Review: Can SimCity rebuild itself?

simcity

simcity-2013-trailer-00Many gaming sites right now are all about SimCity, it’s initial server issues, glitchiness and fan frustration. As the dust settles it remains to be seen if the heavier social direction is a win or a loss. Donning my resource management hat I see if SimCity holds up or is a buggy mess.

Industrious

It’s all fun and games until the zombies show up

Playing the first SimCity remains one of my fondest gaming memories. From the top down original to the fan favorite SimCity 2000, the game has set the standard when it comes to building simulators, and even though it caters to a niche market it offers something that very few other genres can, completely randomized experiences. This is the joy and the art to playing these types of games. You are required to adapt and change with the world you are creating.

Fans have understandably put high expectations onto what they want to see from this new reboot of SimCity. However, gamers must remember Maxis is a different company to the hardcore Sim maker they were back in the day. The Sims has been the focus for a long time and this new direction of social gameplay puts the title into strange new waters.

The idea behind it was to build a simple but complex city building simulator with enough depth to hold its core audience while opening it up to new gamers and having the whole experience played socially online. No easy task. Well, I donned my mayor’s hat and jumped into this new SimCity to see if Maxis can really cram all of these ideas into one package or if the whole thing is a bad joke.

Aliens!

Aliens! Call XCOM!

After running through the tutorial, just to get the basics in order, I picked a terrain type and created Terror Island, my tourist haven. As you start to undertand the layout of your current city, you begin the difficult task of dealing with how best to run it. You have to plan everything, like where to place industrial, residential and commercial zones to maximize your productivity, taking into account real life issues like avoiding putting industrial zones downwind from housing.

You’ll also have to take time out to deal with setting up utilities in your city. Do you use clean solar power or go cheap and deal with dirty coal? Where is the best area to source water? Your job as a mayor will keep you on your toes for most of the game.

As your city begins to take shape, there is a real sense of joy in watching Sims arrive and go about their day to day tasks. You can check in on any of the residents at any time, see their comfort levels, address complaints and generally log what they are doing. This really helps you build a connection like no SimCity game has done before. Add to this the interesting social interaction and it all starts to become really addictive.

Wow!

Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more

Invite friends to your region and all of a sudden some of the stresses of running a city lessen with civil duties like fire services, police, even garbage collection shared across regions resulting in less work and more productive output.

The fun really begins as you get the basics in place.Once you have a functioning town you can begin to shape the direction it takes. Based on the core materials around you cities can specialize in mining, drilling, trading, electronics, culture or gambling.  As you make these decisions your income steadily increases and this is where the game first shows its ugly underbelly.

The game’s AI is painfully aware of times that you are making headway and seem to take perverse pleasure in punishing you for doing a good job. Every time I got up to speed and started to really makes some money, a world of hurt hit my city in the form of a natural or unnatural disaster, backtracking my progress and I spent the next hour getting back to where I was.

After repairing the damage caused I began to notice that outside disaster clean up the game begins to lag if you are just trying build one city. This wouldn’t irk me so much if it didn’t take a frustratingly long time to switch between cities. My PC is a quad core with 16GB of RAM and it still takes several minutes to make the jump. Combine this with large amount waiting the game already has and I began to lose interest fast, not a good sign.

As time wore on and the small group of people I’d allied with stopped logging on it became less and less interesting. Sure, my cities reached a decent size, however the maintenance became more of a job than fun. I could choose another region and start again but the large scope of SimCity 2000 had me craving for a bustling metropolis not the small towns I experienced in this reboot. Without friends to support the experience it lost steam and felt more like managing FarmVille.

Cities can get cramped quickly

This is how Mega-City One started

SimCity feels more like a premium Facebook game than the SimCity verterans such as myself are used to, with more effort put into the pursuit of playing with friends online and the remainder feels like it was rushed and haphazardly thrown together. The design is at times messy evident by clipping on roads and buildings. This damages the experience with the end product feeling unpolished and unfinished.

The online bugs are far less of an issue now and the social aspect does open the title up for some interesting co-op region design, however this does not nearly combat the small square boxes you are given to work with enough and even the most creative players will wish they had more room to work with.

SimCity has plenty of depth for those willing to dig, but this reboot seems to be less interested in city building and more interested forcing me to connect my experience with other players. Simulation games have always been a personal and solitary experience. While I do admire this brave direction, more of a focus needed to be put into the single player,  with less concern on how many friends you have.

6 / 10

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Joshua Philpott

Tech MacGyver
Games writer, podcaster and tech wizard. Obsessed with obscure horror films, crazy gadgets and caffeine. Passionate, argumentative and open minded. Freelance writer and co-founder rawDLC.

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  • PSIress

    As a long time sim city fan, I’m rather disappointed in what they did to this awesome series. Sim City 3000 was the best sim city for me.