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Overview

SimCity puts players in charge of their own urban sprawl

SimCity is the fifth installment in the long running and much loved SimCity city-simulation franchise, developed for by Maxis Software and published by EA for PC and Mac, both in retail and via EA's Origin digital distribution service. It was released in the US on March 5th 2013 for Windows PC. Australia and Japan release dates are set to March 7th 2013, as in Europe, excepting the UK where the game is set to release on March 8th 2013. MAC versions are currently slated for Q1/Q2 2013.

As its predecessors, the game puts the player in control of planning, building, and maintaining a simulated city. As the mayor of a virtual city, the player is given information and statistics regarding pollution, public happiness, crime rates, water levels, etc., to help make decisions about how to build and run the city. The player's responsibilities include laying roads, setting zoning, controlling the power and water supply, managing public services like education and health, setting taxes, managing sewerage and waste, trading supplies with neighboring cities, and more.

Gameplay

An example of zoning from SimCity 3000

After a 10 year hiatus since SimCity 4, the previous major installment in the franchise, developer Maxis underwent a lengthy development cycle to create a complete, layered SimCity experience. As the name implies, SimCity is presented as a reboot of sorts for the series; while it doesn't necessarily reinvent the game entirely, many of the systems have been re-imagined and streamlined.

One major change is to zoning. In previous games in the series, the player could only lay down squares of residential, commercial, and industrial zones in low, medium, and high density varieties. In SimCity, the player assigns residential, commercial, or industrial zones along roads rather than in a grid. Zones will gradually become more dense over time as demand rises. Whereas zoning in previous games would require spending simoleons, zoning is free in SimCity.

Maxis has also streamlined how resources, such as power, water, and sewage, are propagated through cities. The player no longer has to manually lay underground pipes and power lines, instead, resources in SimCity flow through roads. Because roads now carry all the resources in and out of the city, road design is even more important, and as such roads are also more costly.

All cities and regions within SimCity are saved on EA's central servers, requiring an Internet connection and authentication through the Origin client before a person can play the game. While also serving as DRM, this system allows players to interact with not only other cities in real time, but a larger global market for buying and selling resources. The game can be run in sandbox mode to allow players more freedom to create whatever they want, but they cannot interact with other cities and the global economy in sandbox mode.

GlassBox Engine

SimCity retains the scope of previous games, but scales back some gameplay aspects in order to expand upon others. For example, cities are scaled back in geographic size and are not as large as in previous games. This design decision is attributed to the game's GlassBox engine, which was purposefully developed for this SimCity game, and is said to visually represent every element that makes up a city. As an example, each citizen (also called a "Sim") will be seen performing daily tasks, such as walking around, going to work, driving to school, and heading home. The GlassBox engine also allows players to view the individual wants and desires of each Sim in a city. Due to the amount of data that is visually represented within the game, the size of any one city had to be made smaller so that the game could be playable on a larger range of computer hardware.

Social Flow

One of its primary additions to the franchise is the notion of "Social Flow," or the ability of the player's city to impact other cities surrounding it, in what's called a region. Each region can have up to 16 cities within it. Players can choose to control each city plot within their region, or to open plots up to allow friends or any other SimCity players to be able to build in the region. This can lead to both positive and negative effects. For example, a player can create an entirely industrial city that provides jobs for people living in another nearby city, but pollution from the industrial city may also make its way to that same residential neighborhood. The game also allows the sharing of resources between cities, letting players sell everything from electricity to coal to garbage to other cities within a region. Each region has one region-wide project that multiple cities can contribute money and resources to completing. Cities can also be abandoned, opening them up to other players.

Buildings Editor

In SimCity buildings and structures are customizable too

Similar to the editor in Spore, individual buildings can be upgraded and modified in a modular manner. For example, instead of buying two coal plants and placing them next to each other, the player can add extra smokestacks to an existing plant, increasing its capacity. This even applies to utilities such as police and fire stations, which can be made more effective through upgrades.

Reception

The game has so far been was initially generally well-received by game critics, at one point holding a metacritic score of 95 out of 100. However, reviews submitted after the game's release to the public were far more negative due to the persistent server issues which, by nature of the game's always-online gameplay and DRM requirements, heavily impacted the experience of playing the game. SimCity currently holds a metacritic score of 82 75 out of 100 based on 12 15 reviews, a reception that the review-aggregator website qualifies as "generally favorable".

