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SimCity Review and First Impressions.

I got the chance to participate in Simcity's closed beta program for the upcoming release of EA/Maxis's new rebirth of their product line called SimCity from the 80's and 90's.  Having always been a fan of the early incarnations of the game, I figured I would try this out.  But I also knew I would be disappointed.  I doubted in todays market that they would create a product which had the same scale and depth as the previous titles.  This was apparent in Spore, and now is repeating itself with this new franchise.

Thanks to for the image,  I haven't played SimCity 4 in a while, and this is a good example of the scale of that game.

The Original SimCity, SimCity 2000, SimCity 3000 and SimCity 4 all to some extend had depth and pushed the computers of the day to their limits.  They could do that!  Being the genre's leader, SimCity was always the game which defined the next generation.  It pushed people to purchase new computers, and upgrade their system to play it.  Similar to today's intensive games like Call of Duty or Left4Dead2 it was always in the forefront of the city building genre.

You had the choice to either build a smaller city if you knew your computer sucked and couldn't handle a larger city.  Or you could make a massive city which could even lag the most powerful computers of the day.  This could be compensated using the time multiplier feature to speed up time.  SimCity 4 introduced rural areas and farming, which I thought was amazing.  It was from this product which I envisioned SimCity 5 becoming a slightly more fancy version of SimCity 4, however allowing players to build across a whole region, including the linking infrastructure between each 'city'.  Or just make one giant mega city.  But I do think that requiring some farmland would be needed to provide food.

But sadly, no.  The latest Simcity title will not be pushing the limits of todays computers.  It is not being marketed towards fans of the older SimCity line, and is instead intended to grow a new customer base.  Similar to The Sims and Spore, it will be simplified and intended for younger players.  It may even be ported out to other platforms which further limits the ability of the game.  The area you get to build in the new Simcity is equal to about a Medium-Small city plot in SimCity 4.  It is small, and more correctly termed a neighborhood.  I would estimate it to be about one square mile in scale size.

Watch this video of the closed beta gameplay to see what I mean:


I had expected SimCity 5 to include farms, the ability to manage and control various towns and neighborhoods within one map, and even the ability for you to designate borders of such towns and cities, which you could allow your friends to play or develop for you.  Or allow the AI to take over even in some towns.  While the new Simcity does accomplish this to an extend, it is very closed and locked down.  You have to do what the game dictates you can do, and it is rigid.  If you wanted to build a massive city which would lag a dual processor i7 gaming computer with dual top end video cards, you should be able to!   But no.  The newest release will be very locked down and controlled.  Not a sandbox at all.

It is also locked down software wise.  The DRM requires you to be online and authenticated with their servers to even load the game.  Once you are online and playing the game, you can not disconnect and play offline.  This will likely be a big disadvantage as many people, myself included, can not be online all the time to play games.  I know for me, most of my online time is provided through my mobile hot spot, which I have a limited amount of bandwidth.  This is why I generally avoid online multiplayer games these days.  So city size (or lack there of) and the DRM are the biggest and ugliest detractors from the game.

The positive side of the game is that it has been refreshingly rebuilt with a new game engine called GlassBox.  This engine simulates each lot / building in the city.  In previous titles, you had random graphics that responded to statistical data generated using averages on a global scale.  In this version however, each building generates its own statistics.  This includes people too.  People actually travel to work from their homes, in continuous trips.  And vise versa.  They also go to the store, and entertainment.  This makes rush hours very critical as you do need to plan your roads.

That being said the current simulation tends to treat all roads the same.  You can have a multi lane highway connecting your Industrial sector to your Residential sector, but if it is curved and ends up being a slightly longer route then a small 1 lane country road which also connects the two districts, your commuters will end up taking the small country road instead and for the most part completely ignore the highway.  I do hope that this is fixed before release.

I would love to put GlassBox to the test in a massive region wide city simulation, but I doubt that will ever happen.

That being said, the core question I suppose is 'Is the game fun'?  The answer is yes.  It is fun.  It has a cuteness similar to Sims, and a grind factor similar to Farming Simulator.  That being said, while there are many wonderful data layers to look at, there is no complexity to how you play the game.  You no longer have control of the density of the plots you zone.  They will automatically ramp up when the demand grows.

I look forward to seeing how this game does, and seeing how many expansion packs are developed for it.  I imagine if, given EA's trend in the past, there is only one or two expansion packs.  That would mean it is likely that the game didn't really do very well, and isn't engaging enough for a wide variety of people to justify adding more to the game.  While I disagree with releasing unfinished games purely to make money off of expansion packs, it is the trend, and that is what I imagine will happen with this game too.  Heck, spore was downgraded and had content removed when it was first released, just so they had stuff to add to an expansion pack later on.

I look forward to seeing other peoples remarks about this.  I know I am not alone in my thoughts and expectations.  But I guess I have come to expect this of EA / Maxis.

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