Republished on Wednesday 29th January 2020: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of February's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
You begin The Sims 4 by creating a Sim - an avatar of a person, perhaps based on yourself only thinner, more popular, and with cooler hair - using a fairly robust character creation suite. You can start the game with your Sim at any stage of their life, from toddler to elder, and you assign them a bunch of personality traits - neat, artistic, evil, whatever - that will dictate what makes them tick. In a nice touch, when you're creating your Sim you can assign feminine traits to masculine characters and vice versa, as well as mixing and matching clothing and cosmetic options. If you want your tubby, bearded Sim to wear high heels and pink lipstick and walk like a runway model then you be fabulous.
Once your Sim is ready, you're given a small amount of money in order to buy yourself a home in one of the towns available to you. Given your modest finances there's not much choice, but once you're a captain of industry and making big bucks you can throw money around like confetti, purchasing or designing lavish homes with every conceivable amenity. Until then, you better get used to washing your own dishes, fixing your own broken appliances, and cooking your own macaroni and cheese. If you want to live a life of luxury then you're going to need coin, and fortunately, finding a job in The Sims 4 is way easier than in real life, in that you pretty much just decide what you want to do and then do it. Once you're gainfully employed a routine begins to form. Your Sim gets up, gets out of bed, drags a comb across their head, spends eight hours in the office, comes home, has their dinner, watches an episode of Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares and then goes back to bed, ready to repeat the entire process tomorrow.
The daily grind of life is the main gameplay loop here, made a little more compelling than perhaps it sounds by a series of clearly defined goals and a fairly steady stream of rewards. Practically everything your Sim does is tied to a progress bar in one skill or another, and so while in real life you might prefer to have an extra twenty minutes in bed than get up to scrape together some scrambled eggs and toast on a morning, doing so here will contribute towards levelling up your cooking skill which will allow you to cook more elaborate dishes in the future. Everything from working out to reading a book to fixing a leaking toilet is somehow tied to a skill in this manner, and so thanks to the simple RPG systems in play it constantly feels like you're achieving something, however slight, when performing otherwise menial tasks.
As your Sim progresses through life, friendships that they've made can potentially lead to romances, leading to marriage and then children. Or you can just get a girl knocked up after a few drinks and a couple of cheeky one liners. Perhaps your Sim is a lesbian and wants to adopt. Having a partner - and the game is refreshingly liberal when it comes to who can fall in love with who - means you've got two Sims to look after once they've moved in. Two Sims means twice as much work, but also twice the potential income. Raising a child in The Sims 4 feels strangely meaningful, from teaching them to talk as babies, to helping them with their homework in grade school, right through to the crushing disappointment you'll feel once they hit puberty and become goths. When your original Sim finally keels over and dies you can continue playing as the child they raised, effectively allowing the game to go on forever.
If you're into simulation games then The Sims 4 has all of the tinkering and micromanagement that you could ever want, but that does come with some caveats that could hamper your enjoyment somewhat. It could just be our puny, goldfish memory spans, but the control scheme in the game seems almost impossible to remember. In fact, it's the only game we can recall playing in which there is constantly a reminder on screen that there's a button - L3 - dedicated solely to bringing up an illustration highlighting what the control scheme actually is. The controls change depending on what mode you're in - building, shopping, or living - and that can lead to confusion and frustration.
There's a swamp of menus to wade through, particularly when you're building or buying new household items. We ran into a few bugs, too - one time our Sim was waiting for a coffee pot to stew, and no matter how many times we tried to cancel the action it wouldn't work, and another time our Sim accidentally got stuck in a pose like Christ The Redeemer and wouldn't move no matter what we did. Resetting the game sorted it out, but we had a bunch of other issues similar to this, and that starts to grate after a while.
The Sims has always been pretty bizarre, when you think about it. It's different to most forms of escapism in that it turns the monotonous tasks we hate doing in real life into a game, replicating the very thing most of us are trying to avoid by playing it in the first place. The Sims 4 is the latest and best in the long running franchise and there's absolutely nothing else like it on the market for PlayStation 4. It's the most faithful recreation of the drudgery of daily life on the market, but it's also marred by a bewildering array of control quirks, annoying bugs, and overnumerous menus. If you're prepared to persevere with the more clumsily implemented aspects of the game then there's a lot to love - and there's a ridiculous amount of content - but some will likely be put off by its often obtuse nature.