Publication (aggregators in bold)ScoreUser Score Avg.
Metacritic75/1001.6 out of 10
GameRankings76.12%n/a
Giant Bomb3/51.67 out of 5
GameSpot5.0/103.8 out of 10
Polygon4/10n/a

Russ Pitts of Polygon originally gave the game a 9.5, lauding the game as a well-engineered addictive experience in which "every element of this game has been perfectly and patiently engineered to engender an endorphin rush of accomplishment", concluding that SimCity "is in every way the fully realized evolution of the franchise and a much welcome iteration". Giant Bomb's own Alex Navarro was less positive in his review, giving the game a 3 out of 5 score on a along with a very mixed narrative. He wrote that SimCity felt like two different games, one of them "a brilliant, vibrantly realized reboot of Maxis' classic SimCity franchise" and the other a "stricter game... one more dedicated to a single-minded way of cooperative thinking".

Implementation of a standard city size-limit drew criticism

Pitts noted of the always-on co-op multiplayer that he enjoyed seeing "disparate towns form an interconnected whole that is stronger than its parts", but also cautioned that the "fun of cooperation will, of course, vary depending on with whom you are attempting to cooperate", while Alex far more negatively dubbed it a "skeletal structure in which the city building meat of the game has been somewhat awkwardly stuffed into".

The current metacritic user score is very negative, averaging at 1.9 out of 10 based on over 1400 reviews - more than half of which gave it a score of 4 or less.

Server Issues at Launch

The game's always-online DRM requirement drew heavy criticism upon the game's launch, since server errors weren't allowing players to enter the game. Some players weren't even able to download the game, and others reported spontaneous server disconnects while playing SimCity.

Eventually in an alleged attempt to decrease server malfunctions, some features were removed from the game. These included the ability to increase gameplay speed (referred in-game as "Cheetah" speed) as well as leaderboards and achievements. However, reports from both players and professional critics indicated that these measures had not visibly stabilized the servers.

Because EA issued early reviews from many popular video game editorial entities, many professional reviewers didn't take these controversies into account on their review.

Russ Pitts' review at Polygon had its score reduced from an 8 to a 4, after having been downgraded from an original 9.5 to an 8. The first score reduction was due to early server issues, while the second, much harsher downgrade was due to the removal of gameplay features that were seen as crucial. Pitts wrote that "EA's decision to remove certain features of the game in order to attempt to stabilize server performance has resulted in a dramatic change to the way SimCity is played".

Ben Kuchera of Penny Arcade Report issued a cautionary article titled "Why you shouldn't trust our SimCity 'review'" alerting readers that the experience reviewers had been exposed to wasn't prone to server issues because "EA knew exactly how many reviewers would be playing the game" and therefore not necessarily indicative of the experience players would have with the game at launch.

Editions

Limited Edition cover

A Digital Deluxe Edition is available only through Origin, which comes with extra missions, achievements, and the British, French, and German City Sets. These buildings will affect how Sims act around their neighborhood, adopting customs and other intricacies native to that culture.

A Limited Edition of the game will be given to everyone who pre-orders, adding the Heroes & Villains pack to the game.

Customers can purchase the Deluxe Upgrade Pack from Origin for $19.99 which contains the British, French, and German City Sets from Digital Deluxe.

DLC

Electronic Arts will be offering DLC from the day SimCity is available. Pricing has not been revealed, although promotional material has indicated that the Heroes and Villains Set has a $6.99 value.

The Digital Deluxe edition is available exclusively from Origin, and comes with the following DLC:

  • British City Set - Big Ben landmark, Great Britain themed tile set, and large bus stations and double-decker buses.
  • French City Set - Eiffel Tower landmark, French themed tile set, and large french police stations.
  • German City Set - Brandenburg Gate, Germany themed tile set, and high speed rail stations and vehicles.

Closed Beta

SimCity accepted beta applications beginning in August 2012 and ending before first closed beta ran on the weekend of January 26-27, 2013. A second closed beta ran for 24 hours on February 16. The closed betas were limited to one hour play sessions, and cities could not be saved. A third closed beta was held on Febuary 27, 2013. This beta session was only open for four hours, but it allowed players to use all the tools in the game with no time or building restrictions.

Access to the beta was granted to people who had pre-ordered the game via EA's Origin game store.

System Requirements

PC minimum system requirements

  • OS: Windows XP / Windows Vista / Windows 7
  • Processor: Intel 2.0GHz Core 2 Duo / AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core 4000+
  • Memory: 2GB
  • Graphics: 512MB video card with nVidia 7800, Radeon HD 2x00, or Intel Series 4
  • Hard Drive: 10GB

PC recommended specifications

  • Processor: Intel Core i5 or better
  • OS: Windows 7
  • RAM: 4GB or higher
  • Graphics: nVidia GTX 275 or better, or ATI 5850 or Better

Mac minimum system requirements

  • OS: Mac OS X 10.6.4
  • Processor: Intel 2.0GHz Core 2 Duo
  • Memory: 2GB
  • Graphics: Intel HD3000 or nVidia 9400M
  • Hard Drive: 10GB