SimCity Review (PC)
The SimCity launch was a well publicised disaster. Between server failures, missing or broken features, and general outcry from fans of the series, EA took an internet beating. But now that the dust has settled, and Maxis have released their first major patches to repair some of the damage, what are we left with?
Despite being simply called SimCity, this is the latest addition to a very long running series. The original was released in 1989, with the fourth and previous installment, SimCity4, released in 2003. The series also spawned a few spin offs, most notably The Sims which is the best-selling PC franchise of all time. People will argue that SimCity Societies was the most recent instalment, released in 2007, however it wasn’t a true part of the series, nor was it developed by Maxis who worked on all the others. So with a gap of ten years between SimCity4 and the new SimCity, fans of the series were giddy with anticipation.
Despite the outdated graphics of SimCity4, there was still a massive community playing the game after ten years. But with the ten years of advancement in technology, Maxis were able to go much further with their graphical design of SimCity. This is probably the greatest difference by comparison, and certainly the most obvious. In SimCity4 you would lay zones of residential and a set of generic buildings would appear, now the buildings have a high level of variety and detail. Once you get into the high wealth and high density building, particularly with the commercial type, you can see some really beautiful artistic pieces of architecture. And the level of detail is not just in the architecture, but across the board. Small details like For Sale signs going up on new buildings until some Sims move in add to the overall experience.
SimCity has been built on a brand new engine which Maxis named GlassBox. The engine handles all the simulation calculations in terms of telling stuff where to go. It works along the roads, and tells each “agent” (Sim, Electricity, Sewage, etc.) the shortest route to a suitable destination. This has been the games greatest downfall so far, causing major traffic issues as cars attempt to go down shorter side streets rather than a larger main road that would be further in distance. The latest patch for the game has gone some way towards fixing this however, as cars will now assess if a road is too full to join and select a different route instead.
Another major new feature of the latest SimCity are the city specialisation and unique buildings. You now have a far greater choice of buildings to place, and then further customisation to add to each building. On top of the old utilities such as fire, police, trash, electricity etc, you now have mining, trading, drilling, electronic, culture and casino specialty buildings. Each provides a function and potential income to your city, and can be customised in a number of ways. Plopping special buildings and their expansion wings give a very satisfying sound, and you can’t easily destroy them by accident, unless you happen to be a Giant Lizard. When picking a city plot to play on from the region, you will get an overview of how many resources are available in the region if you are wanting to go down a drilling or mining route. This can however distract you from the fact that this is a city simulation game, and not a resource gathering game.
Of course the majority of the initial outcry of the game came from the fact that it requires you to be online at all times to play it. What has always been a single player game now forces you to be online, and encourages you to be social with your play. Obviously always online with any non-MMO game is an issue, but the added social play is a really nice feature. Start a region up with a few friends and you can see their cities progressing out on the horizon past your own. You can even pop over for a visit, as well as sending them help in terms of emergency service vehicles or even cash if they are struggling. Your Sims will also commute between the cities, so if you don’t have enough high wealth shops, but your neighbour has them, then your Sims can jump on a bus/train/plane/boat, whichever you have provided, and head over there to fulfill their happiness requirements.
Jump out to the regional view and you can see exactly where your Sims are going. From here you can also volunteer your services to your neighbours, buy in additional power or other utilities and send your gifts. There are different types of region, each with a varying number of city and great works plots. Great works are another new concept. Each one can be built on by its surrounding cities, and you can choose from a number of plans. Some of these require you to research them at a University in the region, and once you pick a plan resources need to be sent to the great works site by the surrounding cities. Each one provides a bonus to the surrounding cities once completed, for example the international airport provides a boost in tourism and trade.
These boosts are often very welcoming, as the city sizes are somewhat limited by comparison to those you found in SimCity4. Along with the reduction in size, is a reduction in transport options. No longer do you build motorways, big city bypasses, subways, monorails, nor is there any real point in extending a rail network other than to connect to the region. However, the road tools are very nice to use, with the addition of curved roads allowing you to be a little more expressive with your city planning, at a slight reduction in space utilisation. These tools can help you deal with awkward terrain in an already tight space. While the small plot sizes have angered many fans of the series, it adds an extra challenge to running a successful city. Maxis have also hinted that they might add bigger plots at a later date.
Perhaps the most disappointing of “missing” features from previous SimCity games is the terrain editor. Now, when you pick a city plot, you just have to put up with the ridiculously steep hills, or the bay that takes up half the map. Again though, it does add a little more challenge to your planning.
All the other old features are there in SimCity. The gameplay is still open Sandbox, even with the added small objectives and the city specialisation. You still have decisions to make between industrial and commercial, low medium and high wealth development, different types of power generation, public transportation options, the level of education you want to provide and having it all come in on a balanced budget. With the added trade potential to your city and income from certain tourist attractions or casinos, you can easily afford to run at a negative income per hour and still turn an overall profit. And of course, if you get fed up with your city and feel like a change, you can unleash the disasters upon it. Meteors, Giant Lizards and Earthquakes are just a few of the destructive powers at your disposal. Be wary as you go however, as there could be more serious, long-term consequences of the disaster, such as spilled ground pollution or nuclear fallout that will take some time to clean up. Using the new look data layers you will be able to see just how bad pollution is, how well-educated your Sims are and other useful information to help you plan out your city.
The debacle at the games launch obviously hadn’t done enough to put people off completely as SimCity sold over 1.1million copies in its first two weeks on sale, which in turn caused many of the server issues they had. Even I’ll put up my hand and admit that I cancelled my preorder from my local retailer, only to change my mind a few days later and pick up a digital copy. And I haven’t looked back since. During the writing of this review the game has now been updated to version 3.0 so it certainly seems that Maxis are keen to make sure SimCity stands the test of time as well as its predecessor has. And there is no reason it shouldn’t. So long as they DO continue to support it and ensure that the required servers don’t go away, SimCity will be around for a long time and will provide countless hours of enjoyable entertainment.SimCity Review (PC),