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Thread: SimCity review
03-09-2013, 11:11 AM #1
At their greatest scale, SimCity’s cities are self-powering machines with hundreds of thousands of moving parts. They churn through endless feedback loops, feeding Sims into swirling cause and effect eddies that produce money, goods, happiness, and growth. After over a week of building, smashing, and rewiring SimCity’s machines to figure out how they work, they still surprise me.
SimCity is the series’ greatest technical achievement. Will Wright’s 1989 original and every Maxis-developed SimCity that came after are about the same thing: building and simulating cities. SimCity does that too, but with a drastically different method. It shifts the simulation from abstract data-crunching to the visible, real-time interactions of thousands of individual Sims, cars, residences, businesses, factories, and everything else you might find in a city.
The Sims themselves aren’t exceptional as individuals—they live out their ant-farm lives with short memories and clockwork brains, behaving like small children motivated only by immediate desires and immediate discomfort. They hate crime, unemployment, pollution (called “germs” for some reason), high taxes, and death. They like parks, schools, and city services. They’re dumb as individuals, but when 150,000 of them need caring for, SimCity balloons into a dazzlingly complex and addictive management game, and it’s all beautifully rendered in three-dimensional space, scaling all the way down to blades of grass. And even with all that complexity, the game runs smoothly on mid-range hardware, happy to be Alt-Tabbed in and out of, and rarely crashing.
The joy of planning
To create a city, I choose a square plot in one of eight region layouts, all of which can be shared with other players or claimed alone. (The regions are attractive and diverse enough to quash my initial pining for the landscape terraforming in previous SimCitys.)
Then, with an empty field and a modest budget, I’m free to build creatively and experiment, pulling out straight and curved roads, as well as zoning residential, commercial, and industrial districts (“RCI” for in-the-know urban planners), and building basic services. It’s a joy to seed the empty plot and watch Sims arrive in moving trucks to start their new lives.
If I wanted to play SimCity as a purely sandbox experience—more on that later—it might stay so free and easy, but I can never resist going big. Soon my content small-town Sims will have their dreams crushed by an urban nightmare of unemployment, poison-clogged air, and failing services. For now, however, I can zoom all the way to street level to watch them stroll around my city like windup toys, happy and unaware of the god-like madman peering down at them wielding bulldozers and bad ideas.
But back to the quiet town. At the macro scale, beautiful data overlays show me subterranean concentrations of water, as well as resources like ore, coal, and oil, which I can exploit when my city is ready for heavy industry. In the beginning, demand for services is low, and how you choose to provide power to your city is the most important decision early in the game.
Coal and oil plants cough out pollution and require resources from mines or the Global Market, an online feature that functions as a commodities exchange enabling players to buy and sell resources. Clean energy solutions—wind and solar plants—also pump power into the city, but require swaths of valuable land to keep the lights on. The type of power plant I choose first will influence the whole narrative of my city, not because I can’t switch at any time, but because I refuse to be an inconsistent mayor. Big decisions like this happen at every stage of a city’s development, and my choices often influence how I feel about my city more than my city itself.
03-09-2013, 11:27 AM #2
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