Giant Bomb Review

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SimCity Review

3
  • PC

SimCity offers up myriad tantalizing delights for the would-be city-builder, but encases them in an infrastructure that feels at odds with itself.

To talk of this game is to tell a tale of two SimCities. On one side of the border is a brilliant, vibrantly realized reboot of Maxis' classic SimCity franchise. After a 10-year break, here is a game that presents the modern city builder with nearly every possible tool one could hope for to build the bustling metropolis of their dreams. It is gorgeous to look at when properly taken advantage of with the latest PC hardware, artfully designed for minimal user interface turmoil, and just exquisitely charming across the board. Across the border, however, is another SimCity entirely. This one is a stricter game than the one franchise fans have come to know over the years, one more dedicated to a single-minded way of cooperative thinking. In this SimCity, a single city cannot survive without another nearby to pick up the slack. Multiplayer is heavily encouraged, to the point of insistence, and yet the safeguards that aim to prevent problematic behavior on the part of others are minimal, and frankly unreliable. Which is to say nothing of its overall, online-always infrastructure, one which has, at times already, hamstrung the entirety of this new SimCity's lush, yet disappointingly underutilized region.

You start off with a nice patch of land, but you'll be surprised how quickly that space fills.

Understand, SimCity is extremely capable of being the grand reboot of the series it aims to be, at least in spurts. The core act of city-building, which has been using most of the same basic ideas since its inception nearly 25 years ago, has rarely been more elegantly realized. The tools to build with are numerous and overwhelming. Of course you will start out your new city by laying down zones for residential, commercial, and industrial, perhaps by building a couple of city services, plopping down (to use the game's parlance) a power plant, and then a water tower, and then a garbage dump, and it just goes on. Every building option you have comes with option upon option underneath. Do you spend the money now on a single police station, or do you save up for the bigger, more all-encompassing precinct? Do you want a simple BBQ pit park, or a giant fountain sculpture to really boost land value? Is your hospital running out of room for sick patients? Why not just build another row of patient rooms on what you've already got?

Half the fun of SimCity is just trying to figure out the best, most efficient ways to build everything. And this SimCity often scratches that itch wonderfully. It even offers tremendous flexibility in the design of your city, both from a geographical standpoint, and in terms of economy. To the former, roads can now be curved, built in circles, perfect blocks, really whatever you like. Roads are upgradable too, so a small avenue can become a large commercial one later on.

More interesting are the city specialties, special economic focuses that allow you to build, say, an oil pump or two if your land is rich in fossil fuels. Or perhaps tourism, if your interest pertains to building famous landmarks (some of which can be bought via the game's DLC store). Or, if you just like making money, there's always the gambling route. These specialties provide an extra layer of challenge, in that you kind of have to build your city around them, as opposed to just deciding on them later. Otherwise you'll spend a lot of time bulldozing and rezoning things as you try to figure out how to squeeze an ore mine into a residential neighborhood.

Maybe I'm alone on this one, but one of my favorite things about the old SimCity games were the stupid charts you could look at to see where crime was prolific, how property values varied across my city, who was happy or displeased with my mayoral performance, and such. Even if you don't understand me, this SimCity does. There are graphs upon charts upon data screens to play with, all giving ample information on every aspect of how my city is running. It's beautiful stuff, though it's also occasionally bogged down by sloppy data reporting. Often times fixing problems within my city, like sewage outflow issues or power outages, would result in continued displeasure from my citizens for quite some time. This can sometimes make it difficult to judge whether you've actually solved the issue or not.

Coordinating city specializations is key, lest you end up with a region full of industrial polluters.

Far more problematic than any of that, however, is really the other half of SimCity. It is the multiplayer, the skeletal structure in which the city building meat of the game has been somewhat awkwardly stuffed into. At the outset of every game, you are asked to pick a region. Right from the get-go, you can choose to join an already existing region, which has been started by another online player, or create your own. Once in a region, you can choose to be the mayor of as many of the city plots as you please, but there are always multiple plots, and to leave a whole region unused puts a burden on your city that the game isn't designed to alleviate through single-player play.

Essentially, SimCity doesn't really want you to have one city that has all available services and resources. As with the city specialties, there is significant financial and strategic benefit to having one city that's, say, more apt to house polluting industrial factories, or garbage dumps. Such a city might not have a huge residential population, nor much potential for high land value items, but it can make money by housing jobs that citizens in other cities can commute to, and even by housing other cities' garbage.

