SimCity is a title that needs no introduction. As the game that put Maxis on the map once upon a time, it's been the precursor to almost any simulation title since its original release in 1989. Throughout the 90’s with original titles or games of the same ‘Sim’ branding Maxis has used SimCity's success and defined their entire existence of the simulation genre and have spent almost 3 decades trying to make the perfect sim game.
The year is now 2013, and EA has worked with Maxis to create a new SimCity. Adding co-op based gameplay and focusing around the economic side of things, SimCity has potential to provide fans the series and newcomers with the same excitement of the original games in the series. It's been backed by one of the best game developers on the planet, and has financial backing from the industry's biggest publishers. However, will this new game still be able to capture what made the original sell or will all the shiny designs make it a boring waste of time?
It's So Cute - Maxis has their own adorable style that they use for games. It's not realistic, it's cartoon-esque, and bubbly. What's even better is that these cute designs don't actually pull away from your city. Instead, it actually makes your unique city something nice to see. These are similar to the designs seen in Spore, but with a more city focused design. If someone were to have a computer that can survive the heavy demand of SimCity, you can even zoom in and see all the individuals working hard in their buildings.
The Addiction is There - A good simulation title has one thing that will make it sell: The desire to play for another five minutes. This mental addiction causes players to continually play a game, promising themselves “at 12 AM, I'll quit”, “Alright, 1 AM”, and eventually “Screw it, I'll just go to work tired.” It's a pretty comedic process, and many gamers have experienced it. In the simulation genre, it's almost a demanding requirement, and SimCity has it.
Easy to Pick Up - SimCity sits on a fine line between being too simple, and being user-friendly. The side of it that is user-friendly makes it a game worth picking up for those who have never touched a simulation game in their lives. With everything being based around roads, players can quickly and easily build massive empires to serve whatever designs the player needs. It's definitely a good entry into the simulation genre for someone who's stepping in without experience.
An Interesting Multiplayer Idea - In SimCity, the idea of multiplayer has been taken and used a bit obscurely. Rather than directly influence someone else’s game, there are minor benefits to having another player in your region. You don’t build in someone else’s game, you send your children to their schools so that you can keep building casinos. They buy your coal, and you borrow their garbage trucks. It lets you pick up where they slack off, and in exchange, they do the same. It’s a unique idea, but you see it get used oddly less than you’d think.
Functioning Controls - It's nice to see a simulation title with simple controls. Having seen the worst, and the best, I can confidently say that SimCity leans more towards the successful side of control schemes. The keyboard and the mouse work in unison, and I rarely found myself fumbling to move the camera. On-screen controls are a bit wonky, but they do their job.
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Yay DRM! - This has been a hot debate since the title’s launch. The DRM implemented by Maxis had made the game almost unplayable to stop piracy. Their bluff “you need servers to play this game” has been called several times, and if there’s nothing else that the internet has taught us since its birth, it’s that you can get everything on the internet. The anti-piracy DRM has done nothing to thwart pirates, and instead has hindered users. It was a bad move that has crippled the title’s launch.
Too Simple - There's a fine line between wanting to help users get accustomed to simulation games, and holding their hands the whole way. SimCity's simple style for city building is nice at first, but after a few hours it's hard to find anything fun or new to do. Feeding your desire to maintain an expanding city while staying out of debt aside, it's simply too easy to make it from a small one-lane town to a grand city. It took me around 4 hours to completely fill up my 2KM x 2KM square the first time I played, and after that it became a waiting game until I had enough money to build a Great Site.
Seriously, It's Too Simple - Here's another problem with SimCity, the game doesn't reflect your political views. The 9% tax rate offered to the player is ideal for running the city. Sure you can decide if you want your economy to be self-sufficient or a tourist hub, but it always feels the same. On one occasion, I set a mining town to be built entirely around schools and built a strong economy with various education centers that were never over-packed. Somehow, my crime rate was just as high as the city I had built that was centered on casinos. That's the problem: regardless of how creative a player is, the game will face you with the same challenges and rarely offer you anything new. Comparing the new SimCity to Tropico 4, which allows you to be the political leader you want to be, and you will quickly see SimCity failing in comparison.
Long Periods of Nothing - I wish SimCity had a “skip ahead this many hours button” because the game faces players with long periods of nothing. It's like if FarmVille actually forced players to watch their crops grow in real time. The city won't make money for you when you're not looking, and the maximum speed set for the player doesn't skip hours, but turns minutes into seconds. That means if you're saving up for a high school, you get to wait between 5-10 minutes to make the money to do it.
That Freaking Language - I'm not honestly sure why Maxis seems to think that their made-up nonsensical Sim language is so adorable and endearing that they need to bring it into every game they make. The language itself was entertaining once upon a time, but it's long since lost its charm. It's gone from “Hey, that's kind of funny,” to “Dear lord, make this insane rambling end before I welcome the cold embrace of death.” It's not cute, it's annoying. Changing “yarsfargen nibblesnarf blargen” (these Sims sound more like they're trying to read Ikea instructions than actually speaking) to “Hey mayor, can I bother you for a tick?” would be a huge improvement. Sure, it wouldn't be as cute to the more casual players, but it would also mean that I wouldn't have to mute the game to enjoy it.
I'm conflicted about SimCity. As I'm one of those gamers that grew up on some of Maxis' greatest works (Sim Ant, Streets of Sim City, Sim City 2000), I feel a bit betrayed by the simple, repetitive gameplay. On the other hand, I recognize that the hardcore gamers don't offer game companies as much money as the casual audiences. Maxis and EA have responded to the more casual gamers and have offered them a well meant attempt at an introduction to the world of simulation titles. SimCity is a casual simulation title that has welcoming, but shallow gameplay with not much else.
*This review was based on the PC version of the game with a review code provided by the publisher.*