With six years having passed since the release of SimCity Societies in 2007, a fully committed rebirth of the fabled SimCity franchise was an exciting prospect for its legion of fans. Unfortunately for both Maxis and EA, the launch of SimCity was filled with massive server downtimes, unhappy fans and harsh criticism on their lack of support – so much so, in fact, that EA is giving away free games to appease every single person who purchased the controversial, always-online title.
When the game itself is running perfectly, with no server issues to speak of, it’s clear that Maxis have created a relatively faithful (albeit simplified) reproduction of previous titles. Curved roads make a series-first appearance, and allow for the creation of more realistic and visually appealing cities. Buildings will evolve based on nearby road density and local land value, allowing for a logical growth in building sizes as players begin really expanding their city. While the concept behind the game is fantastic — and does, at times, provide quality entertainment — the execution for most features was off-the-mark.
Before we delve into that, however, let’s take a look at what SimCity does right.
Impacting neighboring cities has become one of the main ideas of the game, and Maxis pull this off nicely. Sending over spare emergency services to neighbors in need is a great way to pull in extra income, and maturing cities will more than likely find themselves purchasing power, water or even sewage disposal services from online friends in the same region. Of course, it’s not just about enjoying the positives – high crime rates lead to criminals driving between cities and causing problems for law enforcement on a region-wide scale, meaning everyone can be impacted by a single crime-filled city. Each City Hall can have their own local addons in place to unlock other buildings for friends on a region-wide scale, which is a great way to encourage activity and growth.
Likewise, Great Works projects require multiple cities to pool huge amounts of resources together and produce something great (like an international airport or a solar farm), and even the smaller towns will be able to assist on one way or another. Through these interactions, Maxis have found a great balance on the scale of social requirements – players won’t feel like they’re being forced to interact, but there’s plenty of options available if they choose to do so.
City Specialization also allows for gamers to take advantage of either natural resources, trading industries or tourism. Becoming a tourist town is a lucrative investment, as casinos placed in the right area tend to make a fortune and will no doubt be seen as an easy money-maker for those who capitalize on such a industry. Likewise, expo centres and stadiums almost seem like cheating as a daily investment of 80k seems to always return around 300k in profit – all but eliminating any money issues that come with a growing city. Of course, tourism isn’t the only option – players can get individual cities specializing in mining, drilling, trading, electronics and culture. Once these specializations are developed, cities will have drastically different looks to them when compared with others in the same region. Speaking of looks, the ability to change views to quickly see statistics and infographics is very well integrated, and allows gamers to quickly see what areas are in need of immediate action versus things that can wait.
Owners of previous SimCity titles will instantly be disappointed by the new region sizes, with each city’s maximum size being a fraction of what it was in previous titles. While each region has spots for multiple cities, not every fan is going to want to have to manage a different city by hopping in and out of different games (and enduring a load screen to do so each time), or depending on strangers to run a complimentary setup to their own area. Gamers playing for several hours will find themselves quickly occupying a majority of the map, which shouldn’t be the case in any long-term city simulator.
Once cities grow in population, upgrading road sizes becomes a massive hassle, as removing any kind of road will automatically lead to the destruction of attached buildings. When road size and traffic congestion become an inevitable issue, it also brings some of the larger AI faults come in to focus – like that the vehicle and pedestrian AI is awful. Emergency services and regular citizens alike will take questionable routes to get to simple locations, and pedestrian errors will sometimes bring a busy intersection to a halt as they clash with perpetually-confused motorists. Public transit helps, but isn’t always updated right away – in one of our games, empty buses ran through the city for about an hour before anyone actually started using them.
The zoning adviser seems to always deem that residential zoning is in high demand, even if unemployment is rampant throughout each city (this happened on multiple occasions in different cities). Gamers will eventually get the grasp of when zoning truly needs expansion and deploy such areas as required, but one shouldn’t have to consistently doubt the AI Guide. When it comes to placing city structures, the placement of parks always feels ridiculously awkward. They never seem to match up quite right with the road, and come in consistently awkward sizes which make them harder to place in a visually appealing manner.
In short, SimCity is a title with great potential that has been sullied by limited features and one of the worst video-game launches in recent memory. The questionable exclusion of an offline mode led to an explosion of problems, including fundamental game-changers like smaller city sizes and players being unable to actually play their own game. Rampant missed opportunities and sloppy design will be detected by newcomers and veteran city mayors alike. It’s still relatively fun to play, but it’s far from the SimCity we all know and love, and it deserves much better.
SimCity is available now for PC.
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