This cooperation becomes crucial, as there really isn't enough money, nor space to allow one city to bear all the major burdens at once. That last point is a particularly stinging one. Regions are broken up into squared-off city areas within a larger area of land. In between the cities are vast zones of dead space that essentially just exist to make the region look more natural. While it certainly can take a while to fill up an entire plot of land--especially in areas rife with mountains or plateaus--you will eventually fill it up. The game goes out of its way to try and help you build using the most efficient layouts possible, even offering a road guide that shows you ideal places for streets and avenues. But even following the guides stringently, you'll eventually run out of room, leaving you to try and squeeze whatever zoning density you possibly can out of every little corner you own. There is probably a very good technical reason for why you can't use any of that extra land, but it is nonetheless a terrible tease.

Yes, it is entirely possible to play SimCity on your own, without any other players, but this is not really ideal. If you're managing multiple cities in a region, that turns an already intense time suck into a more stressful endeavor. I did not enjoy the act of trying to balance multiple cities in a region by myself. Don't get me wrong, I'm generally of the mindset that games like SimCity should be played in tomb-like isolation, but that isn't how this SimCity is meant to be played. It's meant to be played with friends. To try and fight against its multiplayer is to fight against the very nature of this game's design.

The thing of it is, if you can get a group of enthusiastic players together, the kind you know won't do dickish things, like polluting your region to death, or harboring scads of murderers in their dilapidated hellhole of a town, SimCity works. As weird and awkward as it seems at first, the more you play it under ideal conditions, the more clear Maxis' vision for this game becomes. It's almost like a kind of social experiment in cooperation, albeit one that is perhaps a bit too open to exploitation. While you can't just go in and wreck anyone's city wholesale, there are smaller, more insidious things players can do to royally screw up someone's region, and don't think there won't be those people. Of course, you can always set your game to private, making sure that only friends and likeminded individuals can join. But if my experience has been any indication, those safeguards aren't terribly reliable right now. I had one early region set to private, and then after a bit of server wonkiness, it had become infested with unfamiliars.

Insert metaphor for EA's online servers here.

Granted, that is an issue that may have just been the result of launch jitters on EA's servers, but this brings us to the biggest flaw in SimCity's design. SimCity is an always-online game, meaning if the servers are off, everybody's game is off. EA calls SimCity's multiplayer asynchronous, and that's partially correct. There's nothing that requires players to be on at the same time to play. However, we do all have to be able to connect to EA's servers to play. Yes, even if you just want to noodle around in your own city and don't care an iota what's going on in the larger region today, you can't load up your city data if the servers are down. And the servers have been down. Several times, in fact, since the game launched this past Tuesday. A week from now, these concerns might not even be justified. The servers could be back up and work flawlessly forever a minute after this is published. Regardless, this underlying philosophy, one that dictates that if everyone can't play, then no one shall play, is a troubling one.

It is therefore difficult to completely reconcile a game like SimCity. This is a game with startling clarity of vision, but that vision often feels narrow and intractable. It knows precisely what it wants to be, and in most key ways, executes on those ideas with precision. But in setting that course, it all but dismisses the way in which many played SimCity sequel after sequel. And while I expect many will fall head-over-heels in love with this SimCity's cooperative design, at its best, the game feels more like a really thoughtfully designed multiplayer mode for a larger, single-player capable game that, sadly, doesn't exist. Go in with the right expectations, and there's a good chance you'll enjoy your time with SimCity. Assuming, of course, EA's servers will let you play it in the first place.

Alex Navarro on Google+
223 Comments
Posted by ApexDefect

@barrabas said:

That first image that shows the size of the plot of land you have really makes the game look more like SimNeighborhood than SimCity.

My thoughts exactly.

Posted by ApexDefect

@barrabas said:

That first image that shows the size of the plot of land you have really makes the game look more like SimNeighborhood than SimCity.

My thoughts exactly.

Posted by Neonie

This game is a F2P game right? Sure looks like one.

Posted by ApexDefect

@barrabas said:

That first image that shows the size of the plot of land you have really makes the game look more like SimNeighborhood than SimCity.

My thoughts exactly.

Posted by mellotronrules

@cross said:

@mellotronrules: Civitas is already on Kickstarter, so it got there well before you.

haha oh man. life becomes a parody of itself.

