Thursday, March 21, 2013

Review: Simcity!

Growing up, one of my heroes was Mayor McCheese because I was really inspired that a man could govern an entire land despite having a giant and delicious cheeseburger for a head. So when the new Simcity launched I was eager to try my own hand at becoming Mayor, inspiring my own community through excellent service provision and thoughtful city planning. But then, of course, disaster struck. Amid overwhelming criticism for its always-online DRM and scaled back city size, the Simcity launch was an large-scale catastrophe. As the beleaguered servers promptly shat themselves many players were unable to play for over a week!

That’s where my story should have ended, but I oddly began to discover that disaster bred desire. It was kind of fun to read about the Simcity fallout, and every major game site that realised this fact seemed to be cranking out as many articles about EA's very public failure as possible. Before long I was watching people complaining about it on youtube, and this led to me watching videos of people - believe it or not - actually playing the game! And the more I watched, the more I wanted to play it. So now, two weeks post release, I took the plunge. It may have been bad publicity, but it worked. As a Wilde man once said, it’s better to be talked about than not to be talked about at all.

Find out what I thought about Simcity... after the jump!

I should probably start by saying that I’ve personally had zero connectivity issues with Simcity so far, nor have I at any point lost any of my work. In fact the stars completely aligned for me really, as I picked this up for a mere $50 digital download (which, trust me, is cheap here in Australia) and registered just in time to be eligible for EA’s free “apology” game - an offering to atone for all of the previous problems. So now, along with my cheap (and functioning) game, I have also scored Dead Space 3 for free. So I’m NOT one of the thousands of customers currently angry at EA - I'm actually quite pleased. In addition, the “non critical” features that were previously taken out of the game appear to have returned - I can set my game on the fastest setting (“cheetah speed”) and achievements are available (and being slowly unlocked).

But is it any good?

Initially it’s easy to be swept away by the slickness of Simcity’s look. You can seamlessly zoom in from a wide overview to the tiny details on the streets, tracking service vehicles and civilians. Everything appears to have a purpose - school buses travel their designated routes, garbage trucks pick up garbage, police cars patrol - despite the overwhelming bustle, if you look closely you can see that your instructions are actually being carried out.

And also a multitude of data available for you to peruse and the various infographic-like view modes that overlay your city are both informative and aesthetically pleasing. The city will all turn white and only the information you want to track will be coloured. You can easily assess general happiness, or population density, or see where valuable ores and minerals are lurking. When you place a water tower you can see the reservoirs of water underground. A power station is placed and you can watch the yellow lines of electricity stemming out of it and injecting into buildings. Or you can watch ominous blobs of brown sewage proudly march towards your outlet pipe.

So, with all of this knowledge in tow, you don your Mayor sash and set out to design roads, zone residential, commercial and industrial areas, manage taxes and provide essential services, all in the hopes of steadily upgrading your facilities by increasing your population. And then... you rapidly run out of space....

My cities (I have tried three at this stage) are constantly crippled by increased residential demand even though there’s no more room to put any. Factories close down due to a lack of workers. Businesses close and although I upgrade roads, and add parks and facilities, I struggle to turn small apartment blocks into the towering skyscrapers I require to bump up my population. And it’s a management issue on my part because I know it can be done. I’ve visited other cities in my multiplayer region and I’ve seen large block of towers surrounded by a surprising amount of empty space, but I definitely need to master the technique. I think I’m expanding too fast and spreading my resources too thinly, but regardless, the biggest barrier that I constantly run into in this game is the lack of available space.

The cities aren’t large by any stretch of the imagination and you are definitely forced to specialise, focusing on a particular role to help out your region, e.g. tourism, trade, or mining. But even then, by the time I fill out my city with basic services, there never seems to be quite enough room to expand in the way I want. I hate having to choose as opposed to experiment, and I always feel constricted. And I’m afraid to bulldoze areas to try something new as I risk destroying my economy or shorting the city on services.

The fact that I am a cog in a larger machine and that I can trade with other player’s cities and make use of their unlocked upgrades, is a nice enough feature but doesn’t really add to the FUN that I have while playing. And strangers generally aren't very interactive so multiplayer may as well be solo play the majority of the time. And things take a long time to grow in Simcity, so after creating just three cities I am already wondering how enthused I am to tackle another. I can work towards becoming more efficient in the game, and gradually gaining more specialities, but is that enough of a reward on its own? It’s design I’m more interested in and those options seem quite limited, with my cities generally looking the same.

So perhaps it’s a little early to give a full verdict. I do intend on playing more as well as learning from other players. And it will be interesting to see how Maxis responds to fan criticism in the coming months and perhaps finds ways to allow us to further expand. Because there’s plenty here to like, and the game continues to intrigue me, but the play experience feels tethered. It would be nice to ease some of these restrictions and allow us to experiment.

If you can get a great deal then grab it (and play with me) but otherwise you may want to wait just that little bit longer while the game is tinkered with.

No comments:

Post a Comment