It's been a month and then some since SimCity was launched, bringing players the immeasurable joy of broken servers, missing features and general unplayability. Whilst receiving glowing pre-release reviews, SimCity was undeniably a wreck.
Players were infuriated with EA and Maxis' choice of having an always online requirement for a game that had always been a single-player focused experience, a decision that unsurprisingly led to the massive problems players encountered at launch day. Servers were crippled by the "unexpected" strain put on them by the tsunami of players trying to log in at once, and the few that managed to get past that initial stage found starting a game nigh impossible, and even if they were so lucky as to get to the stage were they could start building, the servers would buckle under the pressure, erasing their cities.
But now, after a multitude of patches and the restoration of most of the missing features, is SimCity the brilliant simulator described by those pre-release reviews or does it remain the train wreck encountered at launch?
A typical game starts you off in an empty square plot of land with a small avenue to begin laying down roads from. As soon as the you have put down that first stretch of road the game unlocks the zoning tools used to designate where your sims should build their housing and businesses. The rush of seeing your first buildings spring into existence is exhilarating and the GlassBox engine does a marvelous job of rendering the incredible amount of detail in the game, especially evident when zooming down to street level.
Before long you will have to start providing your city with necessities such as water and electricity, and later on services such as fire protection and law enforcement. In a departure from SimCity 4, you cannot tune the amount of funding each department receives to scale it to your city's needs, instead each service building costs a fixed amount which is deducted hourly. This can put massive strain on your city's budget if you are not careful, or do not have a wealthy neighboring city to lend a hand.
The game also offers a wide variety of ways to specialize the growth of your city. Investing heavily in industry sees huge profits but massive pollution and safety hazards. Going deep into gambling sees similar profits but your city's crime rate will shoot through the roof.
Some of the specializations seem to have little to no drawbacks such as tourism, while requiring a massive investment to begin with will very quickly start paying off, if you can keep luring tourists to the city. You can also forego these elements and set your own goals, such as educating your sims or going for the highest population density you can manage. This is all highly enjoyable and even surpasses its predecessors in some areas, and then you run out of space.
SimCity 4 offered the choice between tiny regions only suitable for the smallest of towns to colossal expanses of land fit for a metropolis, which can take days to fill. You'll reach the borders of your playing field in a few hours in SimCity 2013. But the simulation itself does not seem to take the limited space into account. Your sims will constantly badger you with cries for more housing, more workplaces, more shopping, which you are unable to give them. While the game offers the choice of placing curved roads, doing so makes no sense when the small space you are given to build upon is taken into account. This leads to cities only having the option to be completely rectangular in design if space is to be used at maximum efficiency, stifling creativity.
Your city utilities and services will also inevitably be unable to accommodate your needs. This leaves you with the choice of bulldozing existing buildings, which will serve only to create new problems such as slashing your income, or starting a new city, and neither is a very attractive option for those wanting to focus on a single city. This is where SimCity's limitations become painfully evident.
Your game is regularly saved on the EA/Maxis cloud servers as opposed to your hard drive, meaning there is no loading to a previous point in your game to avoid a mistake or re-specialize. The days of dropping disasters on your city for fun or trying out new strategies and reloading to a previous point when things go south are gone. Your choices are permanent.
But this is not the extent of SimCity's problems; the simulation itself is fundamentally flawed in more ways than one. For example, the sims in your city do not have a fixed place of work or home, meaning that each day they will run around finding a suitable job according to their skill set and at the end of the day they will flock to find the nearest home with available space. This breaks the immersion and is bizarre to witness. Traffic also behaves in very strange ways. The sims will most often choose the shortest route available instead of the most efficient one, which is not that far from reality but when offered with a huge empty avenue which will expedite their journey quite a bit, they will still choose the completely clogged dirt road if it offers a shorter path. If faced with multiple fires in your city, fire engines will often all swarm a single location in unison, leaving your city to burn as they choke traffic.
Traffic problems are also exacerbated by the fact that each city will only have one or two road connections to the region it's placed in, creating chokepoints that will in some cases bring traffic to a complete standstill when population starts to rise. Almost everything in SimCity depends on traffic running smoothly, and unless you are content with keeping your city small and preventing growth, it will inevitably become a draining chore to try to anticipate the traffic AI's shortcomings.
If you manage to avoid these problems, the game is still pretty good. Seeing small buildings evolve over time to towering skyscrapers is as fun as it has ever been, and watching the lifecycle of your sims is totally fascinating, even if it tends to make no sense at times. In conclusion SimCity is flawed, but beneath its sizable amount of problems is a highly enjoyable game.
|We liked Deep customization, impressive level of detail & addictive early game|
|We disliked Always online requirement, broken mechanics & frustrating end game|