Review: SimCity's endless fun despite strict limitations
It's been exactly one week since SimCity saw its release marred by a series of unfortunate server-related issues.The game's always-on DRM requirement prevented many from enjoying the latest city-building simulator, making for a frustrating week. While we had a pretty decent feel for the game when we played it on the test servers prior to launch, we wanted to wait until multiplayer was fully functional until we gave our final verdict. After all, SimCity is primarily a "multiplayer" game.
Unlike SimCity games in the past, you are no longer alone. There's an all-new multiplayer element forced upon you in Maxis' latest edition to the series. Keep in mind, however, that SimCity isn't strictly multiplayer-only, because it is possible to play alone and own multiple plots. It's even possible to play a city with inactive neighbors and still manage to construct your own Great Works (we've done it, but it wasn't easy).
Whether you want to admit it or not, your city is not self-sustaining on its own. You need other surrounding cities if you want to accomplish your goals, whether it be for the residential, the commercial, the industrial or the utilities. Due to the limited size of plots, it's impossible to fit it all into your little plot of land. And though I understand the reasoning behind smaller land masses -- an increased dependency on your neighbors -- there are times when the restrictions can get pretty frustrating.
Again, the purpose of smaller plots is to focus on what your city specializes in. Gone are the days of being a jack-of-all trades city. Now you must choose one of the six -- Mining, Drilling, Trading, Electronics, Culture and Gambling -- specializations and build your city around that. While you can technically mix and match specializations, the size of your plot will severely handicap you. Even as a strict oil drilling town, I had a difficult time attaining the $160,000/day profit needed to upgrade my Petroleum HQ.
Just to put my frustration into context, I had three fully upgraded oil fields with several Trade Depots, yet I still struggled to meet the requirement. The problem is, I had to dip into other specializations to fulfill the requirement, resulting in less land for industrial, residential and commercial. All of them were in demand in my city despite having neighbors. Here is where my problem with the city size limitations stem from.
It's not that I mind picking one specialization and rolling with it. It's just when I focus entirely on that specialization, I expect to be able to achieve my goals without having to butcher the look and feel of my city. I did notice one thing as I continued to tinker with my cities, though. SimCity is a game about evolution, not necessarily expansion. Like in real life, you are forced to concede to the limitations of your surrounding resources. If New York City runs out of space, they just don't expand their borders. They build up. That's what you have to do in SimCity. As my city grew larger and my needs changed, I rezoned areas, demolished buildings, and restructured my roads (the bulldozer will be your friend) to make room for upgrades. Sometimes, you just have to make it fit -- by any means necessary.
Going off the theory of evolution, SimCity will require you to adapt. Making a nice living off coal or oil? Well, I hope you have a different future in mind because these are non-renewable resources. Granted, it takes years for you to deplete your resources (though a bug constantly states I only have two months' supply left), but one day you will run out. What then for your future? Thankfully, specializations do overlap, making the transition not too painful.
The biggest problem I have is reminding myself that it can't all be done in one city. Once you realize that your city is not alone, you will begin to have fun with the game -- if you manage to get nice neighbors. For someone who has played mostly with friends, I've had no problem forming strategies on how to build our region. Of course, with strangers, this can prove somewhat challenging and can often ruin your experience. This is a downside to multiplayer gameplay.
But as I mentioned above, SimCity is not multiplayer, it's multi-regional. The trick to the game isn't that you need other players, you only need other plots that can fill your city's needs. If you want to play alone, simply create a private region and manage all of the cities on your own. Of course, you'll still be required to connect to the internet.
Gameplay-wise, SimCity is still the same complex beast we've grown to love, only this time it's presented in a more welcoming form. All of the details about your city, from the sewage to traffic flow, are presented in easy-to-understand, color-coded graphs. But as simple as these graphs are to understand, the technicalities controlling each are a complex mystery left to be discovered by the player.
In fact, much of what you discover about the city's inner-workings will be from your own trials and tribulations. I've restarted plenty of cities, taking from each one a bit of knowledge that I learned through my own previous screw ups. Even with more than a solid week of gameplay under my belt, there's still plenty I have yet to master about the game. It's safe to say that I understand the fundamental city-building techniques needed to run an adequate city, but there's still plenty I remain unsure about. This could also be attributed to a lack of in-game direction. SimCity throws you into a plot of land and asks you to build. There is a guide that acts as a simple tutorial, providing you with some tasks and goals, but there's no real in-game guide detailing every aspect of this complex game. I'd like a little more explanation defining what I could do to maximize my industry output without having to rely on the player community for information.