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.