by Marko Susimetsä
previewed on PC
Move over, SimCity
Just when you thought that the era of SimCity clones was over, some new competition, published by Monte Cristo and Deep Silver, crops up. City Life promises a full 3D interface with a high-end 3D engine, over 300 buildings to build and highway systems to design - both inside and outside of the city, over 20 predesigned maps and the freedom to design as many more as one can ever imagine.
With the existence of SimCity, the grand-daddy of sim games, with all its sequels and add-ons, it is hard to come up with something new and fresh that would be good enough to challenge the giant that has owned the market since its inception. For this reason alone, City Life from Monte Cristo, a known developer of builder and sim type games, deserves a closer look.
Headaches of an all-powerful governor
As the eternal governor of your utopian city, it is your mission to build it up and tend to the needs of its population. In City Life, you have to take into account the six different layers of society, from the rich to the working class. And, as in real life, these different classes of people tolerate each other's presence to a varying degree, so it is not only the varying needs that you have to take care of, but also their relationships with the other classes.
In order to appease the needs of all these people, you have to build recidential and industrial zones, municipal services and education and entertainment facilities - the complete infrastucture, in short. All this development is naturally done at the expense of the inhabitants, so you have to keep your tax income and development projects balanced. And with increasing population, you will have to worry about pollution and traffic, as well as crime. If you are successful, you will once rule over a futuristic 21st century metropolis, the envy of the world. But if you were to fail, pollution, crime and mayhem might take your city, and your livelyhood, apart right before your eyes.
The main weapon in City Life's arsenal to the competition in the city builder genre is the eye-candy it offers: the windows of the tall sky scrapers reflect the nearby buildings and shadow the smaller ones, the city itself is reflected on the surface of a nearby lake, the camera can view the city from a top-down perspective, or swoop down onto the street level to see the citizens roam around in real time, in the more-or-less well-designed city. On top of this, the graphics look even better when you observe the day/night cycles and seasonal changes.
But the graphics are not only utopian - they can become gritty and dirty as well, if you don't tend all parts of the city with similar good care - just like in real life. Your buildings will crumble down and become mere shacks if you turn your back to some section of the city for too long.
And all through these changes, for better or worse, you can view the city with a free-roaming camera from any angle you want. You can see the crimes take place first-hand, or idle a while as you watch the sun set and the city lights light up. Or, you can just follow the citizens walking on the streets and be surprised by the detail even at that level: the men walk with their elbows out, taking up as much room as they possibly can, while the lithe women walk past, wearing high boots and short, or at least tight, skirts.
To look forward to or not to?
Well, that's the eternal question isn't it? As it is, City Life is going up against SimCity, a game which has had years to gain its place. In order to win a place of it's own, City Life needs to offer something that SimCity does not. Stunning graphics alone are not enough, since gaming will soon get boring if all you get is eye-candy. However, City Life also offers a new way to look at the population, taking a daring step away from the popular concept of classless society and perhaps even enhancing the differences between the classes to make them more interesting from the game's point of view.
The game is promised to be released in April. It remains to be seen whether this reviewer will scribble its name on his birthday present wish list for the following month or not.