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Sim City Review: Smaller On the Inside

By: Michael Dao

This review of Sim City will cover the state of the game as it is two weeks after its release when the server issues which the game became known for have been sorted out. I feel that it is important to acknowledge the issues that were present in the days following the release of the game, but it will also not be the experience that most of the people that purchase the game or are looking to purchase the game will have.

The title of the game, Sim City gives the player a good indication of what the game has in store. The game puts the player in charge of a smaller city of a region that is inhabited by other players like yourself. This is the first significant change in the game from the previous titles in the franchise. This new Sim City, is indeed a multiplayer game, although it does not have what many would consider a traditional multiplayer mode. Because players are building a city, multiplayer is cooperative and not adversarial. The game starts with the selection of a region, and a plot of land in the aforesaid region, and it is off to the races we go, building a city.

The gameplay, at first, will be instantly familiar to fans of the series. The mayor constructs roads, and then zones areas into one of the following types of zones, residential, commercial and industrial. Residential zones are places where your citizens can live, industrial zones give them a place to work, and commercial zones are the shops and stores where they can then spend their hard earned money. Each of these, in turn, then generates tax revenue for the city, which can then be spent maintaining infrastructure, expanding the city, or upgrading and adding to the existing infrastructure. It all sounds simple enough, but soon additional services are required for the city – police stations to reduce crime, firehouses to keep fires from running rampant, and schools to both get citizens better jobs and to reduce crime and the chance that buildings catch on fire. (Crazy, right?)

And that’s pretty much the core of the game right there. It is essentially an exercise in happiness management. The mayor needs to keep the citizens of their city happy by providing services, and making sure that the city is clean and safe all the while making sure that the city is living within its mean, that it is not outspending the amount of money it receives in taxes. Happy citizens then attract more visitors to the city, creating a greater demand for services and amenities, while also increasing tax revenues, and thus a city becomes a living, breathing thing, and hopefully a sustainable one. Sooner or later, that small town, if managed well, has become a small bustling metropolis.

It’s at this point that longtime fans of the franchise will take some issue with the game. The first complaint that one hears out there are that player cities are small. People will not get to build sprawling metropolises complete with suburbs and outlying sections of land providing utilities the way that  they were able to in the past, and also absent from the game is the ability to terraform the playing area. The game can’t help but start to feel cramped once the mid game is reached, and though there is a lot of gameplay still left by what one would consider the middle of the game, it becomes more of a fight to find the land to build higher tech buildings than an exercise in city planning.

The late game does force cities in a particular region to specialize. Friends who have populated a region together will have the ability to plan and share resources, much like in real life. Many commodities and services can be sold to other players, such as water, and sewage capacity. A judicious city planner will have left plenty of real estate open in order to specialize their city and build specialist buildings which will bring in enormous amounts of trade or tax revenues, depending on the path chosen.

Opinions on Sim City have been as divisive as they have been wide ranging. Some feel that it’s a fantastic title. Others believe that it is a failure because of all of the server issues that consumers were forced to endure in the opening days of the game. More still feel that its stifling claustrophobia make this title a terrible game. It happens to be that it is all of these things, and at the same time it is now. There are elements to Sim City that are absolutely brilliant. There are few greater joys than seeing one of the buildings in your city upgrade itself to a skyscraper for the first time. There is also very few things that are as disappointing as buying a title that you have been eagerly anticipating for quite a long time, and not being able to enjoy it because of server issues.

Sim City, though it had its foibles, is a good game. At its lightest, it is a complex city-building model, and at it’s deepest it teaches the player valuable lessons about sustainable cities, and how they operate. Perhaps the long term effects of Sim City will be its greatest legacy. How many current mayors grew up playing the original games in the franchise, and how many mayors of the future will be influenced by the concepts of sustainability espoused by this title?

Sim City is currently available on the PC.

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