Review: SimCity (PC)

Developer: Maxis
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Genre: City Building/Management Simulation
Release Date: 03/05/2013

(Note: This review is about the launch version of SimCity; subsequent patches are not addressed)

One of my brothers once belonged to a computer club in the 1980s. This club was dedicated to the Amiga (Only the Amiga Makes it Possible) and one of the big scoops they came across was a soon to be released game named: SimCity. I fell in love with that game nearly twenty-five years ago (1989). Soon “Sim” branded games were being churned out, but SimCity captured my heart. Can the rebooted franchise from the EA controlled Maxis live up to the franchise’s legacy, or is this another The Sims brand extension?

You are the mayor of a town and are tasked with making the town grow. To this end, you control zoning, road building, industrial concerns and most every other aspect of general city establishment one can think of off the top of their heads. That’s the story, more or less. Bribes, coke-filled orgies, gambling debts and dead hookers are not involved… or so they say. Basically, you write your own story – mine usually involved the aforementioned things.

Maxis spent quite a bit of time making and modeling Sims to live in your city. The cars, trucks, Sims, trains, weather, tornadoes and meteors come alive with fury and lively colors. Color is the name of the game as zoning depends on the classic green for residential, blue for commercial and yellow for industrial. In addition to those color coded jewels, levels of happiness, utilities coverage, density and a myriad of other charts need colors only modern computers can provide! Actually, more numbers shown in a better way would do wonders instead of graphs, charts and colors. SimCity can be pretty, but rendering all these items takes away from the best part of SimCity – running a city!

I hate Simlish or what ever the name of their dumb language is and I am glad I can mute things. The music is ok; nothing to write home about. Ambient noise and sirens from appropriate services help the atmosphere. You won’t miss anything if you decide to listen to music though.

(I have one thing I have to get off my chest immediately: allow me to change servers after I log into one. Having to exit out to pick a new server is rather annoying. Now then, let’s start the show.)

Let me tell you the tale, or tales to be honest. The very first city I built was known as Fun Town. I found the need to connect to the big freeway a tad annoying, mainly due to the limited size of cities. When you begin the game, you’ll see a cut along the dashes style white outline (or a really poor chalk outline if you want to be morbid). That is the entirely of space you get to build your city on. Nevermind that some of it may be mountainous or comprised of water. No, you only get this much land and must connect to this arbitrarily placed large road before you can begin.

Hindered by a this bottleneck solo opening, and restrained by a rather annoying land limitation, I dropped my power plant and sewer pipe in the corner I could reach cheapest. See, since there are different road options, you have to watch your beginning dollar amount carefully. Spend too much on roads that can be upgraded those that can handle a massive amount of traffic? You’ll be skint in no time. Try to take the cheap route? You’ll be uber congested. What a great plan! Another choke point decision early in your city’s life is that no one has even moved in and you’re already having to adjust plans for congestion and population.

Oh, and the sewage? It pollutes the ground (of course), which has consequences. You see, you also have to take care of water. Unlike previous SimCity games, you don’t have to lay down power lines or water lines. However, your water supply can become polluted easily, meaning that you’ll eventually have to found your water supplies in different places until you can upgrade to a water treatment plant. You’re beholden to the water table so, not only do you have to make sure your sewer is far away from folks (so they won’t complain about the stink), you also have to judge whether or not you can afford the loss of the available water underneath the pipes. You’ll eventually suck the water dry and lower the amount you gain. Therefore if you pollute precious aqua, you’re screwing yourself over (kind of like how you did by buying this game… but more on that in a bit).

As I expanded my cities to the limits allowed, I found the need to be online to save (coupled with the lack of an undo button), led to either leaving not well enough alone or bulldozing entire city blocks. ****** City was ravaged, left in shambles because one block needed to have better roads thanks to massive congestion. Essential services could not save lives, stop crime or fight fires thanks to little old ******** running to the Asbestos Pajama plant to get factory rejects. I get that some features always need online gameplay (supposedly), but full on punishment like this does no one any good. This is so frustrating, especially to perfectionists who want well laid out roads but end up with a mess due to a snap point messing up.

As my solo play went on, I found that the budget just didn’t keep up with the pricey features folks wanted. Why did my city, ****** City on **** Island (along with its sister city Pound Town), need so many police officers just because gambling happened to be its main source of income? Sure, I get that gambling attracts ne’er-do-wells, but my casinos actually sucked. They rarely brought in cash. Later, I learned casinos must be placed near the entrances of your city, or else they won’t get traffic.

The aggressive usage of land, coupled with the amount of land you have, makes pre-planning so important. You can’t just expand, expand, expand – you have to take into consideration just where you are expanding, as well as what you are going to do once you are able to build new, better facilities. For instance – my sewage pipe made a large section of Hookertown a brown mess (two dimes gets you a lot in Hookertown), but when I built a sewage treatment plant, I was told they weren’t necessary. I ‘dozed them (all the cool kidz say ‘dozed) and placed more industry there. I had to save a large chunk of land, in advanced, to make sure I had room for the plant. I couldn’t have it near my Sims (whose primary form of entertainment seemed to be protesting outside City Hall). Oh no, these Sims are too good for poop smell. Hoity-toity bunch of namby pambies! Instead, I placed it close, but not too close, to my new water treatment facility. This bordered my train station and new, higher class casino. This was my third or fourth game and I finally learned that I will be stuck having figure out a way to process poop without disturbing the precious Sims who wander about like nincompoops everywhere. While somewhat enjoyable, this means you can build yourself into a corner rather easily.

