After spending the last ten years focusing on The Sims, Maxis is back to their roots with SimCity. Having been a die hard fan of the series since its inception, when I heard last year that my favorite city building franchise was being re-booted, I was ecstatic.
While the game has had a rough start and continues to experience bugs and other issues, one thing I can say is that there is a lot of potential with SimCity. And while Maxis might have dropped the ball to begin with they are slowly recovering and appear to be listening to the community and what changes they expect to see.
I grew-up with SimCity. In High School our economics teacher used the original SimCity as a tool to teach us about balancing a budget and dealing with supply and demand. Beyond using the game as a learning tool in class I also spent countless hours at home building my dream city in SimCity 2000, SimCity 3000, SimCity 4 and I even spent some time with the dreaded SimCity Societies. After Societies myself and just about every other fan of the series wanted Maxis to go back to their roots and bring us an upgraded and better iteration of the great SimCIty 4. Well after ten years the team is back with SimCity, a much more in-depth and powerful city building simulation. With new complex simulations under the hood SimCity adds many new facets to city and region management. However with all the good that SimCity brings us, there is a fair amount of bad and even some evil.
The biggest change to SimCity is a move away from creating a huge mega city with millions of people. Instead gamers are tasked with creating a lean specialized city. And you’ll be much more inclined to build multiple cities in a region all supporting each other This new gameplay focus is interesting and frustrating at the same time. It’s fun creating multiple cities all with their own unique look and feel. From the dirty mining city to the clean shinny tourist and electronics city, the way your city looks and feels all depends on the specialization you choose. Going with a mining city you’ll see high amounts of pollution and high crime rates. But these cities are also great for providing the more dirty regional services like trash disposal or power creation. Instead of dirtying your gambling city with a power plant and garbage dump, you can place these services in your mining city then send the services to others in your region.
While I really like the idea of specializing cities, unfortunately the way the cities interact with the region is broken, resulting in many headaches. Maxis is currently blaming the server issues on region interaction but there are other problems as well. The biggest issue is demand isn’t always updating. So while you might have a surplus of jobs in one city and surplus of workers in another it takes time until the game registers these numbers. Until that occurs you’ll see high unemployment and even with a major job surplus in another city not every sim will commute, even with multiple mass transit sources available. Shipping goods is another issue. Trade depots and ports are a bit flaky at times, with goods either not leaving or not arriving as desired. This can hamper industrial expansion of hurt your specialization if you are manufacturing goods. The other major regional numbers issue shows up when your population explodes. It appears Maxis is fudging the numbers of population and jobs. As soon as my buildings upgraded to medium density the number of open jobs skyrocketed. And even with increasing strictly residential zones in multiple cities I was never able to strike even. I have a feeling this occurs to prevent you from a massing such a huge tax-paying population. But the problem is as your city grows it became almost impossible to balance the budget with the higher-capacity city services. The only things keeping my city bank accounts full was the sale of specialized goods. Another major regional issue is that not all cities int he larger regions are connected. It appears only a maximum of any four cities in the large regions are connected. And instead of getting more room to build there is LOTS of empty, off-limits space.
City Specialization is also very important when it comes to the new Great Works projects. Each region has at least one Great Works for the region. These are massive areas that allow you to build a huge building that will help the entire region, like the regional airport that improves trade and improves tourist. These Great Works require a huge amount of specialized materials and will require the work of multiple cities. It’s a neat concept but truly has little effect, as I have yet to need a Great Work in the region to further my city growth.
Another major focus of the development team was creating a much more streamlined game, and in some spots they did very well. The new UI and new data maps are great. There are data maps for everything and they are visually quite stunning. Seeing the ground pollution spread, or seeing how plopping parks effects land value are great and informative. However a lot of the micromanagement aspects of SimCity games past have been cut. You no longer have city ordinances, so city services are now 100% free for sims. So while you’ll have to shell out lots of money to keep your bus system running, your sims don’t pay a dime to use them. I really miss these aspects of the game, using ordinances and adjusting services costs was interesting and realistic.
A big selling point of SimCity was the new GlassBox Engine. This was supposed to bring us these amazing simulations, and while it works in some aspects in others it falls very short. The engine works around the concept of “agents,” including water and electricity. Sims are all “agents, too”. They move from a source to a sink. And it works really well for services like water and electricity. You’ll see the power moving through your city and not having enough power will cause areas far from the power plant to go dark. But for the sims in your city it works much differently. Sims have no home and no job. Instead they go from a home to the first job they find, and then at the end of the day they go to the first home they find. Their homes and jobs change every day. What this does is causes very unnatural movements around the city as you’ll see lines of cars and sims constantly. While the team is making some changes to how sims commute the fact still remains that the AI was bad at launch and continues to be a big issue. And it’s not just commuters that are “dumb” but also your city services. Garbage trucks drive around in a line most of the time, buses follow each other most of the times, fire and police respond in packs, even while there is fire and crime in other spots. I think the emergency services issue could have been resolved if they didn’t scrap the dispatch system. I loved sending my fire truck and police cars around the my cities in the old games, I really don’t know why that function was also scrapped.
Unlike SimCity titles past you also have to manage natural resources. And these resources are finite. So while you might build a big mining empire if you don’t evolve over the years your big mining profits will crumble wel coal and ore run out. Water though is a big issue in this game. Towers and pumps are your only choices, and even with a river or coast in the city limits you won’t get unlimited water. I found that trying to keep the water on the hardest resource to manage, and at times it made no sense. Even with rain ground water was hard to come by at times.
The one area of the game that the team hit a homerun with is the visuals. The game looks gorgeous. It is the best looking SimCity ever. Buildings aren’t static anymore, they are alive. You’ll see delivery truck fill up with goods and leave to trade depots then return empty. You’ll see things moving and working like real buildings. Then you have the great camera effects that can give your game a unique look and feel.
I waited awhile for the next chapter of SimCity, and at this point I’ve been pretty disappointed. There is so much potential with the game but the team put in some limitations that really take away from what made SimCity so amazing in the past. The small city size is a big issue. If the region had cities side by side or even allowed customization of interconnects this wouldn’t be such a major issue. Regional demand and interaction is another major issue. When you assign emergency services to another city it’s pointless because each city only has one road in and one road out, so if there is traffic don’t expect help. The game is gorgeous looking, and if the game mechanics were as good as the visuals this would be a home run and a must buy. But right now with all the bugs and missing city management features SimCity fans should really stick with SimCity 4 and enjoy building mega cities and amazing and truly unique regions. The biggest things missing from this version of SimCity are ordinances, service charging, water desalinization and emergency service dispatching just to name a few. My hope is that the Maxis team really look at the feedback from fans and patch and update the game without digging further into our pockets.
SimCity for PC was purchased for this review