The best way to run a bakery in The Sims 4 Get to Work is not to run a bakery at all.
The scene is Magnolia Promenade, a bustling shopping district featuring a brand new, pastel-toned bakery. It’s impossible to miss: Mint green walls sitting on prime real estate directly beside a playground. Though it’s regularly packed with customers, this bakery and its modest staff used to end every shift in the red. The first day it made a profit was the day I ditched my dream of a sim bakery and started stocking a shelf in the corner of the shop with $400 chicken statues. The chicken statues sold like hotcakes, while the hotcakes… Not so much. Either way, at least my sim didn’t have to pay her staff out of pocket anymore.
Money wasn’t the only problem. While I’d built the place to look like a standard (if somewhat small) cafe, customers couldn’t make sense of the place. They struggled with the pastry display more than anything else, and seemed to favor perusing it from the open side behind the checkout counter rather than the carefully polished glass front that faced the entrance. They would go out of their way to view it from that angle, and short of walling the display in (and walling staff out) I couldn’t figure out how to keep them on the right side. When they did purchase food, they didn’t sit and eat it. They would swan in, buy a full platter of cupcakes, pocket them and leave. I’d spent a fortune on parasol-topped tables and the only time they ever saw use was when I forgot to set a plate “For Sale” and the customers pounced on it. They politely took one piece each before fanning out on my well-appointed deck to nibble on their “free” samples.
I had my heart set on running a bakery in The Sims 4 Get to Work because of what I’d been shown through EA’s marketing. My bakery had a gleaming display case, just like the one in the trailer. It had tables and chairs, just like the ones in the official screenshots. Bakeries are all over the marketing for this expansion. They’re item number one on a list of retail venues suggested in the review guide. When you load up the expansion you’ll even be greeted by members of the three professions also introduced in Get to Work, all of them lining up at a counter just like mine. The more I tried to make it all work—and the more I saw of the rest of the expansion—the more I wondered if there was a Sims 4 developer out there who would be disappointed to hear that of all the stores a reviewer could have run, I tried to run a bakery.
Before I waded into Get to Work, I expected to devote a significant portion of my review to whether or not its content justifies the rehashing of past expansions from The Sims franchise. It’s a popular topic, particularly now that The Sims 4 has its first full expansion. But after spending as much time as I have with the expansion it feels like the least of my concerns. Player-operated stores first appeared in The Sims 2 Open for Business, while active careers/professions premiered in The Sims 3 Ambitions. Only a couple of Ambitions’ professions have made the transition to Get to Work, but they’ve undergone some significant changes to make them feel more involved and a bit less pointless. Detectives aren’t going to be wasting their time digging through garbage cans in search of lost toothbrushes anymore. Meanwhile, the absence of retail shops from the last generation of The Sims means their return is quite welcome, at least as far as I’m concerned. Let’s be honest: I’m never going to fire up The Sims 2 again anyway.
It’s not all good news, though. Unlike the majority of The Sims 3’s expansions, The Sims 4 Get to Work does not come with a full-sized neighborhood. That’s bad news for anyone who’s getting tired of the two comparatively small residential worlds that came with the base game. Magnolia Promenade is a new world, but it consists of only one zone with four plots. The three venues where your Scientist, Doctor or Detective sims work, on the other hand, aren’t accessible by map at all. With the exception of pregnant sims going into labor at the hospital, these locations essentially exist only when your sim is on duty.
Furthermore there are no new traits or aspirations for your sims. While each expansion for The Sims 3 added a handful of these related to any newly introduced skills or activities, Get to Work doesn’t appear to have a single addition in this area. That fact honestly shocked me, to the point that I went over Create-a-Sim with a fine-toothed comb to be sure that I hadn’t overlooked them. Even with the addition of the Detective profession, the only aspirations available in the Crime category involve becoming a master criminal or causing general mischief. Photographer’s Eye, a trait introduced alongside the Photography skill in The Sims 3 World Adventures is another conspicuous absence, while artistic aspirations also fail to acknowledge the new skill. You’ll find a path for painters, writers and musicians, but nothing for the aspiring sim photographer. Take a look at the culinary aspirations and it’s the same story; your sim can aim to be a master chef or a top-notch bartender, but any representation of the new baking skill is completely absent.
