With the SimCity server disaster thankfully behind us, we can now bring you our review. It’s been a decade since the SimCity series has seen a new addition, and this new entry adds more than just a few new streets. The folks at Maxis have expanded on everything that made the original games great, but of course, nothing here is perfect. Just how are times in the simulated city?
SimCity does exactly what you want it to: it lets you simulate a city. You’re in control of street design, zoning, service placement, budgeting – anything you could possibly need to make City, USA into a booming metropolis. There is a frankly incredible amount of bells and whistles to tweak, and they only grow in complexity as your city expands.
Streets and zoning are the blueprints for any SimCity settlement. You can lay out straight, curved, and elliptical streets, and you can choose from everything between small dirt roads to massive multi-lane avenues. With a skeleton of streets laid out, you can zone residential, commercial, and industry areas. These work in a fashion similar to rock-paper-scissors, and it can be a challenge to keep enough citizens for full employment, and vice versa. Fortunately, it’s a fun challenge. You’re never just sitting around waiting for your city to progress: active adjustments keep your economy going.
Every building in SimCity uses its share of power, water, and sewage, and balancing these three is just as important as zoning. Getting power to buildings means business can happen, getting water to homes means people can live there, and keeping sewage flowing prevents a turd tsunami from blasting through town. Constructing a city hall will allow finer tweaks to all of these, and it’s the key to keeping an expanding city satisfied. With a city hall, you can balance your budget, adjust taxes, and unlock more objects for building. As city hall expands, so do the game’s mechanics. This is the largest plus for the game: the more you get into it, the more you have to do. You’ll want to build city after city to try out every facility.
Along the same lines, adding police stations, garbage dumps, fire stations, and hospitals keep a city running, and running safely. Mass transit and parks keep citizens moving and give them places to appreciate their hometown. As expected, these can be expanded and upgraded like every other part of the city. You’ll encounter and unlock disasters as well, and these throw an array of proverbial wrenches into the mix. Earthquakes and tornadoes are just two of the bad, bad things that can happen to the city, but you need some sort of antagonist, right? They’re rare enough that keeping citizens happy and financially sound will be the only real thing in SimCity keeping you on your toes.
Let’s talk about the most apparent change to the series: regions. Past SimCity games gave you a plot of land and challenged you to build a sprawl. Here, you begin by choosing a land region with multiple locations up for grabs. Some areas are mountainous; some are beautiful series of islands. Once you choose a region, you’ll have to claim a plot of land to actually build on. Every plot has different resources, and these change the driving force behind your city’s economy. Up to three cities can be claimed in a region, and trade and commerce are available between them. You can trade goods, volunteer services, and exchange tourists between cities in a region to mutually boost economies. Also available are Great Works, extremely costly – and extremely rewarding – facilities that sit outside the city limits. It takes a lot of research, resources, and purchases to make a Great Works happen, but once placed, they become a catalyst to every city in the region.
More importantly, the region system defines the online aspect of SimCity. Players can log into others’ regions and help them on a city, or even start another to interact with the original. It’s rewarding to send extra ambulances or cop cars to your buddy’s city to keep his people safe, and it’s just as fun to hoard all the goods for yourself to get on his nerves. Leader boards, achievements, and built-in screen capture features add competition to the largely cooperative side of the game.
Unfortunately, the same region system that makes online functionality fun is the biggest detractor from single-player gaming. Maxis replaced the ability to sprawl out your cities to crazy degrees with smaller cities in a region. The relationship between cities is great, yes, but it detracts from the individual establishments. You’ll constantly feel like there is nowhere to expand, because there isn’t. City limits feel too small, and the urge to keep expanding just can’t be satisfied.
For the first game in ten years, SimCity does brings a lot of good to the table. It’s an incredibly deep simulator with continuously growing mechanics, and the more you play, the more you give yourself to do. Rather than completing a checklist and being done with the game, you get a feeling of needing to add more and more to said checklist. That’s a perfect definition for replay value. Unfortunately, the game’s biggest change is also the game’s biggest negative: the region system adds a few cool mechanics while taking away a massive chunk of what made the original games great. Regardless, you won’t find a better city simulator out there right now. It’s in the name, after all.
A Note from Tony Wilson, Reviews Editor:
We chose not to incorporate the early SimCity server issues into our review of this title. For reasons why, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the meantime, we thank you for your continued visitation and readership support.