By now you've probably heard of all the connectivity problems surrounding SimCity that ruined the launch of the game stateside. Well thankfully the EU launch was a bit of a different affair. At midnight on March 8th my download of Maxis' latest title went live on EA's controversial digital distribution service, Origin, and took roughly an hour to download the 4gb required to play the game. Once ready, I then booted up a European server and was gliding through well paced tutorial, that shows you the ins and outs of being a mayor in this lovely looking city simulator.
SimCity is officially the sixth title in the long running series, yet often referred to as SimCity 5 around the Internet due to SimCity Societies releasing in 2007 to pretty much tepid reviews. Societies was the first game in the series to be handled by someone other than Maxis itself and we just don't talk about SimCity Societies. Just no. The last Maxis and seriously enjoyable SimCity title was way back in a era before HD consoles, before Peter Kay was waxing lyrical about Garlic Bread, a time way before the Assassin's Creed series - 2003.
Onwards and upwards to the modern era, the general idea and goal of the game stays pretty much on a par with previous titles; Create a thriving metropolis that your residents love to inhabit and others enjoy to visit. How you go about achieving this is up to you. And this time round the world is at your fingertips with a slew of new and shiny features for you to develop your virtual little haven.
The main SimCity gameplay mostly revolves around 6 main tools in every game. Roads, Zones, Utilities, 'Ploppable' buildings and city beautification. Roads allow your sims to move around the city, there's single file dirt tracks, all the way up to 6 lane highway styles that allow for high density development. Zones are for designating building space along the roads and as with previous titles in the series, split into three types; Homes and apartments are planned using the green Residential zone, shops and businesses with the blue Commercial zone and factories are handled with the yellow Industrial zones. Along the path to the ultimate sprawling megacity you'll have to keep up with the needs of your fellow sims. Just like you and me, Sims require the usual services to go about their daily routine. Power, clean water, rubbish disposal and a competent sewage service. Make sure you keep tabs on the sewage system, as backed up pipes mean swimming pool amounts of Sim-poop will soon be flowing around the streets of your once thriving township, causing anger and sickness across the land.
SimCity's ploppable buildings are just as important as the others mentioned above, included in this section are some of the things that make your city a little more unique when compared to your friends lots. Police, Fire Departments and Medical clinics are all vital in order to keep your sims happy. As you increase in size, the low tech industrial and the more power-hungry power plants will cause large amounts of air pollution, increasing sickness and ultimately creating widespread unhappiness. Unhappiness slows city growth and expansion, meaning that the dream of owning that fancy Mayor's Mansion you've been working towards will slowly be slipping away, it's all connected. Lastly, City Beautification, which is relatively simple, yet shouldn't be considered an afterthought. Sims require a little downtime, somewhere to relax with the kids or walk the virtual canine, therefore placing parks and little avenues close to the residential zones and commercial area will keep the population pleased while increasing the general land value of your zones. This, in turn, will attract wealthier Sims to flock to your area. Simple!
The attention to detail in SimCity borders on incredible. The inhouse created 'GlassBox' engine allows the player to view and maneuver around like never before with excellent animations whether you're viewing at ground level or watching afar from the skies. SimCity is filled to the brim with little added features that make the whole time spent with the game a supremely enjoyable experience. Buildings all have a unique look to them meaning you'll never have a city full of the same generic building types. From the moment you place your zones, to the eventual skyscrapers of the Residential and Commercial zones, the animation is a joy to watch. Foundations are planted, scaffolding goes up, cranes and workers busy away at creating the new home for your new community. When a fire spreads, fire trucks race to the scene and fire fighters organise the scene and effectively battle the situation as a news helicopter films the action from above. It's all quite easy to get lost within the living, connected nature of the city.
That said, SimCity isn't without it's problems or annoyances. Each city size is limited to a surprisingly small 2 kilometer square, which when compared to the past games, just isn't nearly enough. Problems arise from this situation after you've quickly filled the entire space and the Zone advisor continues to badger you about creating more residential, commercial or industrial zones. Another slight problem is with the AI, after a recent spate of fires in the city I decided to follow the Fire service around. I had 5 fire engines available in the region and instead of sending one engine to one fire, the AI decided it would be a better choice to send all 5 to one house and let three other houses perish in a blaze of odd disappointment.
When it comes to connection problems, Origin only hampered my game play once in the entire time reviewing the game and the team should be commended for the round the clock updates and the amount of incredible abuse they've had to endure over the last week. EA's biggest PC exclusive in sometime, SimCity, is utterly engrossing and a joy to play. I've managed to rack up an excessive amount hours of game time since the game released last Friday, it's one of those unique titles that when you're not playing it, you're thinking about playing, improving and future plans.
Words by Colin Gallacher.
(Version Tested: PC)
- Unquiely addictive gameplay
- Incredible attention to detail
- "I'll play just a little longer.."
- Continuing online upset
- Silly AI actions
- Small city sizes