It has been a decade since the last proper SimCity enticed would-be city-builders with its innumerable options and complexities. This latest installment, proposed as a reboot of the classic series, is a return to form after the experiment that was 2007’s SimCity Societies. It offers a deluge of opportunities for constructing and customizing your very own urban landscape, all wrapped within a welcoming presentation.
On the surface, SimCity is the usual fare. Roads frame the city, and you zone the space in between for residences, industrial space, or commerce. The key is to keep the industrial pollution segregated from residential and commercial properties, keeping the populace happy. It’s fun to try different layouts for your cities and see what works and what drowns the landscape in all-encompassing smog. Homes and businesses spring up of their own accord around these designated locales. Their occupants will let you know how they’re doing, what makes them happy, and what you should knock off before they split town. You can influence the value of the land and the wealth of these lots by surrounding them with recreational parks and emergency services. It’s a delicate balance; too many low income Sims, it becomes difficult to facilitate higher-end structures such as universities and casinos. On the other hand, an overabundance of wealthy Sims leads to a languishing industrial sector, with too few workers and too little product for your city to yield a healthy commercial environment.
You start SimCity with a decent amount of land to develop, but it fills up fast, and there’s no option to expand. This is the game’s largest flaw; new and more interesting structures unlock as you progress. It’s easy to tear down a firehouse or police station to make way for their more significant late-game counterparts. However, once you’ve exhausted those options it becomes a dilemma whether to demolish all that residential space for a new airport, stadium, or additional garbage outflows. This can be seen as one of the game’s strategic elements. With a couple cities under your belt, you’ll discover that approaching an empty stretch of land with a plan in mind is much more effective than simply laying out roads and constructing around them.
Fortunately, there are options for managing your space when it comes to the various service buildings peppered throughout your city. Filling up your police station’s jail cells doesn’t mean you have to build a new station; you can construct a limited number of expansions for this sort of building. Add on new cells, construct another classroom wing to your grade school, and give your airport a few additional passenger terminals. There will come a point where these expansions aren’t enough. You will have to build more than one of some of these buildings. Expansions prevent you from having to do it as frequently and conserve a lot of space in the long-term.
Further contributing to a city’s lack of space are several specializations you can dedicate it to. These are concepts such as gambling, tourism and culture. Structures from each specialization can be placed within any city, but it’s best to dedicate yourself to buildings of one type. Specializations in SimCity encourage you to develop some skill with managing your space. When placing structures such as a coalmine or oil drill, the game will show you where the largest concentration of each resource is located within your allotted space. If you choose your specialization some time after you have founded a city, you may have already built over your high resource areas. Suddenly, you’re forced to demolish an entire residential space to begin exporting minerals, and at this point it becomes more practical to dedicate your city to something like gambling or tourism, each of which come with their own sets of challenges.
Fortunately, there are options for managing your space when it comes to the various service buildings peppered throughout your city. Filling up your police station’s jail cells doesn’t mean you have to build a new station; you can construct a limited number of expansions for this sort of building. Add on new cells, construct another classroom wing to your grade school, and give your airport a few additional passenger terminals. There will come a point where these expansions aren’t enough. You will have to build more than one of some of these buildings. Expanding your structures prevents you from having to do it as frequently and conserves a lot of space in the long-term.
Maxis’ big push with SimCity is its always-on multiplayer component. You begin a city within a larger region with space for a dozen or so additional players to establish themselves as your neighbors. Neighboring mayors can choose to provide your city with faster unlocks, additional garbage trucks, excess power and water, and export their resources into your economy. You can offer the same services, providing a constant boon for your city that you can’t experience playing alone. This interaction between players is almost mandatory; hosting a private region will permit you to play SimCity as if it were single-player, but you loose the economic boost that comes from importing, exporting, and unlocking new structures at an accelerated pace. Even though it is playable, progress becomes unreasonably slow.
SimCity offers a modern take on a storied franchise, infusing the familiar city building with up-to-date design sensibilities. It’s immensely satisfying to watch and participate as a city grows from a trailer park and a couple of stores, to a bustling metropolis. It takes more than one try to get it right and find your way around all the details. Held back only slightly by its need for a constant internet connection, it is a fun experience that encourages experimentation, and features a learning curve that is well worth the ride.