Technical issues overshadow this otherwise competent city building sim
SimCity is a name that can make just about anyone who has played computer games before excited. The previous full installment in the franchise was ten years ago, so the older gamers remember it, and the younger ones hear tales of it. You start with a plot of land, and then you build a city. It is creation at just about its purest form, and the only thing more fun than watching an empty field turn into a thriving metropolis is watching it all fall down. This latest SimCity game captures the essence of that creation, and adds in a few new ideas, largely centered around online play with other people. Some of these ideas work, some do not, and some are just mind boggling. However this is still a SimCity game, it just might not be the one you were expecting.
Allow me to dive straight into the hot topic. This game, much like last year’s Diablo III, features always on DRM, meaning that you must always be connected to EA’s servers to play. And much like Diablo III, since release there have been severe connectivity issues. Since I live in the UK, EA had a few extra days to sort out some of these issues before release, and indeed, the servers seem a lot more stable than the initial launch. There is the occasional problem still though, and obviously, it is very frustrating to not be able to play a game that you have paid for through no fault of your own. Publisher EA and developer Maxis have issued apologies, and insist that they are working to improve performance round the clock. Anyone who bought the game will also be granted a free EA game after March 18th. It is likely that soon servers will be stable for anyone who wants to play. It is just a shame that these problems came so close to ruining everything for a game that, under the surface of all these issues, is still pretty good.
The mechanics have been slightly simplified from previous games. Power, water, sewage and so on now flow underground beneath roads, so you do not have to worry about them. There are three separate zones for you to take advantage of. Residential zones are where your Sims will live. Commercial is where they will shop, and they will go to work in industrial zones. You map out these zones along roads, and buildings will start appearing within them. In order to make your city grow, you will need to increase the wealth and land value. Placing parks and amenities like police stations and hospitals will keep your Sims happy, and they will start to upgrade their homes. To keep up with higher density buildings like apartment blocks and skyscrapers, you will need to be upgrading your roads to accommodate.
With such a huge focus on roads, it is a shame that the road tool is not perfect. It will sometimes inexplicably not let you place a road, even though it seems like there is enough space. It is also very picky about allowing you to place roads near to existing buildings. There are handy grid lines which show you how best to place your roads in order to allow for maximum density. However, this only ever leads to boring, gridded cities. There is a curved road tool, and I did manage to make a successful city without resorting to straight lines everywhere, but in the end there was just not enough room for all of my buildings to develop. Speaking of room, there is simply not enough of it. When you begin a game, you choose a region, with a number of plots of lands which you can start to build on. These plots are not randomly generated; there is level design at work here, which all ties into the multiplayer aspect that I will discuss later. The cities you can build must be confined within these small square areas, and you are not allowed outside the boundaries by even a pixel. This leads to strange situations where you can have a massive skyscraper right next to an open plain of grass. Then, not far away, another city begins. It looks very strange, and you cannot help but feel you are being deprived of all this extra land that you are unable to build on.