A new “SimCity” was long overdue. “SimCity 4” was released back in 2003 and “SimCity Societies”, while a great game, was too casual to satisfy my need to run things like a know-it-all with delusions of grandeur. I had reservations about getting this game, mainly due to the trouble I’ve had with EA’s Origin system as of late. My account was locked in some sort of weird loop that was somehow signed up to Origin but wasn’t, though it may have had something to do with the seventy or so IDs that plagued it from games dating back to 2004. Trying to contact EA was even more difficult, as I just didn’t have “two hours” to wait around to talk to someone on their support chat. Creating a new Origin press account for my website seemed to do the trick…a fresh start as it were, but I digress. “SimCity”…let’s take the plunge shall we?
A SimCity Primer
There’s a good chance that if you’re reading this review, that you’re already familiar with the “SimCity” universe and how it functions. For the benefit of those who have never touched “SimCity” in their lifetime, I’ll briefly touch on how “SimCity” games generally function and what the gameplay is like. Experienced vets may want to skip this part.
The idea behind any “SimCity” game is to grow a booming, successful city. To do that, you’ll need to attract residents, businesses, and industries…all three of which you can zone for on the playing field. The demand for these three things change over time, so it’s important to pay attention to the RCI (residential, commercial, industrial) meter to see what you should be focusing on. In theory, you could stop there and just let your sims live in the stone age, but that just wouldn’t be very fun now would it?
These three zones requires a variety of different services: power, water, education, police, fire, garbage, recreation, and etc. Some services benefit certain zones more than others…schools, for example, are better placed next to residential areas. All of these services cost money and trying to find the balance between serving your sims’ needs without going bankrupt is always a challenge. Traffic is also a very real thing, as bad infrastructure can cripple even the best of intentions.
As more “SimCity” games were released, more features became added. Water sources required pipes to run underneath the zones, electricity needed power lines to reach the zones you wanted to power, and the multiple cities you created could be connected so that services could be bought or sold between them. A lot of things have changed since “SimCity 4”, which finally brings us to the review.
The Main Menu & Multiplayer
The main menu is where it all starts, so let’s begin with that. If this is your first time playing, you’ll be offered to participate in a tutorial scenario to help show you around the interface. It’s recommended that you do so if you’re new to the game, though it won’t teach you everything you’ll need to know to make your city a success. That is done through hours and hours of trial and error. Players will be able to create a new game, join a game, or resume where they left off in one of their saved cities.
Before I go any further, it’s important to note that this “SimCity” is the very first one to incorporate multiplayer. Players will be able to join public regions and build up a city there alongside the cities their friends are creating. With this in mind, players will be able to create a game, pick a region, and decide whether or not it will be public or private. Regions that are public show up under the “join a game” list. Alternatively, you can invite friends to join your public region. Before you ask, yes, cities can be abandoned and regions & cities can be named.
I’m glad that I have the option to make regions private, but I dislike the always online DRM requirement. I remember when I could buy a game, install it anywhere I wanted, and play it anywhere I wanted. On the other hand, I find the concept of one city directly affecting another in the same region intriguing. If one of my friends built a backwater, smog-ridden city that attracted every degenerate on the planet on my public region, then my city would also be affected in various ways no matter how successful I was. Luckily, you’ll have multiple regions to choose from when creating a game, each containing a different number of free spots in which to construct a city. Those who have played “The Sims 3” will recognize the layout fairly quickly.
One final note on this subject…you can’t load a previous game state. The game is, after all, an always online service. Your decisions will stick with you, even if you were having a bad day and decided to reign unholy terror on your Sims by way of the disaster menu. A sandbox mode is available to make your life a bit easier, taking the sting out of such decisions.
Creating a New City & Placing Zones/Buildings
When you pick a region, you’ll be presented with a number of sites capable of supporting a city. If this is your first time playing, they’ll all be blank. Once you pick one of the predefined areas, the view will change and you’ll be presented with a boatload of options via a slick interface. You’ll be able to construct new things and keep an eye on how your city is progressing all along the bottom of the screen. It’s a lot to take in at once…I personally took some time to just browse all of the buttons to see what everything did.
Like in the previous games of the series, you’ll be able to build residential, commercial, and industrial zones to bring people into your city and generate an income. Unlike “SimCity 4”, you won’t be able to designate the density. Buildings improve automatically based on the services that they may be receiving. Plopping zones down is incredibly easy and automatically wrap around roads as appropriate.
Some buildings require a more hands-on approach and you’ll have to place them manually, but doing so is also very easy. What’s more, some buildings allow you to add onto them, increasing various aspects of the services that they provide. You can add more wind generators to a wind power plant or add a helicopter pad to your police station, for example. These upgrades are expensive, but increase the service quality and/or area that they cover.
