It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Riffing on Charles Dickens’ classic aside, Maxis and EA’s delivery of SimCity was truly a tale of two releases.
As you have no doubt seen on social media and around the web, the release of SimCity was fraught with difficulties and controversy. The game’s “always on” feature requiring a persistent Internet connection crippled the initial stack of servers with the shear amount of individuals attempting to play the well-publicized title. By the weekend after the game’s release on March 5th, EA and Maxis had added servers, disabled certain features and tweaked code in order to create a more stable environment. Yes, I had a world of trouble trying to play this game from Tuesday well into Saturday, March 9th. Since then, it has been relatively smooth sailing. For the purposes of this review, I am putting aside those original difficulties and focusing on my experiences within SimCity itself.
Like many other people, SimCity is a part of my formation as a gamer. There is approximately a year of my life in high school where I was engrossed in either the original SimCity or Civilization. Thinking of the original SimCity gives me such nostalgia of zoning areas, building roads and the constant balancing act between implementing pro-actively the beautiful plan in your head and responding re-actively to the many events occurring in the game. This new version of SimCity recreates all those feelings again and expands it into a beautiful, modern, city management simulation.
SimCity is deep. There is no shortage of information. You want to know the land value in a certain area; there is a map for that. You want to see where to drill for oil, coal, ore or water; there is a map for that. You want to know who is being educated and where they live; there’s a map for that also. You can now click on individuals as they walk to work and find out what they are thinking. All of this information is just mere clicks away. The best part of all this is: the UI is so well built that you are never overwhelmed with this information. In fact, you never have to look at those maps if you don’t want to. You can simply wait for your advisors to help you out or you’ll see the town’s prevailing thoughts bubble up on your screen or perhaps you’ll receive a challenge (read: quest) you must complete. You really can see the amount of detail and nuance in the in-game user interface.
This is in complete contrast to the user interface and design of the Main Menu. It is unhelpful and atrocious. Joining a multiplayer game is difficult as there is no way to filter out what game is join-able and which games are full without employing trial and error. It became frustrating to find a game to join, and then when I decided to go solo in a private region, the setup was not simple. A lot of this nonsense could have been avoided with a simple “Quick Join” button.
Once I was finally in a multiplayer game, SimCity’s design really began to shine. As a challenge to myself, I picked up a city someone abandoned that was going bankrupt, was deeply in debt and had astronomical tax rates. I felt completely in control of my own destiny. I began saving money by shutting down some parks and municipal buildings, bulldozing rubbled and abandoned buildings and going into the region to purchase products and services I could not adequately provide to the city myself. Once I began making money, I started lowering taxes to bring in more people and began selling the natural resources my city was producing for a profit on the global market. Now that my city is more under control, I’ve already begun to move forward into refining and smelting my natural resources, as well as outsourcing some of my recycling to my neighbors in the region. In just a couple hours, I had completely turned the lives of the residents of my city around for the better, giving me a sense of self-satisfaction and pride you rarely receive from games.
Overall, SimCity delivers on everything you would want from a city simulation game. It looks great, has more bars, graphs and maps than you can shake a stick at and it immediately sucks you in for hours on end. Of course, the game isn’t perfect. It has some performance issues, some obviously unpolished spots (like the join/create game menus) and it continues to be saddled with this “always on” the internet issue. All these issues and the external drama aside, once you get into the game itself, SimCity provides you with hours of challenging entertainment that will leave you wanting just a little bit longer with the game in order to build the city of your dreams. That is, until a giant lizard attacks and your nuclear power plant melts down.
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