Mac OS X: 10.7.5 |†CPU: 2 GHz Dual Core Intel | RAM: 2 GB | HD Space: 12 GB | Graphics: (ATI): Radeon HD 2400 XT; (NVIDIA): GeForce 9600M GT; Intel HD Graphics 3000
Letís just get this out of the way first. Everyone say it with me: ďSimCity 2000 (SC2000) was the best SimCity (SC) ever.Ē Whew, I feel better now, and we can move on to the business at hand. If youíre reading this review, you probably know something about the SimCity franchise: its groundbreaking start, its steady decline, and the hope that was greeted with the announcement that Maxis, its originator, was taking it back and completely reworking it to bring it back to its roots. And then the growing concerns as pieces of gameplay began leaking: small city sizes, a focus on multiplayer, always online requirement, that Electronic Arts (EA) was still in charge. And then the fiasco of its release for Windows: crashed servers, people unable to play, EAís seemingly cluelessness that this game was going to be popular. And for Mac users, it got worse from there: missed deadlines, lack of communication from EA, and shockingly to some (though not to me) another botched launch.
But all this is not to slam the game as some have done, but to put it behind us so that we can focus on the game itself. And also to admit my bias that SC2000 was superior to its sequels. But, as I believe Roger Ebert once said, the role of the reviewer is to review the movie that was made, not the movie the reviewer wish was made. So with SimCity, I will do my best to review the game that was made, not the game I wish was made, except where this is relevant to the game that was in fact made.
So to avoid having to get into too much nitty gritty, Iím going to assume you know something of how the game works: you start with an empty plot of land, you create zones for residential, commercial and industrial buildings, build roads, provide power, and your Sims start to move in and build. As your city grows, and to keep it growing, you provide all the resources and amenities necessary to create a flourishing city, or your city doesnít grow. You act as the mayor in all this, although a somewhat all powerful one most of the time. In this sense, the new version works much like previous versions. And despite what some reviewers have said, I didnít find these basics to be all that different from previous versions, although the interface has certainly changed.
And continuing the trend of franchise reboots, some things are also simplified. You no longer have to run power lines or water pipes, and when you zone your areas, you donít have to decide whether to zone for low, medium or high density, but more on that later. Another change is with police and fire services: formerly when, for instance, a fire broke out you had to deploy your fire engines. Now fires are automatically responded to and crime is investigated; the efficiency with which this is done is based on how much youíve spent on fire trucks and police cars and where youíve put them, not how fast you can click your units to the correct spot.
On the negative side in simplification, you have significantly fewer options when you start your city. Gone is the ability to adjust mountains, trees and water, or any such adjustments. You have a small set of basic terrain types to start from, you pick one, and you start. I, as many before and after me, enjoyed creating particular types of scenarios, whether it was modeled on an actual city or to fit a vision I wanted to create, but alas, no more. Oh, and as this is an EA/Origin game, you can of course buy additional content such as actual cities and other items for your gameplay.
As before, you have advisors who will help guide you and your sims will also let you know when they like or dislike something. Again, in this sense, the game has a familiar feel with some things simplified, some things improved, and more options for certain items to add to your city, such as parks and cultural buildings. Now you also have challenges, which you can accept or not, and if you succeed you get different rewards: sometimes money, sometimes unlocking new options for things to put in your city to help it continue to grow. (Free advice, donít agree to the private fireworks show.)
So to this point I was fine with the game, a new version that seemed to take care of some of the problems that had crept in, updated the graphics and added some potentially fun gameplay elements. But all is not rosy for me, even when it comes to the basic gameplay. Zone density and value seem to largely go hand in hand now, so as your zones increase in density they get more valuable, or vice versa. This is not 100% true, but seems to be the way the game is biased. And for residential zones, you basically increase the density by putting in higher quality parks and cultural items near your residential zones while making sure the basics are still being seen to. As someone who is interested in urban design and what makes cities succeed or fail, I have a basic problem with this vision. Realistically, you want a mix of low, medium and high density zone, and in previous versions you could have a successful city like that. But in this SimCity to get the most our of your limited city size (more on that later) you need to increase the land value and thus density. Success is generally getting your zones advanced to high density. I have a problem with this, but I think I know why it is this way, and again, the reason isnít good.
Here We Go
You may have read that the cities in the new SimCity are almost insanely small, and this is true. I suspect this is one reason you need to get as much of your city as possible to high density to succeed and unlock bigger and better rewards. And why are your cities so small? Because EA decided that if you wanted to play SimCity, you wanted to use multiplayer. The other thing that is required for success in the new SC is for you to connect to the other cities in your region. So let me backtrack a little. When you select your city type at the very beginning, youíre really selecting a region type, and each region has several different cities and additional spots where you can build Wonders (once you advance far enough). So when you start your city, youíre supposed to have opened up your region to allow other online players to claim some of the other cities in your region. And as you play there are opportunities for cities to help each other out, and your sims will even commute to other cities if the job or schooling prospects are better.
Now you can, if you want, decline this multiplayer option, but then youíll need to claim at least some of those other cities in your region and build them. Because, again, if you want to unlock all the options, youíll need to work with other cities as different places have different resources that need to be moved back and forth. So the small cities are a function of the game forcing you to play multiplayer. Which still doesnít get you a bigger city, but it kind of gets you the illusion of one, maybe. But personally, I just want to build the best city I can, large or small. SimCity was one of the first God games, giving you total control over your creations. Now you are only one of a pantheon of Gods, and you must share your domain. I and many others consider this a major step backward, and the small city sizes severely limit my enjoyment of the game.
Oh, and as youíve probably heard, because itís an Origin game, you have to be constantly connected to the Internet.
So I find this new version a mix of good and bad, and not as bad as I expected from reading the early reviews from players on Windows. I do feel the designers succeeded in getting the game back to its glory days of gameplay and I found the basic balance much better than in later versions where it was difficult to succeed before you went broke. It felt in many ways like the old SimCity Ö until I filled up my city and ran up against the multiplayer requirement before I could move forward. If youíve read my other reviews, you know I donít do multiplayer, though I had to give it a shot here. I appreciate that itís biased towards cooperative multiplayer rather than competitive, but still, just let me build a big city, goshdarnit.