Utilities and Services
Utilities are handled a bit differently this time around. Roads now provide the source in which water and electricity travel. This is a welcome change from “SimCity 4”, as building underground pipes for water transit often became cumbersome. Waste is for the most part the same, as you’ll need to find an out of the way location for your landfills and etc. or simply export your garbage to another city.
Services come in many different forms, albeit familiar ones. You’ll have police and fire departments available to help quell crime and disasters, medical facilities and schools available to see to the needs of your sims’ health and education, and a variety of different transportation options available to help get your sims from Point A to Point B. New to this particular “SimCity” are government buildings, which allow you to control taxes, grant special permits to other vital services, and provide an outlet for your sims to complain.
Managing Approval Rating, Budget, & Demands
Your Sims won’t sit by and allow their wants and needs to go unfulfilled. They’re going to complain, and you might as well accept that now. The game comes with some handy graphs to help you see which needs are being neglected and how the general population feels about your rule.
You can take out loans should you need to, or simply raise taxes on either the residential, commercial, or industrial side of things. If you’re low on a particular resource that none of your cities in a region provide, you’ll be able to buy some from a global market. Likewise, you can export resources to the global market that are in demand for a nice bit of cash.
Sims can also be followed as they trek through the city, allowing you to see what drives them and what problems they experience while they try to live their lives. Thought bubbles will appear above their heads regularly, giving you an idea on whether or not you’re doing OK in regards to running things. Green bubbles are obviously what you’ll want to see on a regular basis, and orange and red bubbles provide neutral and negative thoughts, respectively. White thought bubbles propose some sort of request that you can accept or decline…think of them as side quests.
I was most excited by this feature, as it allows players to give their cities a particular image. In previous “SimCity” games, you generated revenue primarily by way of taxes. Taxes came from residential, commercial, and industrial buildings. While you’ll still be earning tax money, you’ll be able to earn income in other ways by way of city specializations.
The type of specialization you might choose for a city could depend on a number of things. If your city is near a railway, for example, then tourism might be the way to go. A tourism focused city can attract outsiders with landmarks, casinos, culture, and etc. On the other hand, you can fund your coffers by mining natural resources and trading them for cash. You can even manufacture electronics by utilizing plastics and alloys from your recycling efforts. In the end, it’s up to you on how you want to run things in your city/cities. Want all of your cities in the region to be infested with criminals? No problem! Build a ton of casinos with little to no police support and watch your town crumble under crime and corruption.
I normally don’t purchase sixty dollar games, but in this case, I made an exception. “SimCity” games have always been appealing to me and I’ve always thought them to be a fantastic sandbox to play in from time to time. I like being able to try out different layouts and strategies to see what works and what doesn’t…”SimCity” turned out to be no different.
It’s fun, easy to play, and difficult to master. Modern day technology has made some aspects of “SimCity” much easier to manage…and easier to manage makes me a happy camper. The game drew me in, much like its predecessors did. I wasn’t crazy about the whole idea that someone could create a city on my region, so I’m glad to see that I can be as private or social as I want to be.
City map sizes are a bit on the small side, which may upset some who enjoyed the freedom of building huge metropolises in “SimCity 4”. DLC is available via the Origin store, but is overpriced in my opinion. The inability to save and reload previous states will turn some off as well. Disasters can only be turned off in sandbox mode, which can be annoying. I’m still not thrilled about Origin and I would like to be able to play offline, but in the grand scheme of things, “SimCity” is fun enough to where I can overlook these faults.
Is it worth the sixty dollar purchase? I’d say yes…especially if you intend to put fifty plus hours into the game. Keep in mind however that this is simply my opinion. Those expecting huge scaling cities and complex game mechanics like in “SimCity 4” may be disappointed. I enjoy “SimCity” for its simplistic depth, a trait I found to be apparent in “SimCity Societies.” It’s a game that I can go into without too much thought, yet still be engaged from the time I start playing it until the time I realize I played throughout the night and have to be at work in two hours. Be warned: you will need an Origin account, regardless of where you purchase the game from. As always, check your PC specs and system requirements before purchasing!
Final Verdict: 7/10
Editor’s Update, 3-8-13: It should be noted that I am finding it very difficult to log on to any server. EA has admittedly reported that they are having server issues and apparently don’t have enough to meet demand. Since regions and cities are specific to a particular server (like characters are in MMORPGs), switching to another server means that you won’t have access to your creations. At the present time, there are a lot of frustrated customers unable to play the game. Buyer beware.
Editor’s Update, 3-9-13: EA released a statement offering SimCity owners a free game due to the launch issues. You can read the news update I published regarding this here:
Editor’s Update, 3-18-13: EA’s free game offer arrived. You can read the news update I published regarding this here:
You can view general tips and strategies here:
You can check out video play sessions here: