Review: City Life 2008 (PC)

City Life Edition 2008
Developer: Monte Cristo Multimedia
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Genre: Simulation
Release Date: 07/15/2008
Buy it Here

City Life 2008 is a Sim City style town building game created by Paradox Interactive. Most gamers probably know them for the Europa Universalis series., but readers of DHGF might also remember them as the publisher of titles like Mount & Blade, Supreme Ruler 2020 and Penumbra: Black Plague.

As you can see from the p/reviews linked above, we here at Diehard GameFAN tend to find their games decent, but nothing truly great. The original City Life was released in Feb of 2007 and received decent ratings in both the US and Europe. As a big fan of Sim City who was disappointed with the last summer’s remake for the DS, I was really looking forward to spending some time with this new alternative. How did it hold up?

Let’s Review

1. Story

1. Modes

The game offers three modes. The first is Free Mode. Here you choose from dozens of maps ranging from Cape Town, Africa to Antarctica. Here you pick your map, each with their own hindrances and advantages and you try to make the best city you can. It’s pretty cut and dry. I personally like maps with lake, river, or oceans on them as I looove the waterfront property.

Scenario Mode is next. Here the game lets you pick from several campaigns with a clear goal that you have to achieve. You have to unlock most of these, and as such only a very limited selection is available to start. I’ve never been a fan of scenario modes in Sim City/Earth/etc building games as I prefer to be far more creative that these scenarios allow.

Finally there is editor mode, which oddly enough comes with a warning that it is not supported by Monte Crisco, so don’t call if the game crashes or doesn’t something wrong. That’s a big red flag to me and I was surprised that this warning was in the game. It’s a shame too, as this is the coolest part of the game. You can design your own buildings and maps and even import real locations from actual maps to make new areas!

Really the game’s modes are exactly what you’d find in even the old SNES Sim City which is currently available on the Wii Virtual Console. I hesitate to call it a straight rip off of Electronic Art’s most venerable franchise, but really the only thing new here is the building creator. As cool as that is, the big warning that comes with using it will probably turn off most gamers from ever touching it. Thumbs in the middle here.

Modes Rating: Mediocre

2. Graphics

This is by far the best looking city builder gamer I’ve ever played. You can zoom in amazingly close in on your city and watch things being built or cars and people go along your streets. You also have a little window at the bottom of your screen that will flash anything from news reports to clips of your citizens protest or getting in fights. Again, compared to anything else I’ve seen in this genre, City Life 2008 is light years beyond the competition and it’s stunning game. The game obviously isn’t able to compete with 360 or PS3 games visually, but I was amazed at how good a simulation game could look here.

One of the things I really liked about this game that set it apart from other simulation builders is the fact that you can visually see terrain. The map isn’t just flat. You can make out mountains, brush, trees, and so much more. I was really impressed by the level of detail Monte Cristo put into this game.

You’ll also find a huge variety of buildings in the game, each with their own unique design and look. After playing the gamer for an hour or two, you’ll be able to tell buildings apart just by the size and style of it. You have everything from strip clubs to multiple versions of grocery stores and hospitals.

There can be a bit of slowdown, especially as your city gets larger, but that’s to be expected with all the goings-on in this game. The better your computer, the less noticeable this will be.

Huge props to Monte Cristo on the visuals of this game, as no other city builder has looked this impressive and I doubt we’ll see any real competition for City Life 2008‘s graphics for a long time.

Graphics Rating: Good

3. Sound

Although there is only one real track for City Life 2008, it’s a good for, at least for the first hour it loops back and forth. It’s a well made jaunty little tune that neither distracts nor detracts from the game at hand. It’s just background noise, but I can’t deny how annoying it gets after a while. It would have been nice if there were several musical tracks and you could have picked between them when one started getting stale. Alas, it was not meant to be.

There’s also not a lot of sound effects or other noises in the game. You’ll get a noise when you place something on the map or if something big happens, but the noises are rare and never very impressive.

The audio component of City Life 2008 is easily the weakest area of the game. Just put on a CD, or a movie and use that for your background noise. It’s not really bad here per say, it’s just there is so little put into this aspect of the game I can’t rate it highly.

Sound Rating: Poor

4. Control and Gameplay

The entire game is controlled with your mouse. Use the wheel to zoom in or zoom out on areas, the buttons to make menu selections as to what to build next and move the mouse to examine the map as a whole. It’s pretty cut and dry.

It’s just to bad the game doesn’t play out that way.