The control set up is fine, with pictograms instead of words and representations of the buildings listed. This helps when you need to see all the new goodies that become available once your Town Hall expands. Once you expand your Town Hall, you can build additions and unlock new, better utilities and civil services. Upgraded facilities would have been fantastic for Hookertown if, at the time of my multiplayer, they were shared amongst the players. Each building has four upgrade slots and, by not having sharing enabled, I was forced to use all of mine on what was tantamount to necessary infrastructure. Instead of working on taxes, I had to get transportation and emergency services. My Sims would not get educated either, since the other two upgrades were already spoken for.

The UI is clean, self explanatory and perfectly functional. It’s everything else that crumbles due to ineffective game parameters. At launch, EA had six or seven servers, I forget. Why do I forget? Because I couldn’t get into any of them unless it was between midnight and 4am Pacific Standard Time!. This always on requirement basically prevented me from playing the game. I had to wait for ages to be able to go in and try the damnable thing.

There are Achievements (aka the Chlamydia that has overtaken all of gaming), but I can’t be arsed to look them up. There’s a screenshot of them. Man, this game sapped my will to live. I played it as an automatic action. I wonder if Will Wright is done with game creation after the Spore debacle? So much promise, so much crap. I hate this. I thought Fight Club was bad, but I expected that game (for the original Xbox) to be a heaping pile of rubbish. This is SimCity. This is a game series that made city planning fun. I wanted to have fun… I wanted fun! GIMME FUN YOU DAFT BASTARDS!

Ahem… I was all set to write a humorous look at SimCity, but this game made me hate Maxis. Even The Sims couldn’t do that. Thanks EA/Maxis! You guys are awful and I hope you get double hemorrhoids.

While there are a myriad of stories to be told in the SimCity, most of them end the same: being unable to pick up where you left off or being disconnected from your game. Time and time again did **** City, **** Island, and Giveupville try to soldier on in the face of constant interruption. None of them pressed on.
The thing is, I wanted to play more. I put in upwards of twenty hours to give this game a fair shake. There were times where I felt there could be something more in this game. There are possibilities – new cities to build, new regions to try. You can specialize in something different the next time around or use a different street layout. All of this goes out the window when you’re prevented from playing due to server load or having to always have an internet connection. Sometimes you have to restart because of a disaster wiping out hours of work.
Why would you want to keep on going when you’re getting your head shoved in the toilet. Either you’re a co-dependent or into some water closet play. I’m not judging, I’m just saying that I’m not with you on either count.

One minute you’re seeing a budget surplus and folks are happy. The next, you’re suddenly losing people and traffic is a monster. Trying to find the sweet spot in making sure every need is met can be fun when there’s more transparency. In SimCity, you just have to go by what you’re told and believe your actions will placate the masses.

When you build a casino town, you’re going to find out that crime will constantly outstrip your police unless you devote a bloated amount of your budget to police coverage. Fires? Those are caused by dumb Sims who don’t know how not to start fires. You’re going to need to get them educated so they won’t play with matches (seriously).

How is it balanced that the basic idea of “not starting fires” isn’t an inborn trait in most Sims? Why are there thousands of workers but only a fraction of them have jobs? (This was later surmised to be the work of phantom sims beefing up the population count).

SimCity gives you an idea of how to make sure all your plates are spinning well, but then tosses that out the window at some points. The game feels undercooked.

The idea of regional hubs with cities specializing adds a new twist to SimCity… in theory. In practice, the times I played multi-player, the perks of different cities did not become available to their region mates. The Great Works and specialization options are intriguing. There are some good ideas here, but the execution… yeah…

There are elements of SimCity that lead one to believe they’ll be playing for quite some time. The promise of open-endedness that is assumed with the series is one. The other is the possibilities opened up for multiplayer experiences. However, in its current state, SimCity is too broken to do anything other than break any spell possibly cast on a player. Server disconnects, regional sharing not working, traffic AI issues – they all work against giving the game another chance. SimCity is the bath salts of video games. You may get hooked, but eventually someone’s face is going to be eaten.

scivSimCity veterans will be turned off by the small city size and always on DRM requirement… oh and constant disconnects. New players may be turned confused by the entire concept… and the constant disconnects. Players on the fence can be left wanting by the constant disconnects. In essence – EA made a game that has universally no appeal. There’s just not enough good to outweigh the bad when it comes to playing this game.

The botched release really hurt this game, and it isn’t as if this game had much going in its favor. It took me ages to be able to even play the damn thing, only to get booted off the server and stuck waiting for twenty minutes. The inane, have to wait to bypass tutorial that tries to start on every server, the utter lack of foresight into the launch, the nanny state against players disguised and lauded as “multi-player features”, the DLC that could be had if you bought the Special Super Ultra Limited Amazing Hyper Fighting featuring Virtua edition 2 with Matching Service edition even though there was already a digital deluxe edition.

More and more of EA/Maxis’s lies have been exposed. You can read more about them all across the Internet (I recommend Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s amazing coverage). Basically, if EA said it, it probably was a lie. The continued existence of The Sims bringing elements of that game along for the ride… the list can go on but really, this is a giant steaming heap of feces.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Lies, damned lies, and pre-order hype. SimCity 2013 is a game that could have been fun, but is pretty much digitized poop with apologists (both paid robots and Maxis talking heads) saying this was their vision. I don’t think any studio sets out to make the worst game ever… except for Color Dreams. Avoid this game until it hits the bargain bin.



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