by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
By now you have probably heard about SimCity’s dramatic launch. An army of shrinks would not be enough to work out what EA thought processes led to the decision to release SimCity with less than a third of the servers that it would need. A week after launch and several features have been shut off to decrease server loads. But at least the game is playable… mostly.
When it works, SimCity is every bit as charming as its predecessors, leaving much of the core gameplay intact while innovating where it can. The premise remains the same: you are the mayor of a town – or rather a plot of land when just starting – and get free reign on how you feel it should be run. You are a dictator, no doubt, but more often than not your own agenda coincides with that of your population.
The best laid out plans
The most profound change to the tried and true SimCity formula is that cities no longer stand alone but are part of a region. You can play multiple cities within the region yourself or invite friends to come and play with you. As soon as two cities connect via rail, road, plane or boat, messages will start flowing back and forth to convey the connectedness between them. Students may start attending university in another city, shoppers may flock from other cities to yours because they can’t find the luxury goods they are looking for locally. Utilities can also be shared, volunteering medical services, firefighters and even sewage processing capacity whenever needed.
To make things a little more interesting, you can specialize cities to become veritable powerhouses in areas such as oil, coal and tourism. Once specialized, cities share some of their unique abilities with the others in the region. Adding the hazmat fire-fighting ability for instance, needs to be done in only one city to make it available across the region. The more cities work together, the more efficient their region as a whole becomes.
Regions, in turn, are part of a global economy that presumably reflects the economy on the server that you play on. I say ‘presumably’ because at the time of writing this mechanic appears to have been switched off as a ways of decreasing server load. It is difficult to gauge how this affects things on a regional level but unfortunately it is one of several aspects of the game that I’m unable to comment on in this review.
We built this city
Laying the foundations for a new city is easier than ever before. An optional but incredibly helpful grid overlay shows you exactly where to draw your roads and zoning areas as industrial, residential or commercial is done so quick it will make your head spin. Color changes in the in-game navigation will call your attention towards the items your budding city needs next. It is a natural, fluid process in which you are ‘plopping down’ water towers, windmills and sewage outlets to provide your citizens with the necessities of life.
With the ‘needs’ out of the way, small text balloons will soon start popping up to indicate citizens that would like to discuss their ‘wants’ with you. These wants can be accepted as miniature quests and range from building schools and parks to lowering taxes and throwing parties. Citizens also coach the player by making suggestions to develop your city in a particular way. The simplest of these suggestions involve growth milestones but at other times their ‘coaching’ can lead to even bigger goals, like becoming an Oil Tycoon.
As the game gently guides you through the initial stages of founding a new city, it will also show you how to optimize some of its core buildings. I already mentioned adding hazmat fire-fighting capabilities to the fire station and many others can be extended in a similar fashion. You can add ambulances and new wings to the hospital, extra drills to your oil drilling operations and even extend the town hall with Finance, Education and other departments.
Discovering how to grow your city into a vast metropolis is one of the most fun aspects of the game and you will most likely need to build a couple of cities before you start to feel that you understand what makes your stuff work.
Wonderfully deep simulation that you can play with friends.
Servers are still not functioning, much of the online functionality is switched off.