Review: SimCity (2013)

City building simulator SimCity is one of the most beloved PC franchises of all time. Almost every gamer remembers SimCity 2000 with a kind of fondness and attachment that most game developers can only dream of. And now EA has gone and squandered it.

NameCity planning simulator: SimCity (2013)
Summary:A great game that's marred by its always-online DRM.
Games Info:Developer: Maxis; Publisher: EA
Classification:Not rated
Platform:PC, Mac
Test Platform:PC

City building simulator SimCity is one of the most beloved PC franchises of all time. Almost every gamer remembers SimCity 2000 with a kind of fondness and attachment that most game developers can only dream of. And now EA has gone and squandered it.

The launch of SimCity has been thoroughly marred by server issues resulting from its always-online system. People, myself included, have been unable to connect to a server at all, and have been disconnected or lost progress when they have managed to get online. Those server issues have mostly been ironed out at the time of writing, a week after its initial US release, but that doesn't excuse the fact that the game didn't work at launch.

It's a shame, because underneath the awful DRM is a great game. Despite being unable to log in sometimes, despite my cities being repeatedly rolled back, and despite some of the multiplayer features not working the way they should, I have already sunk many, many hours into the game.

When you start a new city in SimCity, you first get to choose a region. That region will have a number of different plots of land you can claim, ranging from two to 16. You can pick one, then have your friends pick another one, or just make your game public so that anyone can join in and create a city.

Once you've claimed a plot of land, you have to create a road going from the highway that connects cities in the region, zone some residential land, and away you go.

The space allocated to your city is much smaller than in previous SimCity games, partly because you're supposed to interact with other places in the region, and partly because you're supposed to expand differently - upwards, rather than outwards. As such, it's important to start with low density roads, which allow for only low density buildings, and gradually upgrade them to grow your city as demand for higher density increases. Some people won't be happy with that, and I don't blame them - it would at least be nice to have some choice with regards to how big your map is, even if a larger map was single-player only.

There's another key factor to consider when expanding your city: wealth. At the start of the game most of your citizens will be poor, but later on you need citizens with varying levels of wealth, because those citizens do different kinds of jobs. Buildings that provide public services like police stations, schools, and parks increase the land value surrounding them and attract wealthier citizens. Wealthier citizens pay more taxes, but expect high standards of living in return.

But you don't have to build every public service yourself - not if you have a friend. With a little bit of help you can get your city up to code a lot faster. Need power but can't afford a power plant? No problem, just buy electricity from your neighbour. Got plenty of water and extra ambulances? Earn extra money by sending your services to your friend. Your friend can even gift you money, if you really need it, and if you're very good at working together you might eventually be able to build a great work in the region at a hefty cost of 1 million Simoleans.

If you want to really micromanage your city, you have unlock different features that will allow you to do that. If you want to control taxes for different wealth brackets, you're going to need a department of finance. For a department of finance, you're going to need an upgraded city hall. For a city hall... well, you get the point. You have to prioritise - you might have to wait to build a train system because you're having sewage problems and a department of utilities is more pressing than a department of tourism.

Most buildings can be edited after they're placed on the map, so rather than building two police stations you can just extend your existing one. Of course, you need room around your police station to expand, so often you'll have to knock down industrial, commercial or residential buildings, which will temporarily reduce your income from tax.

While levels of complexity have been added in many areas, a lot of features have also been simplified - mostly for the better. Once you place a power plant, power flows along the roads, so you no longer have to worry about setting up power lines. Buildings can only be built along roads, so everything is powered.

One simplification I don't like, however, is the removal of terraforming. There is some natural terraforming - the shape of the land will change slightly if you place a building on a hill - but there's no 'God mode' where you can build up or break down land as you wish. Many maps have steep inclines that make it more difficult to build roads and keep them congestion-free when residents have to use them to get to work.

SimCity will be a great game when all the server issues have been sorted out, but it seems like the always-on DRM has succeeded not in deterring pirates, but in annoying paying customers and ruining the reputation of a beloved brand. Buy this game in a month and you'll likely have loads of fun, but given that I haven't been able to access one of my cities for days because the server has been full, I can't recommend it highly.

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Tags gaminggamesMaxissimcityEA

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Siobhan Keogh

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