David Murphy Sep 20, 2013

SimCity Review

At A Glance

SimCity 4

Lovely graphics; unique multiplayer component; city specializations have a great potential to add uniqueness to the game.

Cities XL

Always-on Internet requirement; numerous game-breaking bugs; Sims lives not simulated; numbers dont add up; game lacks terraforming.

Suspended marketing campaign says it all

Just in case we get bogged down reviewing Electronic Arts’ poisoning of an otherwise excellent franchise instead of getting into the nitty-gritty of the game itself, allow us to present a Cheetah Speed review of SimCity up-front (assuming EA has turned that feature back on by the time you read this).

The graphics and visualizations the game presents to mayors are a true delight, even though the numbers might not always work out.

Electronic Arts and developer, Maxis, found itself a little plot of land in the grand region of Gamersdreams. Within this area, it planned to build a lovely place called SimCity—a glorious, majestic city full of rich technology and beautiful visuals, a true upgrade to its previous incarnation called “SimCity 4” that would be beloved by millions worldwide.

Maxis built this town—this game, to put the metaphor to death—and forgot to connect the infrastructure. And just like the unpleasant result you get when you attempt to build a town in SimCity sans services (or when the game glitches away your fire trucks, police cars, and garbage trucks), SimCity as a whole suffers greatly from Electronic Arts and Maxis’s failure to make a game that, quite simply, works.

Where do we begin? The core of this new SimCity centers on its always-on Internet requirement, which allows you to co-develop larger regions of cities and kills your ability to ever work on MaximumPCopolis in the middle of a plane flight. It’s an ongoing war of words between Electronic Arts and the third-party modding community as to whether the game could have made do with an offline, single-player mode sans coding nightmare—we’re pretty confident that the phrase “DRM” instead of “awesome new functionality” fueled Electronic Arts’ decision this time around.

If you’ve ever heard of the SimCity franchise, you know how the game generally works: You paint residential, commercial, or industrial zones to encourage different elements to move into your newly minted town. You draw all the roads; you supply the power; you clean up the sewage; you plop down the Eiffel Tower in the middle of your farming community, etc. Somewhere in all this, you learn from mistake after city-planning mistake and end up building your dreams.

The GlassBox simulation engine serving as the game’s brain looks great, too–on paper. Contrary to Electronic Arts’ marketing, the game does not in fact simulate the life of every individual citizen in your city. Nor do they really have lives, even though the game’s (almost unnecessary) level of detail allows you to follow them about their day if you truly need your “Sims” fix.

If you do, you might notice some peculiarities. For example, your Sims leave “their” house at the beginning of the day to hit up the first job they can find. Once done, they head home to the first open house they can find—and are affected by that house’s modifiers, like its educational level—creating what amounts to a massive amount of non-addressable gridlock as these roving bands of people all attempt to chaotically fill up your city’s infrastructure single-file.

SimCity’s region-focused gameplay is a great idea until the neighbor you were depending on for power ends up nuking his city.

In other words, you design a city based on the patterns you expect its inhabitants to have, but they have no patterns whatsoever. And no brains. Sims would rather flood a tiny road that’s a direct route to their goal than take a slightly longer open avenue; 30 busses will follow each other around your roads and absolutely destroy your city’s traffic in a quest to pick up the same passenger, after passenger, after passenger; the game’s Casinos flat-out don’t work, thanks to however GlassBox is scripting its visitors.

We continue.
Other fun game-breaking bugs include a particularly unpleasant situation where deleting stretches of road with service vehicles on it (police, fire, ambulances, etc.)—a necessity when one needs to renovate areas of one’s city within the game’s heavily constricted building area—deletes these vehicles forevermore. Even if you remove and replace the vehicle’s station, absolutely no service vehicles will go out to attend to your city’s issues until you’ve built more stations than you previously had (a budgetary nightmare).

The greatest part of SimCity, we argue, is placing cultural buildings where they really have no business being.

Here’s our favorite: Suppose you’ve built your city on a river. Lovely sight, right? Only, you’re eventually going to run out of water for your city—even if you’ve placed a water tower right next to the freakin’ river—because the whole concept of the game’s water table is either glitched or just horribly designed. Heaven forbid if you’ve elected to build a city on a flat, desert plain: You’ll have to turn to the strange art of placing water treatment plants next to your sewage collection if you want to tap into an infinite water supply. Otherwise, your sims will eventually starve.

What else? Sims grouse about crime even if there isn’t any; the numbers in the game’s various data boxes don’t mathematically work out; one mishandled nuclear power plant (either through Mayoral stupidity or unavoidable in-game disasters) will ruin your city without any clear method for cleaning it up; there’s no way to upgrade your roads in any kind of speedy, universal fashion—we hope you like clicking; and worst of all, SimCity either holds your hand too much or leaves you stranded without much explanation for most of the game’s functions.

Though we might sound like we’re nitpicking, that’s the point. SimCity is an incredibly enjoyable game at first. But as one passes through the novice stages of building anything, anyplace, anywhere, and seeks out a greater strategy for combining creativity with ideal city-building techniques, the title falls apart faster than your infrastructure with a six-digit population.

We found ourselves dreading to have to throw more of our time at this game’s broken formula. We suspect you will as well, unless Electronic Arts has managed to pull a rabbit out of a SimHat by the time you read this review and patched up the game to playability. If, instead, the company has launched a DLC marketplace for buying new iterations of SimBuildings, feel free to lop off three points from this game’s final score.

$60, www.simcity.com


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