SimCity review

  • SimCity’s agent-based system gives the game an incredible visual richness.
  • Things quieten down at night – but as they say, a big city never sleeps.
  • SimCity’s lighting algorithms certainly don’t fail to impress.
Date:22 April 2013 Author: Rogan Louwrens

 

Ten years after the last major SimCity release, Maxis have finally resurrected their beloved city-building franchise.

Those who played the original back in 1989 will appreciate the magnitude of this release. This, we were promised, was to be the SimCity we’d all been waiting for. If you’re in for a little bit of tinkering, you won’t be disappointed. If you were expecting that promise to pan out, though, think again.

In keeping with the grand tradition, you start a city off with a bare patch of land and some startup cash. And right off the bat, it’s evident that Maxis have tightened and streamlined SimCity ’s systems, upgraded the graphics something special, and packed in a whole lot of fresh content.

As you zone your first residential, industrial and commercial areas, you enter gently into the balancing act that is SimCity’s primary challenge: keeping your one-horse town happy (that is to say, profitable), and expanding at a manageable rate into a glossy metropolis.

As your city develops, the game becomes more and more complex; your citizens, initially happy with a bit of trailer park to call home, start clamouring for clinics, fire stations and schools. That garbage dump you put down just any old where? It’s out of space – and it’s polluting the ground, so you’d best not have placed it over an aquifer. SimCity does a grand job of showing you firsthand the long-term headaches that can result from actions that were convenient at the time.

The incredible, whoa-inducing thing about SimCity – and, unfortunately, the thing that turns out to be horribly broken – is the depth of its simulation. According to Maxis, every resource in the city is folded up into an autonomous agent: packets of electricity roam the city looking for a building to power; blobs of sewage do the rounds until they find an outflow pipe, a treatment plant, or a drain to clog; the cars you see are actual virtual cars, carrying virtual people from virtual homes to virtual jobs.

Sound wonderful? It is. When it works. For one, the game’s pathfinding algorithms are a joke. Sims drive about apparently at random – one might circle a block, do three U-turns in a row, then drive halfway across the city only to come back to their starting point. This might not seem like that big a deal, but when a system is built from the lowest level of detail upwards, it’s a huge problem. Sims get stuck in endless traffic jams. They head out looking for work but don’t find it. They walk past a school on their way to a school bus stop to get to school.

It isn’t obvious when you start. But as your city grows, a sort of ghastly force multiplier kicks in and everything starts to fall apart. There is no way of knowing how to fix it, because all your citizens really ought to be in a special home. A patch released near the time of going to press eased some of these issues, but hardly set things straight.

Another feature that should be awesome but ends up being frustrating is regional play, in which resources and burdens are shared between cities. On paper, hooray. In actuality, malicious play and, unforgivably, wayward algorithms can ruin a neighbouring city.

We haven’t even mentioned the woolly mammoth in the room yet: EA’s infamous always-online DRM. In short, all cities, singleplayer or not, are stored on a server; there is no way to play offline. Internet connection giving you hassles? Feel like playing a quick game in the heart of the Amazon? Isn’t that just a shame. EA will no doubt shed a tear for you, then dab at its cheeks with a wad of triple-ply cash.

Basically, SimCity is broken. Fun, but broken. It’ll probably be fixed, but right now it’s hard to recommend. In fact, it’s hard to do anything but suggest boycotting this game until EA relents on its customer-punishing DRM.

Sorry about that.

Have you had a chance to play SimCity yet? If so, let us know your thoughts on the game by posting a User Review below.

If not, watch the SimCity trailer

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