The latest expansion for The Sims 4 is here and it’s a great one if you like the look of wicker beach furniture. Entitled Island Living, it takes the Sims to the beautiful tropical paradise of Sulani, where they can sunbathe, snorkel, collect seashells and otherwise live the titular, beachy life. Derived from several preceding expansions in earlier Sims games, Island Living also features the return of the Mermaid life state, and introduces the Conservationist career, while adding other fun summertime activities like building sand castles, looking for buried treasure and snorkeling among the dolphins. Polynesia-inspired flourishes are everywhere, from the “Child of the Islands ” trait to tiki elements like artwork and furniture, while lots are imbued with Elemental Spirits or Volcanic Activity and teeming with coconut and pineapple. It’s an ideal means to break up your Sims’ suburban routine.
It’s also, as I found with a new lot type, the perfect way to ruin their life. To support your Sims’ dream of becoming a beach bum, one specific parcel of land in Sulani presents an all-new challenge, Off the Grid. It removes both electricity or running water, which presents an intriguing premise if you’re a seasoned player. Most lots in The Sims 4, especially those from content packs and expansions, have a trait that defines what to expect when visiting that location. Most of them, however, don’t actively work against the player. How do you even play The Sims without appliances or a fully equipped bathroom? I moved my ex-celebrity chef Sim from her palatial hometown mansion to a small plot of undeveloped paradise to find out.
My journey began, as most commitments to off-grid living do, with a lot of hemming and hawing and wondering what my Sim would do for entertainment without any electricity. This was followed by a brief logistical rum down (typo, I’m keeping it) of all my Sim’s basic necessities as it quickly sunk in how difficult this would be. Where would I get food? Where was the bathroom? How would I shower? The answer to most of these questions was “in the ocean.” The lot comes with a house made from an old shipwreck, with a small place to sleep and eat; there’s a gas stove that cooks grilled cheese and a toilet that seems to work, but that’s it. There’s also a public bathroom on one end of the property, which makes things nicer from a euphemistic standpoint (I guess you’re only allowed to crap in bushes when you’re on vacation in Selvadorada), but is too far away to use for emergencies. Even the most basic self maintenance tasks are a laborious process. Clearly, there’s a lot I’ve been taking for granted.
In the past, The Sims has had plenty of different obstacles and in-game challenges that could be addressed with obscure work arounds, little ways that you could avoid any undesirable outcome if you had the right trick up your sleeve. And so, counting on the game’s themes of conservationism to save me, I searched frantically in Build mode to find any items that might help my quest to live it rough: solar panels, a generator that runs on coconuts, or anything that the Professor on Gilligan’s Island might’ve whipped up. No dice. Most of the Island Living items are aesthetic and the shipwreck abode resists major alteration, which means there aren’t a lot of ways to cheat the experience. I needed at least some extra lighting and a means to make food, and had to settle for tiki torches and an open pit fire, the latter of which takes hours to cook meals, all of which turn out inedible. Eventually, malnourished and bored, I wandered into town, settling down in a park where there was a nearby easel and food stand and other amenities, like the bathroom. My Sim basically lives there now, not only because I dread going back to the lot, but because why bother when I can fish, bathe in the ocean, and use a public restroom, just like home?
Ironically, I played the off-the-grid lot because I thought it would be a disaster, but despite the new strategic considerations it demands, it seems to illustrate the original satire behind The Sims. Everything that I thought gave my Sim’s life substance and purpose was really just a bunch of busy work. With no 9-to-5 job or financial obligations, her routine consists of fishing, dancing at the tiki bar, and falling asleep on the beach, occasionally selling off a piece of furniture from their old mansion for some quick cash. I’m starting to think it’s an okay payoff for not having a reliable shower and stove. This is the first time in The Sims 4 that I actually envied my Sim instead of identifying with them. It also highlights how little fun I was having, watching them watch TV and run on the treadmill every day.
The Sims 4: Island Living is a gorgeous expansion, with lots of activities that may radically alter how you play the game. Whether it ruins, or improves, your Sims’ life is entirely up to you, though.
Holly Green is the assistant editor of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.