Posted by chilibean_3

It does seem like this game would fair better if it didn't have the SimCity name that comes with the expectations we have. I pretty much have the same feelings that Alex has. I wonder if this was called The Sim's: City! maybe I could get into it for a bit. I still think there isn't much here to keep me coming back though. After about a week I'd never boot it back up again, feeling like I've gotten all I'll get out of it. And there is so much smart stuff going on with this game.

This will still probably find a happy audience though. One that doesn't care about the older SimCity games or maybe just has an easier time letting those expectations go. Along with a bunch of people who grew up on The Sims, not SimCity.

Posted by Bollard

Several times, in fact, since the game launched this past Tuesday.

... You mean yesterday.

Posted by Cincaid

The digital version (yes digital, not physical copy) on Origin in Sweden is $109 (699 SEK). This review validated my decision not to buy it, as if the server issues weren't enough.

Posted by bushpusherr

That is SUCH A GOOD header image LOL

Posted by FinalDasa

I'm not sure if I can personally count the always online DRM against the game. Steam runs the exact same way and nonetheless that service is given great praise but SimCity is doing the same and gets internet flames. The game is far from perfect and I agree with the 3 stars completely, but I don't agree that anything to do with server lag or issues is a negative on the game since all that will disappear soon enough.

Edited by Rowr

After what i've read i'm definitely going to leave this one until it's patched up, they increase the size of the areas and there is some sort of ALL DLC version in hopefully about a year. Only for the fact I'm a city builder game junkie and it looks as though there's some genuinely interesting stuff going on gameplay wise behind the buggyness and restriction.

I'm not in support of the practices involving always on DRM and EA's recent and consistent greedy facebookish approach for microtransactions. I learned my lesson with Diablo 3. The real money auction house combined with slot machine type game mechanics are guilty in the same way of intertwining human psychology and game mechanics to turn unmetered profit.

I firmly believe that the only way to let the publisher feel like they didn't get away with these shoddy practices (and continue to do so) is to make it affect their bottom line, money is the only language they speak. Unfortunately in the case of this and Diablo 3, the publishers are aware that the hype for a remake of such beloved and long absent franchises is too strong for most to resist.

To be fair having not played this yet i'm not fully aware of how the dlc or microtransactions are leveraged against gameplay. but i'm pretty confident to work under the assumption that going forward they are going to charge people for larger plot sizes. At least i believe thats their plan, if there's enough backlash surrounding it they might fix it for free and frame it as though they are "listening to the fans".

Edited by LuckySpork

Enjoying it so far. Although I have lost like half a city a couple times, which is time really wasted instead of time mostly wasted... But fun when it works. I dont mind, having like a billion other games to play atm too.

Posted by Ett

I would loved a great sim game. Well guess ill go back to Openttd.

Posted by Winternet

9.5?!? Pashaw!

Jokes aside, it's a bummer SimCity it's not really what we were expecting it to be.

Posted by PoToSkull

@deathpooky: While some points you make are valid, calling it SimCity Social is inaccurate. It doesn't have any of the bullshit free-to-play caveats most of those games have.

Posted by MrBubbles

I loved Simcity 2000 with a passion but this game hasn't won me over mostly because I haven't been able to play it (the game doesn't start for me most of the time). The little bit of it that I have played is enjoyable but I really wish that I could expand my cities passed that lame ass border there simply isn't enough room. And like all always online DRM games I still hate that fact.

Posted by x0mb13

Seems like you are giving this a lower score because you are judging it against what you wanted opposed to what it is.

Posted by tourgen

@foggen said:

Hey look, the best SimCity review on the internet. And it only took one try!

Posted by Giefcookie

@cincaid said:

The digital version (yes digital, not physical copy) on Origin in Sweden is $109 (699 SEK). This review validated my decision not to buy it, as if the server issues weren't enough.

That's insane. I think it was 59.99€ on Origin in Finland. Got the digital deluxe edition for 40€ on GMG though.

Posted by SomeJerk

@finaldasa said:

I'm not sure if I can personally count the always online DRM against the game. Steam runs the exact same way

Are you trying to say that Steams DRM runs the exact same way as Sim City 2013s DRM?

Edited by porr

I can't help but notice the increasing amount of franchises hampered by the letters E and A on their cover.

