Revisiting SimCity two years after its horrific launch

Is it time to close the coffin on SimCity?

With Maxis Emeryville now closed and the future of the SimCity franchise now in limbo, is it possible that we’re really looking at a future where Cities: Skylines is now our main city-building simulation game? I’ll admit, it’s not a bad future as Colossal Games proved they're definitely up to the challenge with their most recent release.

For as much as I enjoy Cities: Skylines though, the thought of a SimCity-less future hits a sensitive nerve for me. While playing Cities: Skylines I was hit with a wave of nostalgia. It’s weird because despite the game not working properly at launch, I still enjoyed it. Sure, I would’ve enjoyed it more if it had worked as promised, but the concepts — despite some questionable design decisions — weren’t the problem with SimCity. It was the execution. Now, two years later, I’ve decided to revisit SimCity to see if it has improved at all.

Lo and behold, it has! Having multiplayer in SimCity wasn’t the problem. In fact, it was my favorite aspect of the game, though its execution was marred by server issues and bugs. The problem was EA forcing it upon players by not giving them the option to play alone offline. That’s been fixed now.


Secondly, if you are going to force players to play with others online, you better make damn sure that it works. SimCity didn’t at launch. From server issues preventing logins to cities not updating, essentially breaking a gameplay design in which players must depend on each other for resources, services, jobs, and population. I understand why EA opted for an online only experience — to create this grand experience of working together with others towards a Great Works — but it just didn’t work as intended, and it caused many of us to just give up hope on the game early on.

Online gameplay works now. And it’s actually fun!  I admit I may be in the minority here, but online gameplay was probably SimCity’s most attractive feature. The idea of playing with friends (or strangers) and work together towards a greater goal sounded awesome. I love playing with friends, and I actually wrote in my Cities: Skylines review that multiplayer was one feature I felt SimCity had the advantage of. Again, though, it’s only an advantage when it works — and it’s sad that it has taken this long for it to work.

But it’s amazing how much of a different gameplay experience SimCity has been since I played it two years ago. I recently revisited the game with another friend of mine, inspired by Cities: Skylines but put off by the idea of playing alone. We quickly chose a region and started building, immediately noticing a difference. Our cities were actually communicating with each other! Global demand was responsive and accurate. He focused on creating an educated city, comprised mostly of residential zones. As a result, we had a global demand for industry, which I tackled by creating a high industrial oil town. I provided the jobs, he provided the workers. Still needing commerce, I built a second town — a gambling town lit up by casinos, and unfortunately riddled with crime. The crime soon spread to our neighboring cities, requiring us to build up our police force. Our cities were talking. They were connected. We were finally playing SimCity the way it was meant to be played, and it was enjoyable.

SimCity traffic

Sure, traffic can still be a bit wonky, though I’m finding that’s more of a design flaw on my end than AI logic. If anything, Maxis could’ve done a better job explaining how traffic flow works. Regardless, it’s a much more improved experience.

Plots are still small which is probably still a problem for many of you. I understand the frustration because part of the fun of a city-building game is the freedom to build whatever you want. By restricting your plot size, Maxis essentially limited your fun. That being said, now that everything is working properly I understand the reasoning behind smaller plots. In real life, one city can’t do it all. You need to depend on your neighbors. With a focus on multiplayer, Maxis had to give players reasons to communicate. It’s unfortunate though, because while multiplayer is an interesting gameplay aspect, forcing it upon players by limiting their plot size was the wrong way to go about it.

Since my return, I’ve put about 20 hours into SimCity. It’s still not a perfect game by any means, but it’s finally fun. I always thought the concepts behind SimCity were made with good intention; unfortunately, the overall execution was marred by a series of problems that have at least been fixed two years later. From a single player experience, Cities: Skylines still trumps it, but if you’re like me, and enjoy playing games with friends, SimCity is now at least an option.