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The Sims 4 first look: getting emotional with Maxis' latest life sim

Assisting in your quest to build an optimally depressing writer-cave is a comprehensive set of updates to the construction toolset. It's far more intelligent than it has been in the past, despite looking broadly similar on the surface. You still lay out foundations, walls and furniture on an isometric grid, but the game now recognises when a walled-off area constitutes a room, and is capable of smartly rescaling and repositioning that room – decor and all – on the fly. No more redesigning an entire house because you made the kitchen one tile too narrow for the fridge you wanted.

It'll also be possible to adjust ceiling height, allowing for much greater architectural freedom. The game's art style has shifted, too, away from what Maxis view as a Bostonian style towards an atmospheric Southern look featuring multi-level gallery houses that recall New Orleans. The world is still dazzlingly vibrant, but the colour palette is being managed carefully: I see concept art for a night-time neighbourhood drenched in deep purples and oranges, set off with dark green foliage. It's an atmospheric image, and that's not something I've associated with the series before.

Read more: The Sims 4: Seasons review

The same attention has been paid to the Sims themselves. The new build-a- Sim tool works remarkably like the revamped EVE character creator that debuted with the MMO's Incarna expansion: an instance of parallel thinking, I imagine, where two teams of developers realised in tandem that tweaking sliders to adjust somebody's nose just isn't fun. In The Sims 4, you sculpt your character by clicking and dragging on areas on their body, which highlight as your mouse passes over them. You can make your Sim tubby, thin or gangly, give them a hooked nose or cram their eyes close together. Then, an array of other details – voice, musculature, their default walk – complete their personality.

Many of the ancillary systems that have been added to the third game over the years won't be present in The Sims 4 when it launches next year: but what will be present is a more fundamentally detailed way to enact the life of the little person you've got in your head. I'll be able to make a tiny me that does sack off to go and eat ice cream in the bath – and I suppose, on balance, that is a good thing.

Chris is the editor of PC Gamer Pro. After many years spent turning beautiful trees into magazines, he now oversees our online coverage of competitive gaming and esports.