SimCity Review: Finally The Roof Is Not On Fire

SimCity Review: Finally The Roof Is Not On Fire

It’s been a week since SimCity launched, but it’s only now that people can actually get a full feel of what the game is supposed to be.  Unfortunately the launch problems, including the servers going down and the bugs kept a lot of people angry at EA, Maxis and SimCity itself.    The always-on DRM requirement did not win SimCity any fans, as people couldn’t help but compare the launch to that of Diablo 3.  However unlike Blizzard’s disaster, SimCity does have a lot going for it.  Enough to cleanse the palate, and force naysayers into giving the game a fair shot.

Let’s first talk about the most controversial of the new additions to SimCity, and that’s the multiplayer.  Now of course it is possible to almost completely avoid this element and play by yourself like the hermit that you are.  You can even further isolate yourself from your fellow-man by creating a city with no neighbors and build up your own Great Works.  Something I really appreciate because I for one like to build my empire alone. That being said, SimCity isn’t really a multiplayer game.  At least not in the way that we think when people talk about traditional multiplayer.

And so, sometimes being card-carrying members of the hermitage can actually hurt you rather than help you.  In SimCity, eventually you’ll be forced to admit that you need help.  At first everything goes well.  And then you realize that your city needs resources that you can’t provide.  You need to develop commerce with other cities in the area.  It might be residential, commercial, industrial, or maybe you have utility needs.  Whatever it is, your plot of land (and it’s not that big) can’t fit everything that your denizens need.  And revolts will occur if you don’t bring in the things that they demand.  It’s obvious to see why the plots are small.  SimCity, by narrowing what you directly control, forces you to interact with other players. You get a bit dependent on them, and in turn they become a bit dependent on you.  And so begins what can be a both rewarding and frustrating relationship.  Bargaining with your neighbors is a difficult task at times, because if they want they can make your life miserable.  But this is your town, and sometimes politics sucks.

There is a second purpose to the smaller plots and that’s to narrow focus.  Because you don’t have much room, you’re forced to really think about what kind of product your city is going to specialize in. It’s a change for SimCity past where a city could have many products.  Now you choose from six – Mining, Drilling, Trading, Electronics, Culture and Gambling.  Once you choose a focus, it’s time to build your city around that idea.  You can mix and match, in fact I highly recommend that you do, but it’s a risk and one that you have to manage carefully since your plot isn’t that big.

Let me give you an example.  I focused my town on Culture and Gambling.  I had four casinos that were fully upgraded.  I had not only funds coming in from townspeople, but tourism.  And yet, I couldn’t meet the $160,000 requirement.  So I had no choice but to dive into another specialization.  Of course that decision came at a cost.  Less land to allocate to other needs like commercial or residential.  Things that the people living in my city wanted, things that had to be cut down on because of the limitations.

And that’s the main frustration with SimCity.  I don’t mind picking one field and calling it a day.  But in order to give your city the things it needs to survive, you can’t do that. You need to dabble in the other specializations, as such other facets of your city’s life will suffer.

But that just means that you have to be creative.  I read a comment, that playing SimCity is a lot like building New York City.  And that makes a lot of sense.  There is no room in New York anymore, and you certainly can’t expanded outward.  No, any time they build, they build up.  And that’s my SimCity experience.  As more people came to my town, as I built more utilities, and commercial area things needed to change.  So change them I did.  I tore down buildings, rebuilt my roads.  I made the room I needed to fit in the things I needed,  And it’s something that you’ll have to continuously do in order to make your city run.

So there are things to consider.  For example energy.  The people of your city are going to drain you dry, and if you focus on energy (coal or oil) those can be great to start off with.  But their not sustainable.  Yes, it will take you years to go through the natural resources that SimCity provides, but you will run out.  So what are you going to do then?  Well, that’s where neighbors are cross-specialization come in.  Planning ahead, will save you a lot of aggravation in the end.

Speaking of neighbors, it’s the one thing that SimCity will remind you that you need. In the beginning, your focus is of course on your town and its needs.  But eventually you do realize that there are others out there waiting for you to interact. And you may get lucky and have nice neighbors. Or you can be smart and stick with your friends.  If you do, then things turn out to be pretty fun, as you strategize with them on how to build your region into a superpower.  Or you can get unlucky and get stuck with people who will make things far more difficult than they have to be.  But one must take the good with the bad in a multiplayer game.  Sometimes you just have to put up with trolls.

And that’s why SimCity isn’t quite a multiplayer game. It’s more multi-regional.  You don’t need other people, you need their land.  It’s all about multiple regions cooperating together to provide their own cities with what they need.  But if you want to be a loner than it’s possible.  Simply create your own private region and manage all your cities by your lonesome.  Of course that means still being online, so you might as well socialize with others.

Gsameplay, well if you’ve played one SimCity than you’ve played them all. So the gameplay is pretty familiar.  However, I will say that things are streamlined in SimCity making life a lot easier.  All the details from sewage to electricity use are shown to you in graph form.  The graphs are color coded and really simple to understand.  And I can’t tell you how happy I am that they removed the need to place power lines.  Instead once you start making roads the lines are automatically added. Everything else however, all the control is left to you.

That isn’t to say that SimCity is perfect because it isn’t.  Remember even though I mentioned that the server issue has almost been completely resolved, there are still bugs.  But since this is a Maxis game, that shouldn’t be a surprise.  Of course if you’ve been enjoying the Sims 3 (and all the stuff/expansions) then you should know those games come buggy.  The patches to fix them are buggy and more often than not you’ll end up relying on mods to fix them.  While I’m not sure if the modding community will be stepping in with SimCity, Maxis is releasing patches meant to fix some of the bigger problems. For example, cities not showing when people log in, and trading between regions sometimes not working.  Of course Maxis is on this, and hopefully the patches coming out will fix the issues.

In the end, I really like SimCity. You’re constantly learning and growing along your city.  There’s a lot of trial and error, but the game doesn’t penalize you for it.  Every new city you start benefits from the knowledge you gained from your old one.  You’ll never be able to say that you’ve mastered the game, because as in real life, in a city something always goes wrong.  I know that some people have complained on the lack of an in-game guide.  But I didn’t mind it.  I like the fact that SimCity doesn’t hold your hand.  Instead if throws you in on a plot of land and let’s you go.  There is a tutorial but it’s not about guiding you. It’s about letting you create your city.  And so I did.  And I haven’t looked back.  Maxis did what they had to do.  They got me to forget all the anger I had built.  Instead when people ask me what I think about SimCity, I can honestly say… I really like that game.

(Note: SimCity was reviewed after 10 hours of gameplay on the PC.  This copy was purchased by the reviewer.)

It’s been a week since SimCity launched, but it’s only now that people can actually get a full feel of what the game is supposed to be. Unfortunately the launch problems, including the servers going down and the bugs kept a lot of people angry at EA, Maxis and SimCity itself. The always-on DRM requirement did not win SimCity any fans, as people couldn’t help but compare the launch to that of Diablo 3. However unlike Blizzards disaster, SimCity does have a lot going for it. Enough to cleanse the palate, and force naysayers into giving the game a fair shot.

Review Overview

Graphics - 9
Gameplay - 8
Multiplayer - 8


Intuitive Gamplay

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Ms. Barthelemy has mastered all there is to know about the space time continuum and frequently spends way to much time debating why the official Zelda timeline is wrong, because it is. She also spends way too much time building houses and awesome kingdoms in the Sims 3 and is dedicating her life to creating Skyrim. When she's not wasting her precious youth she spends time bonding with friends and family watching all the sports and spamming GRR Martin about finishing the Song of Ice and Fire series even though he might kill a Stark.