Review in Progress: SimCity is building our hopes towards multiplayer
In its heart, SimCity is a multiplayer game. You can play it alone, but to get the most out of EA and Maxis' new city-building simulator, you're going to want to play online. After all, multiplayer has been one of SimCity's focal points heading into launch -- the ability to connect with friends, share resources, and build not just an individual city, but an interconnected region. Oh, the possibilities.
Despite the limitations placed upon my game due to the servers not being live, there's still plenty to experience -- and love -- with SimCity -- specifically, the actual concept of the game. SimCity has been around since 1989; there's a reason this franchise has survived the test of time. Simply put, building a city is fun. It's even more fun to watch that city function, and thanks to the new GlassBox game engine, you can get closer to your little Sims than ever before.
GlassBox breathes life into your city. It carefully calculates and populates your city, assigning every single building, Sim and vehicle a unique identity. Spending countless hours watching your city grow and react to your decisions is mesmerizing. You can literally pick one Sim out of the (hopefully) thousands you have living there and spend the day following their daily activities.
There's much more going on behind the scenes of GlassBox than just assigning a random action to a Sim. Everything, and I mean everything, in your city reacts your decisions and the randomized resources in your region -- and they aren't necessarily exclusive of one another. The resources available to your could determine the decisions you make as mayor and, likewise, your decisions will ultimately affect how your region reacts.
SimCity has an addicting layer of complexity, but it presents itself in easy to understand color graphs. With a simple switching of tabs, you can see everything in your region from the level of coal, to the amount of water, to traffic congestion to, well, you get the point. All of the gritty details of managing a city are made simple. And because of that, it's actually fun to explore.
While GlassBox may be SimCity's brightest point, it's also one of its biggest setbacks. The engine is designed to encourage expansion and growth, which is great until you're met with the invisible wall that unfortunately came much sooner than I expected. From there the idea is to grow your city in density, rather than area. You grow up, rather than outward, ultimately leaving you feeling constricted. It's even more noticeable when you realize that the curved roads you love to build aren't necessarily the most optimized strategy. Such small plots take away from your creativity in SimCity, which is a lot of the attraction.
EA has said there may be larger maps added in the future, but that could detract from the initial design standpoint, which emphasizes multiplayer. To be fair, the size constraints of SimCity could be viewed in a negative or positive light; it all depends on the experience your looking for.
The system clearly lends itself toward a shared experience with others. The limited size makes it so that you must rely on your neighbors, whether it be for resources, like power or water, or other services, population for your tourist trap or police protection for crime. Let's not forget city Specializations, or a specific focus of your city that not only offers visual differences, but totally different gameplay options and bonuses. Again, each city is limited to one specialization so to have a fully functioning region you'll need multiple neighbors.
For those hoping for more single-player gameplay, you'll be at a clear disadvantage. The limited space will prevent you from growing as quickly. Rather than depending on a neighbor for energy, you'll need to waste not only tax dollars, but valuable land space on a power plant. I'd argue the latter is more important. It's important to note, though, that if you do choose the more single-player route, you will be able create more than one region. The process of shifting between cities can become tiresome, however.
Maxis wants you to play together. They want you to rely on your neighboring cities. Let's face it, no city can be great on its own, and SimCity operates much in the same mindset. As grand as your buildings may be, you are limited by the resources and land available to you. Unfortunately, it's hard to judge the success or failure of this concept until we go full hands-on with multiplayer.
With EA's servers not going live until tomorrow's launch, we still have some reservations. Multiplayer at launch is only as strong as the server capabilities. And while I have a good understanding of what Maxis is trying to accomplish with SimCity's multiplayer, it'd be unjust to formulate a score without actually experiencing it.
What I can say, for certain, is that SimCity is an addicting game. You'll spend hours building, demolishing and rebuilding; tinkering with specializations and design choices; watching your Sims live their lives; studying traffic and wind flow for the best optimization. And once it's built, you can tear it to the ground with a disaster just to watch it burn... and start from scratch again.