Another Take On the New SimCity

Here's a doohickey I should've messed with sooner! This is going to be a long one, but I promise there's actual substance here. Bear with me.

The new SimCity seems to be getting an awful lot of hate around here. The two biggest complaints that seem to be cropping up are about the "always on" feature and what seems to be a cap on the size of your cities. Both of these are valid complaints! But they're each somewhat subjective in their own way, and with regard to the latter especially, to dodge the game on that basis alone I think is to sell Maxis grossly short.

First of all, starting with the always on, and this was a major relief to me personally: this isn't Diablo 3. Yes, you do need an internet connection to get into the game, but the sharp difference I've noticed compared to Diablo 3 is that once you're in the game and actually puttering away through your cities, the vast majority of your interaction with the game is done strictly locally -- in single player at least, where this would obviously be the real concern. That is to say, you're not at the mercy of your latency for every single action. In fact, my internet dropped out completely not once, but twice during my marathon today and I kept going without so much as a stutter. I got an unobtrusive popup at the top of my screen warning me I'd lost my connection to the game servers (you don't even have to click said popup or acknowledge it in any way to continue playing)... and that was it. I kept right on going, and it quietly let me know when my connection was restored. Your client will still have to connect to the game servers to sync your city changes (which is a fancy way of saying to save your progress), but that's as far as it goes.

And onward to people's complaints about the limits to city size, and by effect how hard they want to push cities that complement each other alongside the social aspect. I think the real concern at the heart of these complaints is that Maxis is limiting the scale of the game, or is just joining the ravenous hordes of developers that are dumbing everything down to the lowest common denominator. I've got so many bullet points I want to hit to beat these notions back that I don't even know where to start, but I'm going to take a stab at this anyway.

Strictly by the numbers, yes, you're never going to get a single city into the millions of people in this release of the game. But if what you're really worried about is that this means making your cities is going to be some straightforward 20-minute one and done affair, you have no idea what you're in for. You can still very easily spend countless hours growing and tinkering and optimizing your single city. Which plays directly into my next bullet point...

No, EA did not dumb down this game to appeal to the mass audience. It might not be apparent at the outset, but the depth of this game is simply staggering. It's got that all-important trait that almost all the games with the most limitless longevity out there have -- easy to pick up, nigh impossible to master. What they DID do to appeal to the mass audience was give it a very strong social aspect to get people to talk about it and keep talking about it. And because the game appeals to a broader spectrum of players than it ever has before, Maxis almost certainly got a much bigger wallet to stuff into the game and give us more features we want and care about.

And that "social" aspect isn't just a cheap gimmick, either -- one of the other ways I think this game has been getting frequently misconstrued. Making your cities work together (whether that's with you playing the whole region by yourself, or joining up with your favorite band of anarchists) at its most basic level isn't difficult, and that's where the "casual" gamers who just want something fun to do with friends will find plenty to love. But when you start to really dig into all the possibilities, the depth will make your head spin. Setting up a supply chain for your dream electronics conglomerate, making the tourist trap casino town that actually WORKS and doesn't have a hundred thousand angry citizens screaming for your head, figuring out how to point all that industrial output from your awful first city in a useful direction... These are all things that the game gives you the tools to figure out and control for yourself. You can do it, but can you do it remotely well? Those casual gamers aren't even going to brush the tip of the iceberg. You owe it to yourself to see how deep the rabbit hole goes. And you don't lose ANY of that depth if you choose to play the game by yourself. You only decide if you want to do it all yourself or try to coordinate with a team.

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