SimCity is available on PC only
You’ve got to hand it to SimCity – some games are a triumph, some are a disaster, but it takes something truly special to be both at the same time. So much has been said about the game’s troubled launch, not least by us, that it’s almost pointless to repeat it. Requiring a constant connection to an online server only works if you have enough servers and they work reliably, otherwise you have a recipe for anger, resentment and confusion. That’s a problem for EA to sort out in the short term, however in the long-term the online focus of SimCity raises other issues, and while these don’t necessarily hobble the game, they do affect the way you have to play it.
Let’s not waste too much time explaining what the game is all about. SimCity is a reboot for the classic city-builder. As the mayor of a would-be metropolis, you lay out the streets, designate zones for residential, industrial and commercial use, and ensure that every service and utility runs like clockwork. That means providing the schools, health, fire and police facilities your people need, while ensuring everything is in place for power and water to flow into the city, and rubbish and sewerage to flow out.
Get it right, and create conditions where your city’s businesses and citizens can thrive, and your city grows and evolves in a positive direction. Get it wrong, and your city stagnates, turns seedy or falls prey to any one of a series of natural or unnatural disasters.
Now, Maxis has got a lot of things spot-on right here. For a start, this is easily the most accessible and streamlined title in the series, kicking off with an excellent tutorial, then helping you out while you’re actually playing the game with some of the best in-game help we’ve ever seen in a complex strategy game.
It’s never been so easy to drag out roads in any shape you like, and a system of superbly-presented, intuitive maps mean it’s never a struggle to see where you should place a water tower, site industrial facilities or work to raise land values. Meanwhile, water and sewerage pipes and electric cables are now placed automatically along with roads, removing some of the more mundane resource management activities entirely from the game.
What’s more, it’s hard not to feel amazed at the detail the game goes into. SimCity no longer simulates traffic or the population en-mass through patterns of behaviour, but does so by controlling the behaviour of millions of agents – everything from Sims driving to work, to water supplies and the efficiency of ambulance services. Zoom into the screen, and you can see the individual Sims wandering around, getting into cars or trains and heading off to their current destination. No city-building game has ever created such a believable, living city as this before.
This detail also makes for a game that’s easy to get into, but satisfyingly challenging to master. Just when you think you’ve got the hang of the basics, it’s time to get to grips with the minutiae of city-planning, improving facilities with cost-effective extensions, adding extra bus-stops to ensure schools can offer maximum coverage, and building more advanced facilities for mass transit, tourism and high-tech industries. SimCity even offers you options to take your city in a specialist direction, allowing you to create your own gambler’s paradise, cultural hotspot or start-up Mecca as you see fit. The more time you put in, the more the game grows in scope and complexity.
Yet it’s always absorbing, always fun. You feel a twinge of pride as your city spreads and prospers, then concern and disappointment as key services fail or citizens start falling sick. Disasters are as much fun as ever, with meteor strikes, tornadoes, earthquakes and even UFO attacks spreading destruction and testing your emergency facilities to their limits. These also do a fantastic job of showing off a brilliant graphics engine, with gleaming skyscrapers torn into chunks and smouldering wreckage all over the shop – make sure you invest in plenty of fire-stations!