Edited by Ben_H

I guess I will stick with Simcity 2000. It takes up like 50 mb, runs in a window, and isn't tied to a server or web connection, and is deeper by the sounds of things.

I really need to play more Simcity 4. I played a couple hours of it but I have never really got too far in it. I think I would really enjoy that game a lot.

This is really disappointing. I was looking forward to this game quite a bit, and was even going to break my multi-year "don't buy EA stuff" rule but it turns out they even screwed this up so badly that I won't have to.

Edited by CaLe

EU people, you can cancel your pre-order by using the live chat feature on the Origin website. Just have your order number ready.

Edited by Jaqen_HGhar

Installing right now, from what I have heard and seen on the QL this seems like a spot on score. Also from what I have seen and heard I am sure I will have a lot of fun with the game. I just love building stuff, and I eventually feel the need to move on to a different place to build anyway. I also got it cheaper off GMG a few months back, so I am kinda guaranteed to get my moneys worth out of it.

Edited by spiralcut

Love the gameplay, love the look and feel, love the sound!

However... Just got back from a movie and now just simply can't connect. Pair that with the way-too-limiting decision to completely lock the city sizes and I am just getting frustrated.

I know that the dev's have stated that mod support will be coming, it just can't be soon enough.

Posted by Killroycantkill

I'm really disapointed that the game is online only. I've been looking to play with friends so we can build our mega region but the "If the servers are up no one can play" aspect really turns me off. Again the argument can be made that in this day and age when am I ever without internet, but there are times where I just want to zero in on a game, that means turning the wi-fi off on my laptop so I get no distractions. And if I can't do that with the kind of game that really lends itself to a mindless timesink, then I don't know if I will pick it up.

Edited by DazbotAthertron

@zuldim said:

@milkman said:

MORE LIKE SIM SHITTY

AWWWWWW YEEEEEAH *Fist bump*

BROS!

Posted by Jace

@Alex

Personally, after playing this game with some friends of mine this would be a 4/5 game for me. However, your criticism is extremely well-justified.

I do think that this game could be the platform for the best SimCity ever made on their next go around, assuming EA gets its head out of its ass on some big issues before then.

Posted by Lazyaza

I was totally psyched to play this and would even happily deal with always online annoyance but the sheer tininess of the cities coupled with the lack of teraforming absolutely killed my interest dead.

A fine review Mr Navarro.

Posted by Wilshere

It looks like EA has pushed Maxis into making this game revolve around online play. I don't buy the technical reasons for small cities. They could have easily made it optional. They just want people to co-operate by having specialized cities, rather than a huge do it all city. This by itself is fair enough, most cities are specialized in a way, but this feels forced. People should have the option to have a "Jack of all trades, master of none" city.

Posted by Death_Burnout

It's more like a remake of SimTown...OHHHHH SNAP. Nah that's both lame and only partly true...Oh I did it again.

Posted by depecheload

As of this review the game barely works and large swathes of people trying to play it can't.

Zero stars.

Unfair? So is buying a game on day one and not being able to play it single player because the multiplayer servers are borked. Fuck that weak shit. Consumers need to not buy these games en masse so hopefully developers will get the point.

Posted by ch3burashka

For the amount of complaints I've heard, Sim City seems to be getting too warm a reception - this 3/5 seems more in line with reality.

I don't mean to imply bias or partiality on other sites' behalf - "journalistic integrity" is the "Red Scare" of our industry, and it needs to stop. However, all of the scores so far seem to be out of whack. In the end, it's probably a good game, one I'll be investing some time in.

Edited by SeanNaess

Only three highlighted words in this review. Amazing!

Edited by avid8bit

This is the best review I've ever read from Alex. He absolutely nailed the issues a lot of people are having with the game while maintaning space to praise what was worth praising. Like some are saying, and as EA stated at some point, the city sizes may get bigger and the servers will likely stabilize in time, though none of that will likely negate the necessity for cooperative players in your region. I worry that finding an appropriate game for what you want to do is just going to take too much work or too much luck.

But then I look at something like the Miiverse, where everybody is so damn jubilant all the time and I hold out hope that other online communities might turn out just as well, though I have yet to see that happen again.

Edited by gbrading

I still find it crazy that Maxis and EA would entirely write off a whole style of playing SimCity in single-player. I just find that insane. But my main reason I'm not buying this is the always-on DRM. I've been boycotting Ubisoft for the past few years for the exact same reason.

