SimCity Review

SimCity has long been one of those games that defined who I was as a gamer very early in life. It was not the first game I played, that title belongs to either Pong or Pitfall depending on timing of it. It is however one of the first games that totally engrossed me. That I could sit down with it and literally lose hours figuring out how to best place all my buildings and zones in order to get the highest population possible.

Since that point in time, I have played many incarnations of the game. SimCity 2000, 3 and 4, and even the Super Nintendo version of SimCity. So of course, when this new reboot of SimCity was announced, I bit.

Sure it was online only, and this was terrible I agree. I also didn’t like supporting it, but this never stopped hordes of Blizzard fanatics from purchasing Diablo 3. There are also rumors that both PS4 and Xbox 720 will have online only presences (though Sony currently denies). Let’s face it, online only is the wave of the future, the best way to avoid people from pirating games. And though I doubt pirating is really biting into the profits of game companies any more than it has in previous years, they see diminishing video game sales and it is their only solution as to why (not too unfamiliar to what the RIAA and MPAA have dealt with too).

Off that soap box and onto the game. There are a lot of really great ideas in the game that I really enjoy. I like that there are different ways to unlock new buildings and even parts to buildings. I like that they allow you to modify buildings that you’ve already placed, like adding new windmill turbines to your wind farm to produce more power, or police cars to the police station to help them patrol.

I like some of the multiplayer functionality. Like relying on the the region to help you with basic services so that you can use the space in your city to work on getting ore which in turn can help your region all the better. You do your job, they do theirs, everyone prospers all the more. It’s a great theory and it is the only thing that makes you understand why they intended this to be a multiplayer game only.

However, it is extremely flawed. Everyone has to work together in order for this to work, but if there is one thing I’ve learned in more than 16 years in online game playing, that almost never happens. Which means to say that you will never get this Utopian society to occur, and when it doesn’t happen you won’t have fun with the intertwining systems. And for all that, it didn’t need to be online. There isn’t a real reason why this couldn’t be simulated in the world by computers.

Similarly is the sim tracking that the game has. The game takes it upon itself to track every single sim within the game. It knows where it works, how it gets to work, what it likes to do, where it shops, goes to school, everything. It’s big brother in a box. And in all honesty, it is kind of nifty tech. But the problem is this tech is also the reason why each city is so small in area. You see that kind of tech takes a ton of strain on your computer and to counter it, EA decided to make the cities smaller in area to handle it.

This lack of size does have a positive in that you have to pick and choose what to do with your city. You can’t do it all. A good example is the pre-order bonus of MaxisMan headquarters, a building to house your own superhero. However, the building is huge and doesn’t actually provide happiness, or really any purpose on its own. You can however choose to send Maxisman out on patrol for 500 simoleons and he can do various tasks while out. I decided this value wasn’t worth the added space the city took and vowed never to use it because the space was actually more valuable than the 500 simoleons per task.

The other negative is that city population seemed really off. After a few hours of play, I had finally gotten skyscrapers all over the city and the best high tech industries. This is actually quite a success for a single player closed system I felt. It didn’t take long to get there though and the population was only 60,000 people. Now I may not know a lot about numbers. But I live in Madison, WI and we are a fairly small town with no skyscrapers in sight. Yet we manage around 250,000 people and a thriving university. This city was packed to the gill with only 1/5 the population and a tiny university, a single grade school and a single high school. I don’t even understand how this is even possible. But the more problematic thing is how do they expect us to get populations in the millions to challenge the New York Cities of the world? I doubt they expect you to, but he population is hugely unrealistic all the same.

