What I’ve Played – SimCity

Platform: PC
Developer: Maxis
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Rating: 7 (PEGI) / E (ESRB)

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Unless you live under a rock on the far side of the moon, you’ve no doubt caught wind of the new Sim City. To say that it’s had a troubled birth is the understatement of the year. It’s angered both fans and critics alike in so many ways that corporate sabotage would have been a likely candidate, if it wasn’t for us all knowing that the issues are results from decisions made on high. I’ve played it for over 100 hours and I’m ready to tell you what I think.

Always online, server issues, usable locations being too small, terrible pathfinding, micro-scale simulation being a load of rubbish and also fudged population figures making a city nearly impossible to balance. These are just a few of the complaints thrown out against Sim City and every single one of them are true. With even the core mechanics being broken, then surely this is a bad game and should be laid to rest before it embarrasses itself even further?

Quite frankly, no. Sure, Maxis and EA have completely bollocksed the launch but deep beneath the mire we have a gem of a game. It’s not a very popular opinion to have but I can forgive the opening if, after all the initial changes are made, we have with the game that was shown to us about a year ago.

01

Let me make this clear. I wholeheartedly disagree with this always online malarkey unless it’s completely necessary. If you want a game that counts towards the leaderboards, then it should be online. “What the hell are you talking about?” I hear you scream. The way it is now is a deterrent (even if only mild) to the cheaters and through attempting myself, and looking around, I haven’t noticed any who have managed to outright cheat the system meaning your planning does get you on the leaderboards, or completing challenges, fairly. On the flip side though I find it insanely idiotic that sandbox is online and that it also has limitations on such as disasters.

Beneath the controversial outside we have the inner layer of the game itself. This layer is also showing some signs of a malady. Core parts of the game are broken beyond belief and it’s because the game doesn’t operate how it was originally said to. Your sims don’t actually have a personality of their own, acting like the simple digits they are they head to the nearest open slot that fits them, be it work, shopping or breaking into a home and doing not-very-nice-things to an unsuspecting female.

Classy rape jokes aside, this leads to some outright strange results. You can watch a row of cars filter in to shops or houses and moving on as the one gets full which just looks wrong. A group of your emergency services will focus on one incident while ignoring others. I once had seven bloody firetrucks respond to what I assume was a toaster fire in a crappy little shack while three blocks away an apartment block burned to the ground. Worst of all is that this method of movement just leads to some godawful traffic jams as the sims only take the shortest route to the nearest open spot.

02

Through a recent patch, or one upcoming this traffic issue is meant to be fixed as it will give the sims a decision making process of which road to take, as a road gets busier they will take alternate routes and this is working to an extent in one of my cities that was suffering from chronic traffic jams along around 15% of the roads. I can’t particularly say I have noticed this yet as I have dumped all my old cities to the ether and my only current cities are a Mega-City One nightmare, packing people in like sardines, and a Vegas-like tourist destination.

It’s not that a traffic fix will suddenly make things better though, so much is hidden behind the scenes and working against you. My tourist destination will have 20,000 tourists one day but the next day it can have only 6,000 with no discernible reason for the drop. This is both a compelling, but also annoying part of SimCity. The fact that so much is down to trial and error, how to best a broken system, leads to a chain of “how do I fix this?” questions, where you have to work out why the system is broken and how to work around it.

The problem is, everything is broken. The core thing at the start of each city is zoning RCI (Residential, Commercial & Industrial) around the roads you build. The issue here is none of them are needed. If you only have one city in a region then whore out residential apart from core services and a few parks, make a cup of tea and celebrate a job well done, mayor of richtown. It is quite literally impossible to fail in that regard while planning properly (My tourist trap) will leave you broke and begging on the street corner, cap in hand. The only way these Residential cities start to fail due to unhappiness is through a second city being built in the region.

03

The region system is also something that needs to be worked around. The cities aren’t actually connected in a real way and while it’s possible to share and buy resources once you leave a city it is practically in a state of stasis, having no growth or loss and offering the same until it’s visited again. It offers a social aspect, but not really the multiplayer they keep telling us as what you build can help somebody if they want it to, but it really wont necessarily matter at all.

To be quite frank, I’ve confused myself in the writing of this. I started by saying that beneath the crap there’s a gem of a game and all I’ve done is bring up what is bad. It’s hard to say but the joy of placing that first road, watching the growth from small village in a small area, to compact mess in a small area is a joyful experience. As is the laying out of things how you like, the aesthetic pleasure of it all.

Let me tell you as well, SimCity is a beautiful game with many options in changing the visual style. Every piece has it’s own motions, showing you if it’s working properly or not, if a storage lot is half full, if the delivery van is picking up. Every building shows painstaking detail which makes it all the more sad they don’t work as intended. To add to that the music is just very pleasant to listen to at normal times, escalating in such as a disaster. The other sounds of the game are excellent as well – zoom into a crime-ridden zone and hear the gunshots. A park, hear the birds. Like the movement, the sounds are crafted perfectly. This is the world you built and It’s hard to not be at least a little attached, which makes it all the more poignant when Godzilla rears his ugly head and tears it all up on his way to your rubbish tip.

04

All this means is that when the game finally works as intended, after however many patches it takes, it really will be worth owning. Through the bad and the worse, I still find it hard to not launch it up and watch my city grow from patch of dirt to sort-of functioning nuclear wasteland. SimCity is stunning in so many ways, with an outlying beauty that covers the broken insides. Once you know about the broken system it’s impossible to completely forget and it can make future cities all that more challening to see through to the end, but there is still joy in seeing your creations come to life.

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