6 Overall Score
Presentation: 8/10
Gameplay: 4/10
Lasting Appeal: 5/10

Fun in one or two hour stretches.

Terrible pathfinding and confusing messages

Written by on May 13, 2013 in [, , , , , ]

SimCity is one of those classic, time-sucking franchises that egged me on to play for just another five minutes. Of course, another five minutes easily turned into hours and hours. Knowing this as I write up my SimCity review, I openly admit that there are some fond, rose-colored memories attached to my opinions of this city-building simulation. My only regret is that my bias toward the series doesn’t save the game from criticism.

SimCity came out in March and I’ve put in at least forty hours into more cities than I care to admit. For the most part, the bits that have made the series so good since its 1989 debut are intact in one form or another. As “mayor,” my job was to plan the layout of the city and to manage things like roads and the distribution of water and electricity. While the basic structure of the game hasn’t changed, a few things have. One of these changes is the streamlining of utilities. Instead of having to lay down electrical lines and water pipes separately, they are now tied to roads. Although this level of micromanagement existed in previous versions of SimCity, I welcomed the change.

The single most jarring update is the choice of where I was allowed to build my cities.  Not only was I limited to predetermined square tracts of land, but that tract of land is limited to a specific size. In the beginning, that may not seem like much of a problem.  However, as my city grew, dreams of a sprawling metropolis were quickly dashed. The term “city”tends to conjure images of large New York City-like concrete jungles, but the city size limit made it seem less like a city and more like a big town with urban aspirations. One reason I was able to forgive the small city size was because I still enjoyed all the minutiae of city management. I was able to zone areas for Residential, Commercial or Industrial use. I was able to place municipal services like fire and police stations for proper coverage. Schools educated the citizens and parks helped keep them happy. Occasionally, Sims offered challenges like putting out a certain amount of fires or collecting a certain amount of garbage in return for a cash reward. This offered some diversity in game play outside of pure city-building.

All the while, I used helpful charts to manage the budget and ensure that the city was taking more money in than it was spending. About an hour and a half into building my first city, I discovered that I was able to zoom in and see individual Sims go about their daily lives. All I needed to do was select one and follow him as he went to his job, then make his way home. To my surprise, he didn’t go to the home I saw him leave. Curious. I followed several other Sims with the same result.  As it turns out, a Sim will return to the closest residence to his job.

This is where the SimCity illusion started to unravel because I noticed something similar with the traffic. I had always wondered why I always saw heavy traffic in one section while a another section was virtually barren of cars.  No matter how many high density avenues I built, a given Sim always took the shortest path to  his destination. Basically, laying down wide streets and upgrading them affected the size of buildings along those roads instead of the traffic density traveling on them.

Another glaring flaw is the game’s conflicting alerts. Every so often, for example, a speech bubble will appear from a Sim saying that he can’t find anywhere to shop. Yet, right across the street, another speech bubble will appear from a Sim that’s happy because there’s so much shopping available. Does this mean I should zone for more commercial or not?

Of course regions have their own set of problems.  Evolving from SimCity 4, deals for things like electricity and sewage treatment can be struck between cities within a region. As cities mature, they can contribute to a region’s Great Work, the equivalent of a Wonder of the World, such as a Solar Farm to power all regional cities or an Arcology to house all its residents. Sounds great on paper,doesn’t it? All of it would be awesome if it wasn’t for the terrible lag.  Although the game requires an online connection to EA servers, I’m not sure if it’s lag on their servers or if it’s a problem with the programming.  Whatever the case, the lag is there. I would gift Simoleans from one city to another, but the receiving city didn’t register the gift until after several in-game days. The same lag exists when trying to transfer anything from one city to another, be it police services or garbage collection.

As an admitted SimCity fanboy, being forced to point out the spots in the game’s shiny coating is especially painful. As much as I love the series, the latest SimCity has strained my ability to forgive its faults. The problems have been so persistent that EA/Maxis has had to temporarily shut off features. At this point, it’s inexcusable that it’s been months since release and things like the region lag are still there. The core city-building simulation is great as long as I’m only playing for an hour or so at a time. However, I can’t recommend SimCity to anyone planning to play any longer than that.


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Author: John Catuira View all posts by

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