Balance also seems off in the rest of the game. A good example is making smelting plants. I decided with my first city to make a city dedicated to making metals. In order to do this you must first unlock a smelting plant which you need to unlock a metals HQ first. In order to unlock the HQ, you must first trade something like 90,000 ore and coal in a single day. This is difficult. In order to then unlock the smelting plant, you must first sell around 200,000 ore and coal in a single day. With three ore mines and 2 trade depots all maxed out, I wasn’t even really getting to half. Maybe this is a regional goal and not a goal of the city, but it isn’t spelled out that way. And now that I’ve sat here trying to achieve these goals, I’ve almost run out of iron altogether, because oh yeah, resources don’t respawn. So by the time I do unlock the smelting plant, I probably won’t be able to actually mine ore myself to make it metals. This may be as planned because I then have to buy ore from other newbies instead, but it is extremely disheartening all the same.

And then there is the online issues, which despite EA saying that it is “hard” or maybe thinking that we should give them a break on it because it is new, we can’t. This is their product, they insist with no option for offline, it is their issue not ours. Connection issue have gotten better after a week. It no longer takes 2 to 3 hours to get connected, but it is still not good. Monday I spent a good hour getting connected still, better? Yes. Good? Hell no. I have lost data a couple of times as well.

Another issue that I recently found it is that of finding populated regions. Obviously this game may work better when there are other players in your region. So Monday I went out to find one. I clicked the “join” tab and it gave me 12-15 regions that were active, all of them were full. Clicked “show more” another 12-15 full. I actually went through about 100 regions, there were a few that had empty cities in them, but those ones said they were processing and I couldn’t join the game so my guess is someone else already clicked it and it was still setting up. Blah. Seems like the only way to actually play multiplayer is to set up your own region and leave it open, which I did on my absolute first city that is on East 2 which is always busy or full so I abandoned it. That one probably is full of other people now on the bright side. Future cities I chose private, and once you go private you can’t go back.

Other Random Positives

    Graphics look good
    I like the customization of the buildings
    There is actually a good variety of buildings at least in commercial and residential. Once all my buildings turned skyscrapers I can’t remember seeing a duplicate which is pretty impressive.
    It is fun for a little while at least
    Arcologies return…. well kind of, they are great works so you only get one for the region not the city but I don’t mind this implementation.
    Great Works. Speaking of which, when making it multiplayer this was a good idea to really come up with goals for the region.
    Rewards. I don’t think I felt this level of rewarding since SNES SimCity, it felt good to hit those population landmarks!

Other Random Negatives

    No undo. I nearly cried the third time I accidentally bulldozed my power plant costing me over $100k!
    No Subway. With as little space as there is in a city, it would be nice to build a subway to help the transportation woes.
    No wonders… well kinda. I believe there are a couple of wonders in the tourist section of your city building, so if you concentrate on tourism you get a couple wonders. I don’t really like this limitation because I think every city should have one, they were always the fun bits of previous simcitys… is too bad they aren’t really there anymore.
    No Offline. I need to re-iterate. This needs an offline version, they keep saying how there is no way to do it, I don’t believe them because *I* could figure it out. If they really can’t figure it out, layoffs need to occur because people aren’t good at their jobs.
    No easy doco. This seems odd in today’s world, but I feel that they should have a “?” on every building to give me more detail as to what it does and what requirements it has. Everything seems to require digging.
    Can’t name streets. Was my favorite feature of 4, too bad they don’t learn from past games, probably because no one actually was on those teams.
    No terraforming. I can’t tell you how annoying it is to have to wind roads miles around just to get into valleys and connect up with other roads. It is isn’t even remotely realistic. I understand that because it is online they can’t have people drastically changing environments but they should have made the auto-terraforming capable of road connections.

Overall, I wouldn’t really suggest most people get SimCity, even fans of previous versions would probably be better suited not to play. I view this game as I did SimCity Societies… it might be an ok game in its own right but it isn’t really SimCity. If you really need a SimCity fix, I would suggest getting SimCity 2000 off GoG, it’s only 10% of the cost ($5.99), but 1000 times better. I would realistically rank This game worse than 2000, 3000 and 4. I may give it an edge out on the original. So I guess if they are rebooting the original, it is better than that one.