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Publisher: Aspyr Media    Genre: Simulation
Min OS X: 10.2    CPU: G3 @ 500 MHz    RAM: 256 MB    Hard Disk: 1024 MB    Graphics: 32 MB VRAM

SimCity 4
July 29, 2003 | Karen Halloran

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SimCity spawned a host of imitators, several sequels and established at least one genre on its release in 1989. The latest version of the definitive city builder, SimCity 4, made its appearance on the PC earlier this year, and was ported to the Mac by i5works and published by Aspyr.

I suspect that I am exactly the kind of player that EA was hoping would pick up the title, a longtime player of The Sims interested in giving this newest version of SimCity a shot. My experiences so far have left me with mixed feelings about the game.

Game play: Think locally, act omnipotent
The concept is so simple it’s brilliant: build and manage a city from the ground up. The bulk of this civic work will be done in Mayor Mode, but there is also a God Mode and a My Sim mode at your disposal. God Mode allows you to shape the land in your city’s area however you see fit, and My Sim mode allows you to import your Sims from your The Sims game (or a selection of provided Sims if you have none) for a street level look at life in the city. The interface, taking its cues from The Sims, now puts most features in a fold-out lower-left corner control panel and other tools along the left-hand side of the screen. A new and welcome addition to SimCity game play is that of regions which are divided into many plots of land for potential city locations, enabling the players to establish different types of communities on one region map to strike deals and share resources.

While city construction and management is a concept almost anyone can relate to, the actual simulation is very complex. There are essentially three types of tenant that can occupy your city, with various subgroups within each type: residential, commercial and industrial; and three economic tiers of low, middle and high. Understanding and manipulating these factors is the key to success, but this is easier said than done. Although there is no set goal for SimCity, strictly speaking, if there was one it would have to be to keep your city making enough money to keep expanding while providing enough civil services to keep your Sims reasonably safe and contented.

Both the manual and the tutorials will leave any newcomer to the franchise with a serious problem: neither one gives much information on how to play the game. The tutorial and manual show you what you can do in the game, but they give no clue as to what the game looks to the player as a civic engineer or provide any insight into the simulation and its decision-making processes. With a game of the size, scope and complexity of SimCity this presents a serious problem. It actually does seem that the tutorials are more centered on new features for SimCity veterans but even then they only scratch the surface.

Features that would have made the game more accessible to new players, such as difficulty levels, are curiously absent from SimCity 4. When a new city is established, there is little room for experimentation – you will immediately start at a deficit and dig into your starting Simoelons (the game’s currency) month by month. The only real time available for experimentation is while this money holds out, and all but the most experienced players will end up having to take at least one of the deals the game offers your city for additional income to avoid going broke (the only way the game can theoretically end is if the city goes over 100,000 Simoleons in debt and the “mayor” is impeached), such as a rent-paying federal penitentiary or missile silo. I found this lack of wiggle room discouraging.


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