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Game Review

A Sims game has always been something of an intricate, digital, drawn-out version of playing with dolls.

In this high-def digital world you don't have to hop the little stiff-legged dollies from one room to another, and you don't have to come up with all of the make-believe Barbie's-got-a-date-for-the-theater interactions either. For many imagination-focused players, both young and old, that has made The Sims series a big, big winner—a whole lot more appealing than games focused on questing through dank dungeons or ripping into slavering zombies.

So what more does The Sims 4 bring to the tea party table? Well, no zombies or dungeons, so fans can still rest easy on that front. And the familiar cutaway-walled homes, earn-a-living work days and symbol-based conversations with neighbors and friends all feel pretty much the same, too. But there have been some fairly major changes made to the sims themselves.

Flirt and Swish, Push and Pull
First of all, the game's "Create a Sim" (CAS) tool has been totally revamped. When shaping your virtual person, you now assign a "Life Aspiration" and several "Personality Traits." The aspiration motivates your sim to, perhaps, be athletics-focused or crave more creative time. Also, though, you can end up with guy who is a little too enthusiastic about serial romantic hookups or being thought of as the party king. And a "Deviance" aspiration can constantly coax a gal to steer toward "mean" interactions with others.

Those types of aspirations and a trio of traits—ranging from "cheerful" or "goofball" to "hot-headed" or "self-assured"—will drive your characters in just about everything they do. Your beginning choices, then, shape the kinds of interactions you can expect with other sims throughout the game. Oh, and you get to choose the way your character walks around now, too. It's interesting to see how something as simple as a snooty strut, a goofy shuffle or a feminine swish can impact your digital construct's personality.

Another big CAS adjustment is the way you can customize your sim's looks. Instead of using a series of slider bars that change dimensions, you simply grab a facial feature or other body part and push or pull it into the shape you want. This physical manipulation is incredibly detailed and can be applied to all aspects of your sim's physique, including several, well, sensitive areas.

No Need for a Mood Ring
Once you've built and kitted out your eager avatar and found a house to take up residence in, you'll notice the next couple of important in-game changes. Your sim can now multitask, for one thing. In past games, characters performed tasks that you assigned them one at a time. Now they can approach their needs and duties in a much more life-like way. A wife can enjoy background music and chat with her husband while she bakes a favorite pastry, for instance. A writer can be working on his book while discussing sports with a neighbor. A kid can play a favorite tablet game while perched on the toilet. (Yes, the toilet.)

In like manner, a new emotion and need gauging system helps you keep track of quickly changing moods. At any one time, based on interactions and surroundings, your sim will have three active desires, indicated by thought bubbles. And the list of possible actions will change based on those shifting moods and desires, providing more diverse ways to guide our onscreen charges—maybe breaking a tense moment with a joke or giving a kiss to a loved one who needs a boost.

What in the World Is "WooHoo" Time?
You've figure out by now that some of those new game adjustments can take you in dismal directions. Based on the "right" combination of aspirations and traits, created characters can be lusty, materialistic, gruff or generally lousy to be around. Body adjustments and walk mechanics can spawn anything from hulking, heavily muscled Neanderthals to overstuffed, busty sex kittens to folks who look transgendered.

In the area of sexuality, all nudity is pixelated. The same goes for bathroom business and happy-mom breastfeeding. But characters can, say, run around in their underwear, or have various flings and affairs with opposite- or same-sex partners. Once "WooHoo" time fills the air, the sims climb into bed and giggle and bounce under the covers. When they resurface, they're naked (mostly hidden by blankets).

Of course it's you and the friends you decide to play with who get to decide how much of that kind of hanky-panky gets paraded through town. Because these sims can easily and happily build friendships with their fellows without a single need to hop into bed together. So you end up having to live with the world you create. Hmmm. Sort of like the real one, isn't it?

And speaking of the real world, you can't pay much attention to it while you're taking care of this virtual village. Creating your own engrossing environment full of simulated people and nudging them in different directions can be compelling, immersive ... and outrageously time-consuming as it makes the actual world, full of work and school books, feel so boringly real.

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