By Tom Hooper aka Atomp
This is a difficult review to write, and it’s one that could develop into a much larger and less pleasant beast. For that exact reason I’ll try and keep the actual gameplay assessment in the first half and then go for it in the second half with the array of issues that Simcity and its business model bring up. I aim for about a thousand words on these reviews and whilst I can’t say everything that is to be said about Simcity in so many words I can give a good primer.
Simcity is a city building game, which you’ll know unless you’ve been living under a rock. It is the latest in a series with a long and very popular lineage, which is worth noting. Personally I came to this game with some experience of Simcity 2000, a little experience in Simcity 3000 and a good amount of time clocked in Simcity 4. This means that I can and will actually rate this game as a Simcity game, placing it against my experiences with the prior titles in order to satisfy a somewhat uncovered element of the new Simcity; how it is as a Simcity game.
First off; this Simcity reworks an immense area of the underlying game logic in an interpretation of the region concept that Simcity 4 refined. In the case of Simcity 4 at least the region was a mechanic that allowed the creation of whole and self-contained cities and settlements that could then integrate to some degree. Simcity has taken this concept down a different route with the “cities” actually being comparatively small plots of land probably better described as districts. These districts are so small that creating a fully developed settlement within one is a practical impossibility, and in fact against the design concept. Research, resources, services and such are actually shared between the districts in the region which means rather than attempting the Simcity 4 approach of creating complementary but independent cities in the region the player is encourage to create highly specialised districts which will then complement each other. In an extension of this logic the regions available also have “Great Works Sites” which act as a combined effort from the districts and provide a very effective specialised district.
The culmination of these changes will sink any player that jumps in to a district and tries to build a city, there just isn’t enough space. This is really the first key complaint about the game; the “cities” or districts are horribly small, even within the design principles upon which the game is built. Space will become *the* premium resource as, despite density increases, there just isn’t enough room for everything. Build an airport or an inefficient early solar farm and you’ll lose a significant chunk of the map. On the subject of resources, they exist: In a move that feels somewhat similar to Anno 2070 there are consumable resources that can be mined and used or sold to the “global market”. This makes various different methods for different districts viable and will make one or the other a natural choice for one type of district or another.
These changes make the gameplay significantly different from prior instalments making the whole experience feel a great deal more micro than macro with the additional elements struggling to make up for so much removed. Whilst some of the Simcity staple features are still intact, and new features bolted on it still feels like a smaller and easier Simcity. Overall however the game has been fun, the co-op has helped a great deal with that but in spite of being a weak Simcity the game is still genuinely quite fun in itself.
Now that that is established, let’s take a look at why Simcity is awful. There has been a great deal of contention for a long time over the always-on requirement, which has then exploded violently since release and with good reason. Simcity requires an internet connection to play, which in maybe 10-20 years when everyone has a stable, fast and reliable net connection may seem reasonable but as of now it’s a ridiculous joke. The requirement to be always-on is absurd in the context of the player’s connection, as a connection glitch or bandwidth limitation or a simply unreliable connection will severely compromise the playability of the game. This is something worth noting if you’re considering Simcity, if you don’t have reliable connection then give it a miss because you won’t get the game you want. Then there’s the other side of the always-on connection issue the other end of the link; the servers. As was shown in the release week the servers were inadequate and therefore failed, thus rendering the game unplayable to everyone even if the entirety of this traditionally single player game was snugly curled up on the hard drive. That combined with the possibility of EA taking the server down in the future produces an overall rather unpleasant customer experience in the name of social integration, which is in fact just a thin veneer over the true reason, DRM.
I have personally been hit with server issues, just this morning I lost 15 minutes progress because my city was “not processing properly”, which is the most irritatingly patronising and false error message that I think I’ve ever seen. Not only that but when I wanted to play co-op with a friend, embracing this new social Simcity, I could not join him on the full European servers. Instead he had to abandon progress on his European server to start over in joining me on the US server that I eventually ended up playing on, despite being in Europe. How much the significant detour from the UK to the US to the UK is affecting latency and reliability is hard to say as I have no point of reference from playing co-op over regionally appropriate servers, but I’d place a fair bet that it isn’t very helpful.
In conclusion Simcity is a fun game, however the amount of anti-consumer bull that it drags behind it makes it such a difficult purchase to justify. If you’re really on the fence about it then EA are currently offering a free game to people that purchase the new Simcity, so that’s something I suppose. Overall however it’ll be down to you how willing you are to deal with the DRM and generally quite buggy state of the game and whether the genuinely quite fun co-op experience is really worth all of that. My best advice would be to check out gameplay videos, find your favourite youtuber and they’ll probably be playing it. Docm77, Jesse Cox and WowCrendor are all good bets on how different the game can be in different hands. Watch, assess and come to your own decision on whether you’ll enjoy Simcity and whether it’ll be worth the £45 ($60-70) base price, if not but you still feel like city building then Simcity 4, Anno 2070 and Tropico are all fantastic alternatives without intrusive DRM (except Anno, that’s fairly intrusive).