A city building game most known for its catastrophic launch.
Let’s discuss the city-sized elephant in the room – SimCity’s DRM. The need for an always-on internet connection to play this latest incarnation of SimCity from Maxis was much lamented in the run up to the launch. When the game actually launched, the fears of many gamers were proved to be true as the EA servers struggled rather spectacularly to cope with the number of players wanting to start creating and running their own city. The launch in America was embarrassing, but in the three days that followed before the European launch, it seems that very little was done to improve the situation, so when the game launched here it was almost impossible to play. In fact, I spent that first weekend swearing profusely at my computer. Things are much improved now, and it would seem that EA have realised what a mess they made as they plan to offer a free game to those who were struggling in the early days of SimCity. But this always-on internet connection has consequences beyond the initial launch day woes.
It is often commented that the world now is totally connected. Frankly, that is utter rubbish. The reality is that we all want it to be connected, but have to put up with inconsistent connections all of the time. When I journey into London on train, it takes about an hour and a half, which would be the perfect time to play some SimCity on my laptop. But thanks to a slow connection coupled with constant drops, that is just not possible. SimCity is a game that players will sink hours and hours into, but being told when and where you can play it reduces the appeal.
Another result of the always-on connection is one that players will have to look into the future to see. The game requires EA servers, but what happens when EA decide to turn the servers off, because they are not financially worthwhile. Sure, we may be looking a long way into the future here, but it will happen and when you consider SimCity is the type of game that people will want to play for years and years, it doesn’t look good.
I understand that EA and Maxis want to prevent their product from being pirated, and I can also understand that being constantly connected to the servers bring certain benefits when it comes to the social and multiplayer side of the game. But players should have been given the choice. I fear that the new SimCity will lose as many veteran players as it gains newcomers as a result. Which is a shame as the new SimCity is a damn good game.
It always starts the same. Your fledgling city needs a road to connect it with the big, wide world. So you build a road. Then you have to zone for residential, commercial or industrial. This involves basically assigning a use to a certain area alongside a road. Once you have done this, little people will come along and start building houses, stores or factories. Then the city will scream out for utilities – water, power, sewage disposal and garbage collections. Fair enough, a small water tower, a wind farm, a sewage outlet pipe and a city dump will do the job, at least initially. By now, your little city should be making some money. The residents go to work at the factories or shops, the shops sell stuff made in the factories to the residents. It all runs quite smoothly.
But then the city starts screaming out for more stuff – Police, healthcare, a fire station, education, more power, buses, more jobs, more workers. Pollution will start raising its ugly head. Fires will break out, unemployed Sims will turn to crime. Some may leave because there are not enough jobs, the crime levels are too high, its too germy or because they want more shops.
The you will start running out of room as the city play areas are small compared with those of the old Sim City games. Start upgrading the roads to allow for more traffic density, and the little houses will become apartment buildings, factories will expand and you will be able to squeeze more in.
Choices will have to be made all through the game, and the incredible amount of work that is going on behind the scenes in your city will ensure that each choice has an effect. Maybe your city has oil beneath it, or maybe you want to make your money by trading, or encouraging tourism? City specialisation will allow you to do this, giving further choice when it comes to how you make your city successful. Build a casino, an Expo centre, a coal mine or other specialist buildings that will take up room in your already too small city. Players will find themselves wanting to do everything within their city, but being a jack of all trades will lead to ruin.
Which is what makes the introduction of regional play so satisfying. Players can now run multiple cities within a given region, either alone or with other players, and actually share resources. Not enough money to expand your clinic and build a hospital? Maybe a neighboring city can provide some additional healthcare. Can’t quite dispose of all that garbage your city is generating? I am sure that someone else can take it off your hands. Playing alone with multiple cities requires amazing foresight, or just plain luck, to plan ahead and know exactly what you want your cities to do. Playing with others requires an understanding for a region to be a success, which is entirely dependent on who you are playing with.
Success within a region will lead to building a “Great Work”, an area within the region that will hopefully benefit all. These Great Works require an abundance of not only Simoleons, but also resources, making them something to aim for in the long term…
SimCity has the power to pull you in and make hours disappear. There is always something to aim for, something to work towards or some disaster waiting to happen. Money is a big motivator, trying to save up for that next big project that will make your city go down in the history books as “awesome”, so a lot of time will be spent waiting for the cash to roll in, resisting the temptation to add another set of Police cars to deal with the overwhelming crime in your city. Leave the city rolling along while you make that important trip to the shops before loved ones just give up on you, only to return and find your city being crushed by a giant lizard. It happened to me, and reminded me never to leave the city again. Well, not while it is running.
The new SimCity is much more trimmed, much more inviting, much more intuitive than previous games. As with many games over the years, it has become much more user friendly to invite new players, those who may have been scared over by the overly complex mechanics of previous titles. It may hold your hand, it may limit the scope of your imagination, but the gameplay is tight and leaves you wanting to learn how to create the perfect city, rather than just crossing your fingers and hoping for the best. Veteran Sim City players may find the changes difficult to adjust to, but the complexity is there to be found, just in a different form to what it was before.
The always-on internet connection is, in my mind, a mistake. But the game is now flowing smoothly and can be enjoyed by everyone – which seems to be what the new SimCity is all about. The difficulty curve is such that almost anyone can play the game, and the beautiful new look will ensure that it is never boring. There may have been a few dodgy choices by Maxis in the development of the game, but the end result, once you give it a chance, is a living, breathing world in which you are in charge. Whilst the choices you make within the game can all be questioned, the choice to buy SimCity is a no-brainer. Do it now!