The last time I ran my own city it ended badly for the poor Sims. This was back in SimCity 3000. Since that fateful time I have wanted to make amends. The SimCity Beta dropped in my lap recently and I decided it was time to lay those past fears aside and get building.
Before I continue I have to say, the game looks great. Plenty of polish already shines from this new city building title. I adjusted my the graphics settings to medium to avoid a low frame rate and to get a good feel of what the game would look like and launched into it with gusto.
I only played around two hours and that split into one hour per city due to beta limits. Before long I was watching my city develop and expand and it brought me a warm feeling of achievement. Buildings would pop up and at a glance the player can see what type of neighbourhood it was zoned in. A poor residential area has lots of small houses packed tightly together, but a prosperous neighbourhood would only have a few houses that sprawled and exuded luxury. The entire city growth followed this formula. A cheap factory would start out small, but given time and space a huge and productive factory would take its place.
All the while, time moves on. Streetlights turn on and off , cars zip back and forth between parts of the city, highlighting commuter arteries or important commerce transport routes. The scope and scale will blow you away. To add to this there are layers of data maps that show your constantly evolving city in a plethora of statistical packages. There are so many that even hard core data lovers will likely find what they crave, but all the while the city management remains accessible to the rest of us.
Time zipped by and I blew my first 50 minutes of gameplay went past without even thinking about it. Then EA informed me that I had ten minutes left on this project and it was time to wrap it up. Aside from the time limits, I have never had so much fun building my own city. So long as things were connected by road everything got services on its own, no more laying irritating pipes everywhere. I watched as people moved in and built up their homes, while I ordered in parks or office buildings for them to work. My largest city had an upgraded “small” casino and around 12,000 people permanently living there. Personally I was amazed I built a city so fast, but the game made it easy and fun. Maxis have added the idea of city specialization, so that each city can specialize in its own area; gambling, electronics, mining, oil, are things your city can focus on building. The beta only had gambling, so I built a casino and watched as the people flowed into my city to spend their hard earned money.
I was very worried about having it always being online and having a connected city, but after seeing first hand what they have planned for it I certainly feel a lot happier now. To give some insight into the mechanics of the city to city integration, say I had one mining town and another town with a power plant that used coal. I could send coal shipments over at a cheaper price than it could be bought from the world market. Then, I could send back spare water, saving myself infrastructure costs in the mining town. All of this is made easier with the graphs. At a glance you will be able to see exactly how much water and power your town/city has spare, or how much landfill space you have left. On top of all of this inter-city stuff, all the cities in a region can work together and build one big structure together. One thing I wanted to build was a space centre, but it wasn’t in the beta unfortunately.
This brings me on to a few other points about the game. It seems like the maps will be quite small and when you reach the boundaries of a region you will have to start another map and city. What we have heard is that you can string up to 10 cities together like this before you have to start a new game. You have probably heard that SimCity will be “always online”, well this is likely to cause irritation for some users, especially if they want to play their game on their laptop on holiday or if they have crap internet access. It is a shame that EA/Maxis went down this route but I do like some of the benefits that will be achieved with it. Having a super powerful external server managing all the off screen calculations that your other supporting cities are doing could be a real resource saver for your own PC. But what if their servers go down? Finally, we are also getting an idea of how the always online works in terms of saves. Let me give an example, if you add a new fire department in the wrong place 20 minutes ago and you now want to undo that, you cannot skip back to an earlier save, instead the game keeps moving forward. You would have to demolish your fire department if you want to remove it. This also might cause a bit of upset in a single player game.
Let me briefly talk about the in-game missions. The missions were similar to those that you might find in a Facebook game, but they had weight to them. For example, one mission was to get 100 people to visit any of the city parks within a 72 hour period, while another was to get the hospital clinic upgraded to include another patient wing and then have ten people come and visit it. While the missions delivered depth of gameplay via rewards, they in turn allowed the city to expand ever faster and that also served as a pointer to newcomers unsure about the best course of action. I could keep going, but want to save some things for the game and people to look forward to.
Overall I felt really good about it, despite early doubts before playing. One of the issues I did note was the camera movement seemed a little odd at first.There were of course a few bugs as well, but that’s what the beta is there for; the final release should be fine. I also loved how you got paid per hour instead of quarterly which made it easier to figure out how something will help or hurt the city. Even due to the few beta limitations, it was a blast to play, and being a mayor was a lot of fun.
I will say: SimCity is already on my wishlist.