|Min OS X: 10.8.5|
Mac OS X: 10.8.5 |†CPU: 1.8 GHz Intel Mac | RAM: 4 GB | HD Space: 7 GB | Graphics: 512 MB - ATI Radeon HD 4670, NVIDIA GeForce GT 330M, Intel HD Graphics 4000
SimCity 4? Yes, you read that correctly, SimCity 4 (SC4). But SimCity 4 was released in 2003, why are you reviewing it now?, I hear you cry. Well, itís complicated. You may have heard that Electronic Arts, owner of Maxis, SimCityís original developer, released a new SimCity last year. It was not received with acclaim. And after a fiasco of a launch on Windows, Mac users waited months, months after its announced release date on the Mac, and heard nothing from EA. Finally it was released on the Mac, and the launch was another fiasco and the game was not received with much acclaim, including by this reviewer. But EA stuck to its guns, insisting this was the version of SimCity we wanted, and while they made some tweaks addressing some of the most egregious failings of the game, it seemed this was what we were stuck with.
So imagine everyoneís surprise when SimCity 4 appeared suddenly on the Mac App Store this April (itís also available on Steam). One explanation, perhaps the main explanation, is that this version was released by Aspyr, not EA, who perhaps saw an opportunity to cash in on frustrations with the new version by rejiggering SC4 to run on modern Macs and releasing it at a lower cost; bonus feature: this version includes the Rush Hour expansion pack as well. So if you, like me, were frustrated and annoyed by the ďnewĒ SimCity, is this the SimCity youíve been searching for? Read on.
If youíve played SimCity (SC) in any version, SC4ís basic gameplay elements should be familiar. You start with some land, create zones for residential, commercial and industrial buildings, provide power and roads, and sit back and watch your sims move in. Obviously thatís only the beginning; youíre the mayor of your city, and are expected to provide all the other amenities your pesky citizens, or sims, demand: schools, fire & police protection, parks, etc. And sadly, you do not have an unending supply of money to provide these things. How do you get more money? Thatís right, itís the government, so you get most of your money through property taxes. Balancing tax rates and providing services is your main job.
Both the interface and the gameplay in SC4 have been tweaked from previous versions, in my opinion mostly for the better. You have somewhat more fine-grained control over the types of zones you create, and better access to the data you need to make those zoning decisions. SimCity 3000 simplified some elements of gameplay, in particular the laying of electrical wires from zone to zone, and that is carried over into SC4. Providing water through pumping stations is similarly easier than in earlier versions. And unlike EAís SimCity, you still have the ability to mold the land to your desires before you actually start your city; you can even add animals. You can do this to a lesser and more expensive degree after you start your city, also as in previous versions. While the interface and number of places to look for things to build and data to examine can be daunting for new users, once you get used to it it's relatively easy to find what you need. And all that stuff makes for a more realistic and, to me, fun experience.
To help figure all this out, SC4 starts you in a region with a series of tutorials, which are useful both for newbies and for those interested in just finding out whatís different. This version also includes the Rush Hour expansion pack, which allows you to drive or fly around your city to get a Sims-eye view of whatís going on, along with a tutorial to go with it. You are also provided with a set of blank regions, with each region carved into a set of smaller blocks for city building. This allows you to choose your preferred terrain and size, and as mentioned above you can still sculpt that block to look the way you want. A nice feature here is an option, once youíre done sculpting, to have the edges auto-sculpted to match the adjoining blocks.
In addition to taxes, another way you can raise money is through agreements with neighboring cities. In previous versions, as long as you built a road, sea or rail connection to these adjoining blocks deals would automatically be offered. Now, you actually have to build a city in those blocks and connect them up. (This was taken to its logical conclusion in EAís version, which practically requires you to build multiple cities.) The upside is that this allows you to mold complementary cities, so that one produces what the other needs. The downside is that it makes it difficult to concentrate on just building the one fabulous city that you want. Itís more realistic in a way, but for me takes away some of the fun; I was always a one big city kind of builder, and that doesnít work as well in this version.
All in all, SC4 is an excellent addition to the franchise. I still like SC2000 the best; I felt that the game balance in SC3000 shifted to making it too difficult to build a profitable city. In SC4, it feels like the game may have been rebalanced a bit to make it easier to build a self-sustaining city, although you still have to keep an eye on your budget and keep the game running in its fastest mode if youíre doing any kind of sustained building. You also have three difficulty options when you start, so itís up to you how easy or difficult you make it on yourself (I made it middling difficult).