After 10 years of waiting, the latest sequel in the greatest city building franchise ever is finally here. But was it worth the wait?
Firstly, I need to make it clear. I, so far, have had no problems with SimCity’s always-online requirement. After an initial 30 minute update, the game has run incredibly smoothly: I haven’t been kicked from a server, had connection issues, or had to wait over 2 hours to play a single game (as many other players have unfortunately experienced). It pains me to say this all, because I think an always-online single-player game is a terrible idea. Why should we have to log in to play on our own? What’s more baffling is that a portion of the game runs off the SimCity servers. This means that, in 6 or 7 years time when they shut down the servers, we can no longer play the game. It’s been 10 years since SimCity 4 was released and even now I often re-install it to get my city management kick!
This is made all the more painful because SimCity is actually a really good game. SimCity has taken all the detail and nuance from SimCity 4, doubled it, and then made the interface so easy to use that anybody can play. I spent over 20 minutes on my first play-through just sifting through all the different overlays you can view your city through. The ‘land density’ overlay pops huge cuboids of red, green and in-between across your city, telling you where your buildings are most population efficient. A quick look at the sewage overlay shows gloops of poop sifting underneath your roads, sometimes getting blocked in dense crossroads and at the sewage outlet. Whenever I place a power station, I quickly jump to the electricity overlay to just listen to the beautiful ‘ting’ sound when a house starts receiving electricity. These overlays are one of the best parts of the game: not only are they helpful and interesting, but they are also incredibly satisfying to watch.
…The level of detail is astonishing…
And, believe me, you will need those overlays. There is an incredible amount of detail in SimCity, with every resident having their own life: they go to work, have desires, aspirations about where they want to work, if they catch a cold they can pass it on to somebody else… The level of detail is astonishing. But by having everything visible to the player, instead of behind some obscure graph, the game becomes much more accessible. In previous games, if people weren’t doing their jobs I would have to check a crime rate graph, check the education graphs and the public transportation graphs. In SimCity, I just have to look at the huge traffic jam due to my stadium holding a dirt bike competition. Every problem feels tangible and, most importantly, solvable.
That is, of course, when the game is working. There have been a few times when people have just flat out refused to go to work, or school for that matter. At one stage I was being bombarded with complaints that my schools were full and that I should invest in higher levels of education. To combat this, I built a high school and a university, which nobody seemed to want to attend. It’s small bugs like this that can prove game breaking down the line. If I don’t get higher educated citizens, the city won’t build advanced factories, without advanced factories, I can’t start the Silicon-Valley-type city specialisation. All because my citizens can’t be bothered to go to school.
…it rarely delivers a satisfying experience…
This is not the only issue with the game. Map sizes are incredibly small, with no option to go larger. I personally think this is a limitation with the technology rather than a conscious design decision, it’s right around the time when your city starts to gain momentum that you find you’ve hit the map’s boundaries. In addition, the game promotes co-operation with other players but it rarely delivers a satisfying experience.
For example, if I build a power plant and my team-mate builds lots of water pumps, theoretically we are supposed to share our resources so that we don’t have to build excess pumps and plants. However, it never feels like enough and one city can rarely satisfy it’s own needs let alone others. I often found myself having to build everything because even though my team-mate had an excellent water supply, it just didn’t seem to help me. This leads to everybody building everything for themselves, which is essentially everybody just sitting in a room playing a single-player game.
…I found myself playing for 7 hours straight…
But, even with these problems, I found myself playing for 7 hours straight. SimCity is a great game, and once it’s had its bugs fixed it will be fantastic. If you liked SimCity 4, you will love SimCity. Just be sure to play it before they turn off the servers!