The Daily Grind
While all of the new professions are similar to jobs sims have been able to pursue previously, Get to Work has its own way of handling things that makes most of these roles feel more substantial than they have in the past.
When you’re on-the-clock in either the Doctor, Scientist or Detective professions, you’ll have a list of tasks to complete to increase your work performance. This is similar to the list of activities players are given when their sim hosts a party or goes out on a date. You’re free to ignore the list, but playing along is well rewarded—and that’s the point. The purpose of these tasks is to get you to play along in a way that many wouldn’t otherwise, and they might be one of my favorite features in The Sims 4. In the context of active-careers, these tasks will vaguely guide you through a routine. Scientists will be working on a variety of fun and chaos-causing experiments, Doctors will be going through the process of diagnosing and treating patients, and Detectives will hop from location to location solving cases and patrolling the streets. Professional tasks also encourage you to have your sim engage in less formal workplace habits like gossiping with coworkers or sneaking a snack break… Or using your ray gun to turn all the toilets in the building into bar stools.
There can be a lot of repetition in these tasks and they don’t change very dramatically as your sim climbs in rank, but you’re given a few to deal with at a time so there’s always some wiggle room to pursue whatever interests you most. There are also rare tasks that pop up and require special attention from your sims. These occur just often enough to keep things fresh, but not so often that they lose their uniqueness. Worst case scenario: if your sim’s current job tasks are a bore you always have the option to take a break and send them to work without your omniscient presence guiding them.
Tasks only ever became a problem to me while I was trying out the role Doctor, where your sim’s work relies on having a steady stream of patients and in some cases access to a superior. There is a point early in that track where you can treat patients with simple shots or doses of medicine, but you can’t diagnose them unless you get very lucky with their test results. Instead, you need to transfer them to a superior so they can be diagnosed—except the only person who could diagnose patients, the only doctor, had left the hospital an hour after my sim’s shift began. I was stuck in a task list limbo, where I couldn’t complete anything on my list because sick sims just weren’t getting diagnosed, and at the end of the day my performance evaluation was brutally unfair. I had still been “playing along,” doing unlisted things that I knew were supposed to be part of my duties, but I didn’t get enough credit from them to offset the stalled list.
That said, one of the most interesting things about professions is how easy it is for you to mess up. Not your sim, not the game, but you the player. Sims can mess up the same way they always can, of course, by fumbling with a beaker or lighting something on fire, but you have some dangerous power in Get to Work, and when you cut corners or fail to pay attention there can absolutely be consequences. If you rush to make an arrest without sufficient evidence, you may end up arresting and interrogating an innocent bystander. If you rush to make a diagnosis without thorough tests, you may end up performing surgery on someone who isn’t even sick. The Sims rarely places that kind of burden on its players, and in some sense its overdue. The risk of a personal failure gives you a reason to be invested.
Of the three professions, Detective may shine the brightest, especially compared to its precursor in Ambitions. Detectives now work with an entire unit, and their interactions lean hard into goofy procedural parody. Once a shift your sim will go talk to the police chief, who’ll gruffly share some variation of “You’re a loose cannon!” or “I don’t know how they do things where you’re from, but here…” The animations when you’re interrogating a suspect are artful and lively, too. Every facial expression, every gesture, either so perfectly measured or utterly bombastic and out of control. When you give someone a citation, Simlish gives way to the universal language of onomatopoeia: “Wee-oo wee-oo! Uh-uh.”
