The Sims series has enjoyed decades of uncontested dominance in the dollhouse-core simulation genre. It's been a steady staple, but I'm not alone in feeling trapped by it. I love the Sims, but it desperately needs a challenger and finally there are two games queued to take it on.
Former Sims developer Rod Humble is working on Life By You while the indie team behind Paralives continues public-facing development. Both contenders are singleplayer and will have a character creator, a live mode life simulation, and a build mode, and are offering some features they think The Sims hasn't been.
They both still feel far away, but so is The Sims 5. The Sims 4 feels like it's drifting into retirement on a cushy pension built by yearly expansions without any major systematic shakeups. This is the moment (and by moment I mean the next three-ish years) that would-be Sims-killers need to strike. Here's what they're bringing in an attempt to usurp the throne:
Life By You: The Sims but customized
When it's coming: Early access on September 12, 2023
What's the pitch: "One of the most moddable and open life-simulation games"
Life By You is being developed at a Paradox Interactive studio, the publisher who's responsible for other deep simulations, notably SimCity destroyer Cities: Skylines. The name Life By You is drab, but it does communicate its core values of extreme customization. "We want to sell a life simulator that I think the community has been asking for for a long time," creative director Rod Humble said in our Life By You interview earlier this year.
Humble talked about letting players get granular with the rules of their worlds, even. There will be a default spread of skin colors, sexualities, and other characteristics but you can tweak those yourself to create a world "full of people who just fall in love with me," or where other traits are predominant. It's also going to be highly moddable, with scripting tools available to go so far as building your own jobs, objects, and maybe your own expansion. That freedom of creation is enticing, so long as it can grab and sustain players willing to feed each other new content.
The sticking point for me on Life By You is that it's a bit ugly—it's got big 'virtually staged Zillow listing' vibes. Aesthetic builds and beautiful creations are a huge part of The Sims community and I struggle to envision something similar forming around Life By You the way it looks now. I'd rather not leave the burden of texture and reshade mods entirely on the community's shoulders. It's also got an over-the-shoulder view with direct control of your characters, and although I'm embarrassed to drool over something that's common in every RPG I play, I can't help feeling it'll grab me so long as the rest of the world winds up pleasant to look at.
Here are the important features Life By You is touting:
- An open world with no loading screens
- Over-the shoulder view with direct WASD and mouse control of your characters
- Cars you can actually dive, a miracle
- Characters communicate with real language, not a Simlish equivalent
- Sharable custom quests akin to community challenges
Paralives: The Sims but flexible
When it's coming: Someday
What's the pitch: A life sim with fewer guardrails on your creativity
There's also Paralives, which has been in development for several years and is being funded by Patreon contributions currently totaling over $37,000 per month. If visual style is your must-have, then Paralives is the life sim to watch. It's got a cozy color palette, soft lighting, and characters with a perpetual blush.
As a build mode lover, I've been very excited about what I've seen of Paralives so far. Curved walls are a blessing as is grid-free building. I bow down before resizable windows and furniture designs I can resize, like dragging a table lamp until it's a floor lamp. There's plenty for Create-A-Simmers to be psyched about too from color wheel choices to tattoo and scar placement. Oh, and a height slider so your Paras won't all be identically-statured.
My concern with Paralives is that it's being made by a small team and has no planned launch date yet. It may be a while yet and no matter how much grumbling Sims players do about long-awaited features I fear that EA's powerhouse will steamroll this indie effort if it doesn't get out far enough ahead of The Sims 5. And as for its chances at longevity, the game's FAQs say "Paralives will have free content updates after release and might have DLCs but few of them," so it may live or die on quickly snatching a dedicated playerbase happy to play and mod it themselves.
Here's what we can expect Paralives to bring to the table:
- Cats, dogs, horses, and seasons are all included (not expansions, bless)
- An open world with cars, bikes, and boats
- Highly custom character creation with height, body size, color wheels, and manually placed skin effects
- Curved walls and grid-free building
The Sims 5: best hits of The Sims, maybe
When it's coming: Sometime after the "next few years" of development
What's the pitch: It's the devil you know
Of course we also know that the next major release in The Sims series is on its way too. Currently nicknamed Project Rene, "The Sims 5" as we're calling it in the meantime is the game that Life By You and Paralives will actually be competing with.
We've seen glimpses of The Sims 5 in development so far, with promises from EA that it will continue sharing throughout the process. From that openness we know that the next Sims game will have cross-platform multiplayer and cross-saves. We've seen a peek at several players all editing an apartment by moving furniture simultaneously. We'll have greater choices for sharing creations like saving a furniture layout or a customized couch. Personally, I'm quite jazzed that the colorpicker and pattern choice Create-A-Style tool is returning from The Sims 3.
The drawback in The Sims 5 is that, well, it's more of The Sims, for better and for worse. Though a recent job posting has revealed that the base game will likely be free, we all know that means paying in the form of many, many DLCs. There's no hope that seasons and pets come in the base game this time, is there? The same job posting hinted at an in-game marketplace for free and paid content by other players. For all my hand-wringing about a litany of DLC though, Paradox Interactive is known for extensive catalogues of sim game DLCs, so I don't expect Life By You to buck this trend.
Here are the other improvements we know The Sims 5 is bringing so far:
- The return of Create-A-Style for customizing furniture and modular furniture pieces
- An in-game marketplace for custom content
- Apartment units will be in the base game
- Cross-platform save files and crossplay multiplayer
- Base game will likely be free-to-play