Reviewing SimCity is a rough gig. Not because there’s anything wrong with the game, far from it. Rather SimCity is a beast of a game that won’t reach its full potential until it’s been out in the wild for a little while post-release. The mechanisms in place to dynamically default you into cooperatively living with other players is a gem of a direction for the franchise, and half the time you don’t even realise you’re doing it.
I had the luxury of sharing my review space with GameArena’s Joab Gilroy, and in any other circumstance, we’d potentially be working to destroy one another’s game, however, here, it’s simply not a conducive idea. And the rewards for helping your neighbours and thusly growing your region are too great to ignore. But it’s all a slow burn, and that’s why it’s difficult to come away with any real criticism of the game beyond a handful of factors that jumped out at me over the course of my play period.
Actually, I’ll get those out of the way first, because there’s a chance that slow burn I mentioned before, and the need for the game to be out and about for a while, will make these moot points. But initially, in the main game proper, I had issue with the grad size of your city’s stake in the land. The ides is, obviously, to grow your city up, rather than out, but doing so will take a while, and because we were pressed for time, exploring this was a difficult task. And, depending on what you want your city to focus on, it can take quite a while for you to be earning enough Simoleans to really bolster your various Zones.
The genius here is the balance act you’ll wind up playing throughout your experience. It’s nothing new to SimCity as a franchise, and maybe it’s just that it’s been a few years since I put on my city planner hat on, but it just felt impressively tight in my time with the game. It’s also as addictive as ever and the family man in me is worrying about the final retail drop of the game for its time-sink factor alone.
From a structural point of view, similarly to setting up your Civilization play-space, SimCity gives you options relating to resources, land and water-space, weather and more. How you specialise your city then depends on the type of player you are. You can create a pretty city, or a functioning Superman-like Metropolis. You can even build a city that creates all the pollution you could want, and then sell all of its industry components to cleaner cities, but how this will work once in the hands of the region-sharing masses, will remain to be seen.
For a massively complex game the UI is amazingly understated. You’ll quickly learn how to turn information on or off without a second thought and managing your systems becomes second nature once you’re in the swing of things. The barriers at play are also interesting in choice, but leave much up to the player to build from, rather than exploit. For example, you can take out three bond loans at two different prices with repayments spread across time, but you can also pay them off when you like, however, take out all three loans and continue to piss your funds away with no real return and everything will go to ruin.
Visually it’s also a sight to behold. You’re not going to be breaking your machine running it, but for what needs to be displayed, the art team has done a bang-up job. You can zoom right in and hover the cursor over any of the Sims living in your hood. They’ll give you ideas about what they’d like from your city, or just say something funny and redundant. It’s also awesome watching your city get to a critical point where growth is smashing through, and everyone is happy. Turning the speed up to Cheetah and watching car lights buzz about the place while the city’s life turns with time is a thing of beauty, but there’s also fun and love to be had in destruction and decay. And again, you can make all the wrong decisions, if you like. Just think about all the experiments you ever did with any version of The Sims and you’ll understand the potential for disaster here.
And obviously one of the most alluring factors of any SimCity game is the disaster potential. At least of the natural and not so natural kind. Over the course of my review period I was hit with alien abductions, twice, but nothing else. My neighbour, Job, however, was on a massive unlucky streak, copping everything from meteorites to Godzilla.
What all of this tells you is very little. And that’s the problem with this review but not the problem with the game. What SimCity offers is so much potential for so much expanded and persistent gameplay that its mindboggling. All I can actively offer you is what the game offers you upon firing up, and in that sense it’s a fricking addictive affair. The game paces its information at you incredibly well, and the UI and information overlays are complex but easy to understand and navigate. The more you use them, the more you learn and the better your city will become as a result. The sharing potential between cities and the co-op that stems from such a rewarding system is going to be one of the strongest and most compelling components to this release. For me, the real magic in SimCity is going to be how the community builds and reacts to all of the awesomeness on offer.
What SimCity becomes at the hands of its legions of users is going to be an incredibly rewarding and rich experience, that much is sure, I just hope it doesn’t break up any homes of families in its addictive wake. Highly recommended.