But Detective is another place where you can see the expansion pack’s seams. Once you close a case, you can also use any leftover evidence you happen to have in your pockets to solve the next one. I solved a case without ever visiting the crime scene. Because these systems are so highly generalized, it’s often just a matter of going through the motions.
And then there are the rewards. The ultimate reward for climbing to the top of a profession is a room that you can plop onto your lot to do many of your favorite work tasks at home. This makes the most sense for a Scientist because their work is quite fun and varied. For a Doctor…. Well, I don’t see the appeal, but it’s not wholly unappealing either. And then there’s the Detective who, as Get to Work’s launch trailer proudly announces, can have a jail in their basement. Even Batman doesn’t have a jail in his basement and his basement is a big secret cave that would probably make a very good jail.
Beyond the active careers, households can purchase retail lots. Get to Works’s retail systems have surprising depth, but as I mentioned earlier they have their limits. When you buy a retail store you’re given a great deal of control over what happens within its walls. You can hire employees who each have different strengths and weaknesses, assign them uniforms, scold them when they slack off or promote them when they’re doing well. You can tweak the appearance and poses of mannequins in addition to changing what they wear, and when customers drop by to cheerfully try on outfits you can swoop in with a convincing pitch to win the sale. Sales contribute to a special bank of points that you can use to buy perks for your shop and your staff, reduced restocking fees and speedier checkout times among them.
This retail system is much more robust than I expected it to be, and it works perfectly with traditional stores and even retail art galleries. But I didn’t want to run a traditional store or a retail art gallery. I wanted a bakery, just like the ones in the trailers. Unfortunately the systems as they stand are just so ill-suited to the idea of a bakery or a cafe that it’s not something the marketing materials should be leading with. It feels more like the bakery features were modded in by a clever fan, and if that were the case it would be so much easier to overlook the brokenness of this setup. A modder wouldn’t have the time or resources to ensure that customers would behave differently in a bakery. These mechanics work well in other shops because everything is spread out and the behavior of drifting around browsing for hours or coercing someone into a purchase is perfectly normal. But it doesn’t translate. You don’t stand around for hours on the wrong side of the counter at Starbucks, hemming and hawing about whether you want to buy a plate of cupcakes or a plate of eclairs. You’re basically the worst person in the world (or at least on the block) if you spend more than a few minutes trying to make up your mind at the counter.
I do enjoy Get to Work, but at the same time I still can’t help but feel a little misled. It wasn’t even necessary to be misleading, because Get to Work has a lot of strong points. Even with its flaws, it builds on The Sims 2 Open for Business and The Sims 3 Ambitions enough to stand on its own. More importantly, it’s fun.
It provides moments of uncanny realism. Every story you can tell about your sim’s retail store is almost indistinguishable from the real-life retail experiences so many of us have had. After a long day pushing cupcakes, my exhausted baker retreated to the bathroom only to find that someone had broken the toilet hours earlier, leaving water to spill out over the floor unchecked. At the same time, it’s still The Sims. One incident comes to mind, when my sim showed up to work at the hospital one morning and the receptionist and the doctor had switched roles—and also one of them was now a ghost.
Believe it or not my biggest problem with The Sims 4 Get to Work isn’t that my bakery was a bust. It’s that pretty much everything it adds to the game is one-sided. As far as I can tell I can’t send my sims to the hospital or the police station or the lab to look around. It’s interesting enough to work in these locations, but how much more interesting could it be with outward-facing interactions? A loading screen will eventually ask, “Have you visited Magnolia Promenade? A world of shopping awaits.” But why would I visit? Almost everything that’s for sale in the stores initially placed on the four lot zone can be acquired for free in Create-a-Sim, gathered from the environment, or purchased at a much lower price in Build Mode. The only shop I’d love to send my sim to is a bakery, but we know how that goes.
Janine Hawkins is a games writer based in sunny Canada. You can find her written and video work on HealerArcherMage.com or follow her on Twitter @bleatingheart.