The launch of SimCity can be safely filed under the category of being pretty bad. It’s been documented elsewhere, so it isn’t something I’ll go into detail in this review. What I will say however, is that EA and Maxis could have potentially killed off the game before it had really begun, which would have been a shame seen as the rebooted SimCity ain’t half bad.
The requirement to have an always on connection is going to be a bane of contention for a lot of people and put some gamers off even picking up the game. People don’t like to be forced into things, and gamers hate over intrusive DRM, which in a way is what this requirement is. But EA and Maxis have a vision for SimCity. It might be a single player game at its core, but it should be played on a wide scale. It’s just a shame that the networked regions don’t really live up to the promise.
Let’s not start the review on a negative tone however. The new SimCity at first comes across as a much easier and simple game to play, especially compared to SimCity 4. No longer are water pipes and electricity pylons required to be connected from the source to the city manually by yourself (it was tedious and we all hated it, let’s be honest), now the connections are automatically made. Each set building that you construct has to be fixed into place, usually by a road. In the case of the water tower or power station, once they are placed next to a road the game does the rest, supplying power or water to your Sims as long as the capacity is there. And the same occurs when you want to offer supplies to your friendly neighbours. As long as you have a connection to the main route into the region, your utilities will be available to be bought by neighbour cities that are connected to your own city. It’s a simple change over SimCity 4, but one that is hugely welcome and which allows you to focus your time elsewhere.
Also easier to setup are the RCI zones. Again these can’t just be plonked anywhere on your map and the road plans built around your hap-hazard placements, as they again need to be placed alongside a road. Thankfully as you build roads, dotted lines appear to suggest where your next road placement should be, which means Milton Keynes can still easily be recreated in your virtual world.
The aim of everyone, or just about everyone, that plays SimCity is to have a city of towering buildings and Maxis have given you all of the tools required for your dream city to come alive. Theoretically it should again be much easier to have skyscrapers pop up on every corner as you now have all of the information required presented to you in the form of maps and graphs. Land value, Sim happiness and a Build Density Map which shows you how likely a Sim residence or business will expand are easy to get to and even easier to understand. With all of this information there’s surely no excuse for mega rich Sims not populating your city, right?
Wrong. The one thing that you need to remember is that your city won’t look the same from one day to the next. It’s a constant evolution that requires a lot more meticulous planning than past SimCity games ever required. Your initial road placement is probably all wrong, and if you don’t have the highest density road constructed you’ll never be able to have the highest populous occupy those areas. This means areas will often be destroyed for you to rethink your plans and get more people and businesses into your city. But then you need to take into account other factors that increase your chances of having those towering buildings grace your city such as fire and police coverage, parks and healthcare.
Your neighbour is your friend.
It’s a clever bit of development from Maxis; lure the player in by allowing the basics of the game to be really simple, but for them to be able to create the ultimate city they will need meticulous plans and a real understanding of how to get the bars in the Build Density Map to all be bright green – the magic colour which shows a building is ready to increase in size.
It is not just your plans that you need to count on though, as the development of the other cities will have some bearing on how long it will take for your city to progress. To unlock new buildings such as bus terminal, airports or larger police stations for example, you need to upgrade your City Hall which is done by completing certain requirements. Once a requirement is met you can upgrade City Hall by adding a new department, and depending on the department you have selected (Department of Utilities opens up sewage options, Department of Education unlocks new buildings) new options become available. The cycle then begins again with a criteria needed to be met before your next department can be bolted onto your City Hall. Doing this by yourself will take a long time, so thankfully once one city has unlocked a building such as a bus terminal, it becomes available to all.
This is the plan Maxis had in mind from the beginning. Just like the real world each city won’t be able to cover all angles. The higher levels of crime that come with building casinos will prevent you having a city full of wealthy residents. Likewise the resources that are available in each city differ, with coal for example not being available for many. It’ll require communication for the region to expand to its full potential, with the city rich in coal resources setting up a mine and supplying the rest of the region if things are to go well.
Sadly though the dream Maxis had isn’t quite reality. At the end of the day SimCity is a single player game, and unless you’re playing with a region full of friends communication seems to be non-existent, with the players having to second guess what their neighbours are doing and plan accordingly. The economics of the region also don’t seem to add up. If one city has the lowest tax rate, Sims from the other cities won’t be protesting for a reduction from their own Mayor, and neither will they pack their bags and vacate to pastures new unless the taxes are perceived to be genuinely high for the services that are on offer.
The promise of a more intelligent Sim has also failed to materialise. Sims that work will travel to the nearest available job, and their driving leaves a lot to be desired. Cars travel through vans at intersections, while traffic jams are caused by drivers that evidentially don’t have smart Sat-Navs, with the Sim taking the most direct route regardless of whether a slightly longer, but ultimately quicker alternative is available.
However these are mere cosmetics. The surface may seem cracked and possibly even broken, but chip away just a little bit and you’ll find the reason the past SimCity games have always been held in such his esteem. The series might have been away for a good few years, but the wait was worth it in what is probably the most complete SimCity offering Maxis have ever delivered. It’s just a shame the region doesn’t quite work how it had been sold, and it’s this drawback that brings the games score down.