For all its problems, SimCity still has plenty to offer.
SimCity Got Right
- + Looks amazing
- + Addictive gameplay
- + Multiplayer, when it works
- + Accessible approach
SimCity Got Wrong
- - Always online is the worst
- - Various little problems - traffic, population, zoning, moving roads
- - Might not be what the SimCity faithful wanted
SimCity’s shambolic launch will go down as one of the biggest gaffs in PC history. A week after launch, we’ve finally been able to spend a decent amount of time creating cities and ruining lives. We’ve also decided that the “always online” approach is unforgivable and has tarnished what is otherwise a decent social simulation, but that doesn’t mean SimCity isn’t fun.
The rebooted SimCity is for fans of The Sims. It's about building a society -- rather than a single household -- whereas the original games revolved around designing an efficient city. The livelihood of its citizens was an afterthought.
If you were a casual player of SimCity during its prime, that's nothing but a good thing — developer Maxis has simplified the convoluted nature of running an entire city. However, dedicated fans may find accessibility has come at too high a price, as the lifeblood of SimCity 2000 has been abridged in search of a larger audience.
Never once did I give a second thought to my Sims living in murky pollution or struggling to pay their taxes all at the hand of my doing. I guess this is what it’s like to be a politician.
Personally, I’ve thrived in the simplistic setting and enjoyed the social approach employed by Maxis. It isn’t the SimCity of old, but rather a modern version that infuses the core concepts with the attributes that have made The Sims such a durable series.
Roads have become the centrepiece of absolutely everything. Transport, power, water, waste disposal, and sewage run along the roads, and buildings, houses and shops can only be positioned alongside a street. Hills and rivers are automatically terraformed by placing a road through what appears to be unsuitable terrain and city zoning will follow them anywhere.
In a massive design flaw, if a road is removed, so is the building attached to it. Your expensive hospital or secure police station may be accidentally deleted when you realise that tiny two-lane avenue isn't big enough to accommodate the growing population, but when you started that was all you could afford. Roads can be upgraded to an extent, but at some point you’ll need to completely redesign part of your city (unless your foresight is impeccable).
Developing a city requires the perfect balance between residential, commercial and industrial zones. They feed off one another. The residents need somewhere to work and material possessions, the industry needs shops to sell its products, and the commercial sector needs people to keep buying them. It's a simplified version of the real-world economy.
Only, you don’t really need all of them. High income earners are happy to build their mansions away from industrial areas while the very design of a 16 city region means you can create an industrial or commercial city without any residents.
SimCity's problematic "always online" server connection is designed to cater for multiplayer. You can run neighbouring cities with your friends and share resources, or if you've prefer, you can manage them all alone. One city could house a bulk of the high income population. Another might supply power for the entire region. Mining towns may be high on resources, but can't support a large population, while a Vegas-style party town is the perfect tourist hotspot once the transport network is up and running.
When it gels, the economics of sharing resources between cities is magnificent, but when it doesn’t it spirals out of control like a drunken lady of the night prepared to be used and abused.
That’s SimCity in a nutshell. When it works, it’s one of the most addictive games you’ll play this year, but when it doesn’t you’ll be hurling abuse. Other such abnormalities include incompetent drivers always taking the shortest route instead of the massive highway -- buddy, you can’t all use that dirt road -- and a fraudulent population count.
Once you’re past the server issues and can overlook the great many little niggles, which EA has largely promised to solve, SimCity will have its way with you. Minutes will turn into hours and a single city will turn into an empire before you realise just how addicted you’ve become to a game that was seemingly fraught with unforgivable issues.
You’re given absolute power over thousands of citizens that must adhere to your every demand. It’s in your best interest to protect the booming high rollers and segregate the lowly working class, possibly even sentencing them to death (look, I can’t be responsible for your house being a fire hazard).
Such power is rare in games, but never once did I give a second thought to my Sims living in murky pollution or struggling to pay their taxes all at the hand of my doing. I guess this is what it’s like to be a politician -- I didn’t care because their suffering was an essential part of my region’s economy. This philosophy is undone when playing on a server with friends, however, as my greedy over-pollution may well be destroying the value of their most profitable city.
For all its layers, SimCity is surprisingly easy to command. Rarely was I stumped as to where to look for information, but the lengthy tutorial only explains the basics. The remainder just makes sense once you start playing.
With so much going on, Maxis has devised a data-layer system to easily demonstrate which aspects of your economy are striving, and which desperately require attention. Each integral statistic is colour-coded to emphasise the pros and cons of possible actions. From natural resources to the best water-catchment areas and the value of property, the density of every aspect of your city can be evaluated within its colourful data-layer.
Visually SimCity is stunning, even running on a modest PC. Sitting back and watching your wealth grow after a hard day’s “mayoring” is one of the greatest feats you’ll experience on Origin. Zooming in, you’ll see your city functioning like clock-work from the largest casino right down to one individual Sim, who can be followed around the city as she goes about her daily life.
The Final Verdict
SimCity is a streamlined and highly addictive city management and society simulation. It's been designed to appeal to fans of The Sims with a greater emphasis on social interactions as well as managing an entire region of cities. It isn't as thorough as the old games and has its issues, but once you start playing, the hours will just fly away. If you can look past the “always online” mishap, its niggling flaws and prefer the simplified approach, SimCity has plenty to offer.