About a month ago SimCity was thrown on the market by Electronic Arts and you can almost take the word “throw” literally. The game was released and became just about the worst launch by EA in recent years. Too few servers, too many bugs and a necessary permanent internet connection made for an avalanche of complaints that just about killed the game. EA was quick to realise that a disaster was happening and did everything possible to save what they could. Additional servers were installed, developers had to work hours and hours to solve irritating problems, and to please the gamers, EA gave away a free game. The biggest initial issues have been resolved by now so time to see how the game plays at the moment.
The overwhelming avalanche of updates has decreased a bit but isn’t completely finished yet. Each time you start up SimCity you wonder whether an update will need to be done, and it also takes quite a long time to install them. Which surprised us even more is that these updates aren’t done in the background through Origin but only when you actually start up SimCity. For a game that swears by “always on” this seems very peculiar.
We didn’t have any further server issues, but there’s still plenty of bugs present. Sometimes the tips from the various departments get replaced by stars, and once we even got all detail windows appearing at the top of the screen, while the options at the bottom suddenly disappeared. It’s irritating but nothing that can’t be fixed by restarting the game. Things are worse when we talk about the AI which has some serious problems.
It starts small with for instance people asking for more stores while a big shopping mall across the street closes due to too few shoppers. It gets worse when you have a hospital with room for 40 patients but nobody seems to find their way to it. Or what about placing a big clinic to then get the assignment to open a clinic? Very irritating!
Quickly you notice that roads are extremely important. Forget about randomly adding some roads and then work further on them. From the first stone you better plan carefully as the available room in a city is very small and your roads also serve as method of transport for water, electricity and sewage system. Cut up an important road and suddenly half your town is without electricity. Also you often have to remove roads to make more room for bigger buildings and your inhabitants have the annoying habbit of constantly ending up in traffic jams. Put up a big road with trams, you think, but that means you have to shut down buildings and adjust your entire infrastructure.
This infrastructure adjusting isn’t limited to roads. You build a big water plant, to then a few hours later finding out that all the water in the ground has disappeared and you need to demolish an entire living area to give your city water again. This while your plant is right next to a river! Not really logical…
That the cities are quite small you also notice in other things. The first hours you’re busy plotting your town and adding new services, but once you reach a decent size and your approval rate gets towards 80 a 85% you notice you’re reaching your limit. Luckily the region screen then comes to your aid. You can build multiple cities in a region and specialise them. It’s no problem of not having a Finance department in your town, just make sure you’ve got one in your region and all cities will benefit from it.
The regions is one of the reasons Maxis uses to defend the need for permanent internet connection. After all, other players can join your region and build a city there and then you can exchange things with each other. Shortage of water? No problem, just buy it in the region! Shortage of electricity? Instead of placing a nuclear plant with the possibility of a meltdown you just buy it! All nice and fun, but when that other player suddenly gets fed up and shuts down his city, you’re left with the issues!
No, the online part isn’t really interesting and you do best to play on your own and decide for yourself to build multiple cities and then specialise them. The online features are present, but don’t really add much.
If you read the above, then SimCity really looks like a bad game, but it isn’t thàt bad. The old concept is still intact and you can still spend hours on building cities while the new regions do offer possibilities to connect towns and as such specialise. Graphically everything also looks quite nice and the gameplay does go deep enough to keep you clustered to your screen for about ten hours per city. It’s just sad that after that initial period you clearly stumble upon the boundaries of the game and are almost forced to build a new town making you wonder whether it’s worthwhile to keep the current one.
All in all SimCity is a missed opportunity. Maxis has put a lot of focus on the online part but the added value of this is minimal while all features could have just as well been put in an offline mode. Next to that too little attention was paid to a decent AI and a month after release there are still too many bugs present. SimCity as such is still a fun concept, but the way it’s implemented isn’t as it should have been. We hope a next SimCity takes this criticism along and does deliver a complete and satisfying package!