City in the Clouds

The landscape of gaming has changed considerably over the last few years and nowhere is that evolution more obvious than on PC. Widespread adoption of digital distribution systems such as Steam and Origin has pushed the platform into a primarily digital market, but in the process, that’s also made piracy all the more prevalent. Developers have tried countless ways to protect the digital data of their games and protect their title for the fans who willingly pay for the game. Sometimes these systems have drawbacks and sometimes the systems are built to work with the title. Such is the case with the latest installation of the SimCity franchise. The whole world has heard about the drawbacks of the always online functionality of the title, but does that mean there isn’t a good game underneath?

SimCity, as a part of its franchise, operates less like a sequel to earlier games and more as a reboot. It’s a fairly major departure from SimCity 4 in most ways. There’s a new graphical style, a more streamlined set of mechanics, and a change in focus from the creation of a single mega-city to the interaction of a smaller city within a regional scale. The change in focus is where most long-time fans will be caught off-guard. The cities you build will now be able to specialise in their trade, giving them an identity and a purpose within their region. A city with oil under it will be able to drill for the oil, and you’ll end up having to build a series of buildings to handle and manufacture the oil into other products, turning your city into an industrial giant. When you’ve got other players building in your region and everything is running well, this is a great system. Players will end up trading resources and having to work together in order for everyone to get the most out of their city. The downside is that each city on its own is smaller in scale than previous games and you’ll need to be more space-efficient if you want to max out your population or profit. Players who are developing a region solo can still operate several cities, and take advantage of the networking between them, but it’s going to be more work in the long run.

The change in focus is where most long-time fans will be caught off-guard.

The new art design is probably one of the stronger points in SimCity. The typical view of your city almost seems inspired by tilt-shift photography, with the buildings looking realistic in design, but striking in appearance. When you need more information about your city or any of its demographics, you can bring up data maps, which turns your city into an easy-to-read chart, highlighting building and areas with bold colouring. It’s a new way to take the endless streams of data that SimCity generates and relay it to the player in a quick and efficient readout. While this definitely makes it easier to comprehend the data available, there are times when I really wish there was more information on hand. It’s fine to tell me I need to lower my Air Pollution every 10 seconds, but with only a basic tutorial, and nothing to provide more in-depth details about certain stats, I need to turn to other resources to figure out what I’m expected to do.

The one aspect of SimCity that makes it truly unique within the franchise is the multiplayer interactivity. Obviously it’s all fine to create your own city and play by yourself, but having friends building cities locally that you can interact with is what really makes everything fun. Each city is it’s own entity in a way that every player will be struggling with their own hardships, but co-operating with the players around you can make your life infinitely easier and help everyone’s city grow much faster. As I struggled to deal with a severe financial crisis in my city (caused largely by high taxes and overspending by the mayor –That’d be me), my neighbour was under attack by a Godzilla-like monster, leaving a section of their city in pieces and destroying their local police station. Luckily I could cover the crime in their region for a while as I had a strong police presence in my city. Changes all throughout the region can affect each and every city in both a positive and negative way.

It’s a twist that makes you think on a scale beyond your city limits.

SimCity is a game that seems to be somewhat at odds with itself. While the game itself probably isn’t going to change the minds of those who weren’t interested in ‘Sim’ games to begin with, it’s streamlined style isn’t going to satisfy some of the current SimCity fanbase. The widespread server issues that everyone has heard of were definitely an issue at launch, but as they begin to clear up, the community aspect of the game is really starting to shine through. As always, SimCity is a truly addictive game and you’ll be playing at it for hours on end, but the smaller scale of individual city plots mean that you’ll often have to run more than a single city, as there’s just not enough space to do everything you’d like to do. SimCity is a great way to waste an afternoon or two, but overall it feels very limited.

Developer: Maxis
Publisher: EA Games
Release: 7th March 2013 (PC)