First of all, once you select an item to build from a menu, the game doesn’t just let you one click the option away. No, you know have that location attached to your cursor until you go back to the main menu of menus and click it away. This is cumbersome and time consuming, especially when you consider how the game is running in faster than real time.

Next up are mouse issues. Sometimes the game doesn’t respond right away to your mouse movements. Other times it moves with hair trigger sensitivity. What this boils down to is that the game can be a chore to play, rather than an easy, fluid motion. This all goes back to the slowdown factor of the game. The bigger the city that you build, the harder the game is to play because it’s taxing the game.

Gameplay-wise, City Life 2008 is similar to Sim City but with more building choices, things to micromanage, an in-depth access center that lets you look at everything from unemployment rate, to what subcultures controls certain areas. You can see what things citizens are asking for and when things get bad, you can even get reports on dissidents and class riots. It’s very intricate and the deepest city builder I’ve ever played. At times the game is a little too deep, as I really don’t feel you needed to scrutinize the differences between multiple types of grocery store, but for the OCD and anal retentive simulation fan, you will adore this game the second you start to play it.

Actually laying out your town can be a problem though. ALWAYS lay out roads first, then add your buildings. This is because if you try to lay down a building first, the game will include a road with it and it will decided on its own where the road goes, even if the location is totally different from where you want it to be. The game is absolutely horrible in this respect, and I prefer to lay down buildings before the road. Worse yet, at times the game will say there is not enough room for a building where you can bloody well see that there is! Boo-urns. I am still upset that the game forces the road in with the purchase and that you can’t control the road placement with these buildings. This was just a bad design plan and it forces you to try and think many moves ahead of what you want to go where. This is nigh impossible to do as many buildings are unlocked until you reach a certain population level and then you have to contend with new buildings that may just completely change your mind of what goes where.

Aside from these pretty big issues, the game is pretty solid. You need to manage the level of people coming in with the level of industry and businesses so that there is neither a high level of unemployment not a glut of jobs waiting to be filled. You need to keep all six subcultures in line and happy and also ensure every citizen is taking in enough tax money to support everything. It’s pretty intense, and at times there is too much going on to really appreciate all the options open to you, but at least they are here. It’s much like Makai Kingdom, where the game was almost too deep so as to alienate all but the most hardcore fans of the genre.

The gameplay is exceptionally deep and well done, but the controls are pretty horrendous at times, bringing it down to merely okay.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Decent

5. Replayability

As long as you really enjoy this genre and you find fun in making new city designs, this game offers unlimited replayability. I do hate the fact that nearly everything is locked until you reached a specific population number, as I’d like to build say, a small town with a drive-in movie theater as its first industry for example. But I can’t do that due to the limitations put on city building by the game.

Scenarios will no doubt keep you busy for a while if you like those sorts of things, and you keep unlocking new ones the more you play. Free mode again is limited only by the numbers of maps in the game, and remember you can always import new ones. For $29.99, a city builder fan will love this game especially compared to the lackluster Sim City DS which still costs the same amount. This may not be portable but there’s no other city builder out there that offers this much replay value.

Replayability Rating: Unparalleled

6. Balance

This is a hard game to truly judge balance on. After all, it is utterly up to you where you place buildings, roads, nuclear power plants and so on. The only thing the game really does is add all the pieces together and judge with an algorhythm if the city would be successful or not.

The problem is that what the game considers logical or the “correct” way for a city to go, generally flies in the face of reality. You see, in the end, the game judges how well you do based on the six subcultures in the game and how happy you make them. The BIG problem is that the game rewards you for isolation, segregation and gentrification, meaning that the “best” cities are though with heavily isolated ghettos.

The six subcultures are:

A) Blue Collars, which are self explanatory.
B) The Fringe, which are punks, goths, and the like.
C) The Elites, which are the Nouveau riche.
D) The Suits, which are the workaholic white collars.
E) The Radical Chic, which are hipsters.
F) Have-Nots, which are the poor, the downtrodden and the squatters,

The two main groups you will have are the fringe and the blue collars with trickling ins of the others. It gets really weird, because if groups that are too far on the social spectrum from each other interact, they fight, riot, commit arson, and more. I can’t begin to tell you how offended I was at times with how the game rewards you for inadvertent classism, and to a lesser degree, racism. I realize that wasn’t the intent of the development team, but considering when I lived in Minneapolis I was a “Fringe” living in an “Elite” area, it’s kind of creepy that this game implies all my neighbors would have burned my house down and beat the crap out of me.

In the end, I have to invoke Godwin’s law by pointing out that you might as well name your city “Berlin circa 1940” because if you want to do well at the game, you need to oppress the “lesser” subcultures and isolate them from the upper crust.

I suppose it is just as well, you can play as Cape Town South Africa on the game, because then you can have all the segregation you want and you can justify it as “Realistic” rather than “Ooh. I can’t believe the game goes there.”

So that’s my big issue with the game, and it does belong in the balance section, because NO city really isolates their different races and classes to this degree. Yes you’ll have pockets where one ethnic group will be the majority, or a place where housing is worth more than if the same building was build 15 miles down the road, but when my Elites get into a riot and a SWAT team has to be called in because I open a lower class business nearby, well, that’s just screwed up.

So I want to make it clear – I think this is an accident. I DO NOT believe this was intentional on the part of the dev team to make a game that actively insinuates society is better off if you keep to your own income bracket or race. Still, it’s unsettling at times, and although the game is logical for the most part, I have to knock Balance down a bit because of that undercurrent.

Balance: Mediocre

7. Originality

Here is the true Achilles heel of the game. Aside from the nifty building editor and map importer, the entire game is a Sim City clone. granted, it does everything better than the latest version of Sim City, but it is impossible to deny that the game is Sim City in everything but name. It’s akin to how every Madden or Smackdown vs. Raw is basically the same, save for a few new bells and whistles. At least with those those, the game keeps the franchise name intact.

I like the use of the class/subculture system, at least on paper, but from the scenarios to free mode to even how the game plays, it’s obvious City Life 2008 is bereft of any real creativity or originality.

Originality Rating: Dreadful

8. Addictiveness

I generally like city building games, but I can’t deny I never really got into City Life 2008. As soon as I realized there was only two or three methods for properly building a successful city, I was turned off. I also really didn’t like how 75%+ of the items for building had to be unlocked. This meant no matter what, you’d be stuck with a pretty bland city at the beginning and it severely limited your options for building. I see what they were trying to do here, but it really wrecked my enjoyment of the game and stifled my creativity.

Every time I tried a new city, I was bored in less than two hours. That’s a really bad sign for a game in this genre, as they are supposed to really suck you in. Even with all the bells and whistles, I ended up playing the game for the sake of the review rather than having any fun with it.

Addictiveness Rating: Bad

9. Appeal Factor

I think this game is only for hardened city building fans. Do you like Populous so much you play it regularly? Do you own multiple versions of Power Monger? Do you wish they would remake SimEarth? Then this game is probably for you. Most gamers will be turned off the the need to unlock everything and the micro-managing of so many little things. The game will be more work than fun for the majority of gamers, but for those that love this genre, which is few and far between these days, this is going to be a time suck for you.

Appeal Factor Rating: Bad

10. Miscellaneous

Something that brings the game down in my eyes is the fact City Life 2008 uses SecuROM. We all know I’m fanatical about not using ROM’s or emulators, and that I think those that do, especially with new releases are pretty scummy individuals. SecuROM however is an awful piece of technology that tends to royally screw up computers. Yes it protects the game in question from being copied, but who cares when it can kill your ability to play other games, prevents the full play of certain titles that it comes with (!), and the entire Mass Effect debacle. It may seem petty, but Miscellaneous is the category where we cover anything, and any title using SecuROM automatically loses points from me.

Other than this added extra annoyance in a game that is already full of eyebrow raising issues and flaws, the game just isn’t worth the $29.99 price tag. Maybe is Monte Cristo properly supported the editor, or the game didn’t feel like an expanded version of Sim City, I’d be happier with the game. The game is very deep and the bells and whistles blow Sim City out of the water, but those bells and whistles are like a racing strip on your car or headlights that shine a different colour. It doesn’t add meat to the title. it simply adds something else to micromanage.

In the end, you’re left with a decent game that has some great ideas, but the various flaws in the game tend to overshadow the deep gameplay experience.

Miscellaneous Rating: Decent

The Scores
Modes: Mediocre
Graphics: Good
Sound: Poor
Control and Gameplay: Decent
Replayability: Unparalleled
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Dreadful
Addictiveness: Bad
Appeal Factor: Bad
Miscellaneous: Decent

Short Attention Span Summary

Although City Life 2008 is a very deep game, it’s TOO deep. there is too much to manage and the slow pace of the game will keep most gamers from reaching a large city where you can scan in and see all the wackiness thrown into the game. There are some weird issues like with the placement of building and the fact the subculture interaction doesn’t work as it was obviously intended, but if you can overlook these bits that I couldn’t, you probably able to appreciate how deep the game is. Is it worth $29.99 though? Certainly not to me.



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