SimCity manages to bring the classic city simulation game forward to the present while keeping all the core elements that made the game such a success in the past.
This is no mean feat as the game has been redesigned from the ground up and includes a lot of major departures from previous versions; however that signature city building addiction is still there in bucket loads.
Before we get into the meat of the review we have to touch on the launch week server issues. Fans across the world were super frustrated at the in-ability to play the game due to overcrowded servers and stability issues. While I agree the always online DRM system is entirely stupid, EA deserve some credit for quickly fixing the problem. For South African users we had one or two days of downtime and everything is almost back to all systems go with EA confirming 92% of players not having any issues. I joined one of the 8 new servers that EA launched (Europe East 3) and managed to play all weekend without any problems at all. It is important to note this as there could be potential problems down the line when they roll out new patches or expansions and this cannot be ignored.
Obviously a massive improvement from its predecessor’s graphics, SimCity certainly looks the part. The shadows, texture and lighting are all excellent and the attention to detail throughout the city is amazing. Zooming down to street level to see signs on buildings, garden hoses on the sides of houses and even individual Sims limping when injured. The street view camera really brings your city to live and watching the traffic move through the intersections enhances the illusion of a bustling city even further.
The tilt-shift camera effects are a nice addition but have the option to be turned down if you aren’t a fan. In fact if you have a look in the graphics settings page you will find a range of filters that can be applied to the world. These filters offer a range of visual styles that can be applied including a badass Sin City style filter. These enhancements are pretty cool once you have been playing for hours and could do with a change of scenery.
One of the standout features of SimCity is the audio. The entire city is filled with amazing sound effects and each building has its own sounds when you click on it. The background music is not too intrusive, in fact I often forgot about it entirely. Having an alternative track or the ability to import your own music would have been nice. The only audio negative is the fact that the Sims speak in that annoying Sims voice (ala The Sims) which irritates me. Fortunately you only have to hear it every now and then when a Sim makes a specific request/mission for you to follow.
The gameplay is the nuts and bolts of SimCity. All the required detail of a full SimCity experience is here and represented in a very easy to use interface. The data maps are beautifully layered over the city to help you with your decisions and are a crucial part of SimCity. Knowing which way the wind is blowing, how your ground water is arranged and where you mineral deposits are situated is crucial to creating a decent city. The road network now supports water, electricity and sewage which makes it a bit more accessible for new players and takes a lot of the dirty work away (excuse the pun).
The inclusion of specializations provides some serious fun. Each city has the options of specializing in a specific field be it mining, tourism or even education each has its pros and cons and subtly affects the city you build (a mining town attracts lower income workers who don’t have the same yearning for education as higher income residents in a cultural city). One big frustration point for me is the very small maps. Each city has a predefined border that you cannot exceed. While the point of SimCity is to slowly increase the density of your city rather than create a large sprawling metropolis the small area can cause problems until you get the hang of it. Some buildings are very big (sports stadiums etc) and unless you have planned from the beginning you simply won’t have room. If you select a map that has a very mountainous area or lots of rivers you can expect your city size to shrink even further. The inclusion of a simple terrain editing tool would have made a huge different but instead you are stuck with what you get.
The small cities are all part of the plan however and its core focus is to get you to leverage other cities in your region for other services. Due to the limited space it is almost impossible to build a city that has everything. Sooner or later you will need to use a neighbor to help provide a service or two. This is where SimCity starts to get interesting. Having a region with several cities, each with their own specialization can provide a beautiful thriving economy. Each region has the ability to create a Great Work, a massive construction that benefits all the cities in the region (think Solar Power or International airport). It adds a bit of inter-player strategy in multiplayer and rewards those of us that take the time to co-ordinate with our mates. You will just need to make sure you are all on the same server to be able to play together.
SimCity has a lot of replay value due to the range of paths you can select. Each city specialization has its own buildings and nuances which will see you building multiple cities to try them all out. The introduction of regions and Great Works will also keep you busy for ages working your way towards building one in each of your regions. You will easily find yourself having built up to ten cities and still hungering for more. Presumably there will be future DLC with new buildings and great works which is something to look forward to. However the basic sandbox nature of SimCity means that you will want to play late in to the night for many nights to come.
SimCity was developed by Maxis and published by Electronic Arts. Our review is based on the PC version (Mac TBA in April).