Since the release of the very first quirky life simulator The Sims in 2000, it’s been my go-to game for a night by myself. Everything about the game on suggests a quiet time for one. There’s no two-player option, and if you aren’t in the driver’s seat it can feel like peering over someone’s shoulder into their virtual life.
Most Sims games have been limited to players with gaming PCs, but the new console releases finally level the playing field. Thanks to the newly released console versions of The Sims 4 on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, the game finally feels less like a creepy dollhouse of your own design and more like an experience to enjoy with a friend on the couch, passing a controller back and forth.
As ever, there are dozens of ways to play this game, whether you’re a weirdo like me who finds inner peace looking at furniture options, or someone who wants to find creative ways to murder characters. Shoving a lot of sims into one house makes co-op even easier. While your sim is showering or heading off to work, hand the controller to a friend and let them instruct their sim to write a novel or flirt with their neighbor.
Sims will act on their own if you don’t give them any instructions, so you and your friends can always just sit back and eat popcorn while they live out the bizarre micro dramas of their digital lives. One of my neighbors loves to steal things when people aren’t looking; another refuses to sleep in her own bed and will infuriate others in doing so, leaving them to yell, pout, and sleep on the couch. Bad cooking leads to fires, which can lead to half of your house burning down and killing sims in morbid ways. It can be hilarious to watch, but even more fun when you can make jokes with someone else.
PlayStation 4 or Xbox One isn’t perfectly suited to how the game functions, however. The Sims is a menu-heavy game by necessity. Building and buying for a home requires customization down to the most minute details, from the color of window panes to whether you add a soap dispenser in the kitchen. Even when Sims roam freely, players need to be able to track their moods, their relationships, their needs, and so on.
On a computer, negotiating all this information is comfortable and easy with a few mouse clicks. But on a controller, where you’re bound by joysticks and buttons, it can be a tedious nuisance to get from one menu to the next. It took me several hours to learn how to properly play the game, and even now I still find myself hissing with frustration. The controller lacks the precision of a mouse, which means I’ve deleted an entire floor by accident, or back out of an item selection entirely with a rogue move.
But the ease of being able to physically pass a controller, instead of jockeying over a keyboard and mouse, makes the irritation forgivable. It’s not a first try for a console version of The Sims —developer Maxis took a clunky stab at it back in the PS2 era—but it is the first one to achieve more than a decent port that makes the game feel like more than just a solo experience. The only problem left for me is getting my friends to love wallpaper choices as much as I do.