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'The Sims 4': hands-on with the most detailed Sim creator yet

'The Sims 4': hands-on with the most detailed Sim creator yet

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Maxis' fourth Sims title is scheduled for a 2014 release, but a limited alpha version of the game is playable here at Gamescom in Cologne. Gamers at the show can mess around with The Sims 4's character creation tool, which does a great job of showcasing the renewed focus on deeper and more flexible customization. While you've always had a rich set of options for tailoring your Sim's traits and attire, the new game ratchets up the level of fine-grained control to pretty much unprecedented levels.

Almost every setting has a deeper level of control to explore. Thus, not only can you select between three different voice styles, you can also set the pitch. Two sliders adjust the overall fat and muscle content of your Sim, but they're underpinned by a bewildering breadth of size adjustment for particular body parts. You can individually adjust the width and depth of your Sim's shoulders, neck, chest, belly, waistline, thighs, calves, arms, forearms, feet, and, of course, head.

Manipulate every single detail of your Sim's appearance and demeanorThe facial features are almost wholly customizable. You can completely abandon prefabbed parts in favor of your own designs, because the entire bone structure can be architected to your liking. Noses can be crooked or pointy, cheekbones can be prominent or subtle, and you can choose between various skin tones as well as colors. This micromanagement of every single detail becomes most apparent when tweaking the eyebrows. They can be elongated, thickened, repositioned, arched, or straightened.

The new Sims editor is the closest thing I've yet come across to a truly comprehensive character creator. It promises to completely obviate the old method of selecting from a finite list of generic components to create something that carries the appearance of a custom design, but is usually quite detached from the objective in your mind.

The amateur dramatics clash with the professional character creatorMaxis also says its new Sims will be more emotional than ever before and the Sim creator offers emotion previews that show how your avatar will act out his or her happiness, sadness, or anger. Regrettably, emotions are still expressed with flamboyantly over the top gestures, lacking any subtlety or relation to (most people's) real world behavior. Each of the three Sim walk styles is just a variation on the theme of overacted preening.

These amateur dramatics sit awkwardly with the rest of the new character editor — they're a step toward the comical and unbelievable while the new customization abilities push The Sims toward a much more immersive and realistic experience. We'll have to wait until The Sims 4 launches on PC next year to find out which of these tendencies wins out in the end. Until then, I leave you with the hat-wearing denim lover I created on the Gamescom floor.