smoother, it’s easier to string movements together with the changes made to the control scheme and combat has been vastly, vastly improved to make use of Faith’s strengths rather than plop you in front of a group of heavily armored SWAT troops and tell you to get right up close to them in the hope that your reaction speed is good enough for the very unforgiving disarm mechanic. This time, the player is given tools to dance around your much slower enemies, actually using Faith’s speed to her advantage. Additionally, the player is now expected to use their environment to their advantage in combat, rewarding them for knocking enemies into each other or into environmental objects, such as over railings. Or the edges of roofs. It’s like someone on the Catalyst development team saw that moment in the original where you got to punt a guy off of some scaffolding and actually recognized that it was awesome. It probably shouldn’t have counted towards the Pacifist achievement. But it was awesome.

Unfortunately, despite all the improvements made to the combat, the development team doesn’t seem to actually understand what made combat in the first game so horrible to begin with. Sure, guns in the first game slowed you down and therefore were pretty much antithetical to the whole point of it all, but they still weren’t the real problem. The real problem with Mirror’s Edge combat was the game’s tendency to insist that the best option is more often than not running away from enemies but then immediately turning around and creating situations where combat was unavoidable. Catalyst actually does somewhat handle this, by allowing Faith to use her light attacks while at speed to push past enemies in her way without taking a hit to her momentum. It also seems to not be bothering to kid itself this time around in regards to combat being avoidable. You’re advised multiple times that sometimes the best way through enemies is to just ignore them and run for it, but more often than not the voice in your ear is pretty honest about how many people you’re about to be forced to punch off of roofs.

Oh, and the reason Faith can’t use guns is because every gun in this universe is biometrically linked to its owner. If you ask me a better explanation would be that Faith just up and doesn’t know how to fire a gun properly and a life or death situation probably isn’t the best time to learn when she could be doing something she’s perfectly comfortable with instead; running away. Actually, if you honestly tried to tell me that a city with such a seemingly large criminal underworld as Glass somehow doesn’t have a black market for ‘jailbroken’ firearms I’d probably tell you that Faith secretly being Batman would be a more plausible explanation for why she can’t use guns.

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