Really great review Alex. One thing I majorly wish they had brought from SC2K is the newspapers. I adored the newspapers.

Edited by granderojo

I want Vincent Ocasla who created this city in Simcity 3000 to write a review of this Simcity. That said, what Alex wrote is similar to my experiences in the beta(I bought the game but it won't be here until Friday). The game has problems, I'm still going to play the hell out of it.

Edited by MikeFightNight

I was sort of hyped for this and was thinking about getting it on release. I got a $30 deal on Tomb Raider early though, so I decided I would play through that first. Now I'm glad I waited. I mean I still want to play it eventually but finding out the size of the cities and the fact their is NO terraforming tools seems crazy to me. Now I know it's a different Sim City and will readjust my expectations when I get it on the cheap someday.

Another factor is hearing about all the server problems. Just thinking that this game will one day be unplayable makes me want it less even now.

Edited by Rox360

I'm not sure if I can personally count the always online DRM against the game. Steam runs the exact same way and nonetheless that service is given great praise but SimCity is doing the same and gets internet flames. The game is far from perfect and I agree with the 3 stars completely, but I don't agree that anything to do with server lag or issues is a negative on the game since all that will disappear soon enough.

How does Steam run anything like this? Steam has never shoved me into a server queue when I'm trying to play a single player game. Steam doesn't kick me out of a game if my connection hiccups, and it doesn't stop me from playing anything I own if I don't have Internet access. Last time I had connections with my net, I spent a couple of days playing through Borderlands again until it was solved and I could continue with my life. Via Steam, obviously.

In some way, that's why I like games that let you dig crazy deep and lose yourself in them for days, like Civilization and the other SimCity games. They're absolutely perfect for when your plans go down the drain and you have nothing but time to waste. And this one doesn't allow it at all. As far as I'm concerned, that virtually disqualifies it from even being a SimCity game to begin with.

Edited by deerokus

Have to give credit to how Alex/GB have handled this review: waited until the real-world release before publishing the review, and then the review itself gives me a great impression of whether I'll like this game (I won't!).

Polygon have made a right hash of it by publishing that glowing review of the game played under controlled conditions. Even though they've adjusted their score after the fact, that's missing the point.

Posted by Svenzon

Hmm. I'll probably buy the game further down the line then, if they get some of the issues worked out. Kinda low on cash now and I wouldn't wanna spend it on something broken. Something tells me it could've used some more dev time, but there's always that "gotta get this out before our fiscal year ends!" mentality that's been plaguing EA lately. It's sad, since they've got some many talented people under their wing and they all deserve better. :/

Edited by Svenzon

Hmm. I'll probably buy the game further down the line then, if they get some of the issues worked out. Kinda low on cash now and I wouldn't wanna spend it on something broken. Something tells me it could've used some more dev time, but there's always that "gotta get this out before our fiscal year ends!" mentality that's been plaguing EA lately. It's sad, since they've got some many talented people under their wing and they all deserve better. :/

Posted by Ghostin

I own all of the older games. I resolved not to buy this one as soon as I heard of the platform and it's always online status.

Posted by t_9

Some people just want a City Building game. Not a social experiment. I'm extremely disappointed. :(

Posted by DG991

God this review is spot on... they fucked up this game and it makes me sad.

Posted by qUaK3R

EA: "Please big majority of dumbass people who, somewhat, like to play games, buy our huge name game. We can't say it sucks, in fact, for us, it's the game of the year! But you'll see soon enough what kind of game it is."

Someone, please think of the children. Don't buy them this game. EA needs to start learning the hard way, that releasing this kind of quality games isn't getting them anywhere. I'm not a haters, but using a name to make people buy their games it's a NO NO.

Posted by allgamelover

I have my city region on Europe west 1, and when I wanted to play earlier, that server was down for whatever maintenance or something. So I load up a North America server, my city is not there. It is locked to the other server which is now down. Great. I can't wait to have to manage cities on different servers and having to remember where I had my different cities. Of course at the moment I cannot go on anything because the game is "Checking for updates". Still doing it. I'm probably gonna go do something else. How do they expect to get people invested enough to buy DLC if they cannot get invested with these weird problems, and fear of losing progress/cities?

Edited by liako21

they gotta have an expansion where you can just have absolute urban sprawl