SimCity Review – good city building is back

simcity box artIf there is anyone out there reading this, which I admit is probably not a great many people then you may be wondering where I am. Of course, as I said, It’s far more likely that you neither know nor care who I am in the first place. Still that’s no reason for me not to keep typing into the wind. SimCity, that’s been one of the reasons for my absence. There have been others, but SimCity is by far the most enjoyable reason to talk about.

After the rather disappointing Sim Societies, the Duplo bricks to SimCity 4’s Mechano. Fans, myself included wanted a lot more from the latest incarnation of city building simulators from Maxis, no EA Games, no Maxis… well whoever they are, I can’t keep track.

Unfortunately the largest noise to come from the latest release was regarding the rather shocking release issues twinned with the unpopular choice of using DRM. For those not familiar with the term, DRM is an anti-piracy system which requires a consistent internet connection in order to play the game, from a business perspective it is quite a valiant effort to reduce piracy. However, it remains a very unpopular choice with gamers and the poor release of SimCity hasn’t done it any favours. Players who had shelled out a far bit for the game, were finding that servers were full and crashes were common due to the popularity of the game and the low amount of servers to log on to. Anyway, there are enough people whining about this part so that’s all I am going to say about it.

I would much rather talk about the game itself, which to be fair to Maxis is actually really rather good, it is difficult to know where to start. So, I guess I brief description of the game wouldn’t go amiss, seeing as you’ve read this far.

The purpose of SimCity is to create a city, you decide where the roads are built, where industry, commerce and residential zones are placed. You make sure the people have jobs, water, power, and refuse collections. Protect them from crime and fires and educate them. If you don’t supply these things crime will take over and fires will burn your city to the ground and then the people won’t be hanging around for long, or if they do you won’t be ranked very highly as a mayor. The things I described there are just the tip of the iceberg of all the things you can build. There are mines, casinos, trade depots, universities, national monuments, airports…

SimCity gambling casino cityIt isn’t just the buildings that you ‘plop’ (their term not mine) down. A lot of the other buildings have extra modules that you can add to them; extra buses for your mass transit, or more police cells to keep those criminals rehabilitating, all the way to garden ornaments for your new mayors mansion.

Nothing you can build in SimCity comes for free, there is likely to be both a cost for building and an hourly cost. As you build your metropolis (or quiet mining town, whichever you want) you need to keep an eye on the budget. Keep your budget in the green, or you’ll have to start making cuts and that way trouble lies.

simcity overlay tourist peopleThe part of SimCity that I love the best; the part that only a dyed-in-the-wool stat-head would cherish is the level of detail on the statistics and the figures that you can look at. Everything from the power that’s used, to the crime rate and ground pollution can be tracked and managed via the various charts and overlays. My favourite city I have at the moment is a gambling tourist city. In one of the overlays, I can see exactly where my tourists and shoppers are going, down to the individual person. I can track their movements and their favourite places. The concept certainly isn’t new to the SimCity games but the increased level of detail is very welcome.

The biggest difference between SimCity and its predecessors is the multiplayer element. After all you have to be online anyway because of the DRM, so it would be a little off if there wasn’t a multiplayer option as well.

simcity players cities region mapRegions are divided into a number of cities, and if you so choose you can open up your region to other players. They will join their region and build their own cities, Cities which are dependent on the other cities in the region. As everyone’s cities grow you will find you start to have needs and excesses. Have you created a mining town drowning in oil and coal? Try selling them to the other towns. Your new police precinct could certainly help neighbouring cities, maybe send a police car or two help them out.

Things that are unlocked during the course of a city are replicated across the rest of the cities in a region. If one city unlocks the university then all cities are able to build a university. In a region that works well and communicates well with each other you can make sure you don’t waste resources on getting an upgrade that another city has already unlocked.

It’s not all smiling kittens and rainbows though. There are a couple of things which I think are lacking. Firstly, the map sizes are smaller, a lot smaller. In fact you could fill the map up within the space of a couple of hours. You can always claim more cities in a region but there are no large maps.

Secondly, there is no terrain editor. The maps and regions are pre-set. You can edit them via a debug option but that’s it.

So with that all said and done…

Pros

  • Everything that you love from the earlier SimCity games is in there
  • High Level of detail that’s great for the micro-managers among us
  • Multiplayer option

Cons

  • The cities are a lot smaller than you may be used to
  • DRM – you may hate it but it ain’t gonna go anywhere
  • No terrain editor

Despite the launch issues SimCity is still the cream of city simulation games and Maxis and EA Games should probably be proud. OF course they really need to look at server use before a launch, to go from thinking they need about 8 servers to best part of twenty is a little more than an oversight. Surely they’d have sales figures… right? Anyway, it’s stable now so I recommend you have at it and get in there.

Jim Franklin

Jim Franklin

Jim Franklin is a freelance writer, living in Derby UK with his wife. When time allows he likes nothing more than losing himself in a multi-hour gaming session. He likes most games and will play anything but prefers MMO's, and sandbox RPG's.

So what do you think?

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