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SimCity rebuilds the sandbox game

Nate Ralph | March 14, 2013
SimCity is a visually striking homage to a classic series that takes city building in bold new directions, but troubling business decisions and technical snafus spell trouble.

Sim citizens commute freely, looking for work, an education, or the occasional tourist trap in any other city in their regions. Our industrial city can attempt to cram as many residential zones as their polluted haven can reasonably support or simply offer ample public transportation by rail or municipal bus for a neighboring city's cash-starved denizens.  That neighbor can take care of educating their citizenry (and ours), and offer plenty of commercial venues for our factories to ship their wares. Their police departments can volunteer officers to patrol our streets, and while we'll want to keep our own fire department to keep things in check, it can never hurt to have a few ambulances sent our way to deal with sick Sims. We get the services we need without sacrificing space, and they get a decent chunk of change -- sharing resources isn't free, of course.

Success has its costs

I love this new approach. SimCity has always been something of a sandbox, and while our digital playgrounds have gotten a bit smaller this time around the ability to create specialized cities and tag-team with friends and strangers adds a refreshing new level of complexity to a classic experience. And there's always the option to keep things private, keeping an entire region to yourself and designing a region as you see fit.

But all of this is only neat if you can actually play the game.  I've done my fair share of griping about the woeful state of SimCity's launch, and while things have admittedly improved over the last week, being able to access the game "pretty often" just isn't good enough.

Progress is saved on EA's servers, so if your particular server is down you'll lose access to the cities you're working on--this includes losing progress if a server goes down in the middle of a game. The lack of save games makes sense from EA's perspective: city and region progress is tracked on leaderboards, so you wouldn't want folks cheating their way to the top. But it also means being unable to unleash disasters on your city for the occasional experiment (or giggles) or even sample different road layouts without spending loads of cash, much less unleash a disaster on your city for shits and giggles.

Get away from the bustle of the big city

And now we're back to that multiplayer-first focus, which will be the hardest hurdle for fans of the older games in the series to get over. The relatively small city sizes means you'll need to design a city that thrives with a particular focus, and then building complementary cities alongside it. If you're playing by yourself and have settled into a comfortable, profitable rhythm, things will get repetitive--fast. Playing with others naturally throws new wrenches into the works, as you attempt to goad others into accommodating your master plan or deal with mayors who aren't very organized (like me).

 

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