SimCity review

SimCity is surrounded by controversy. EA announced that it would require a constant internet connection, effectively telling users that they’re using “Always-On” DRM. It was a massive “SCREW YOU!” to potential buyers, but is it enough to stop people from buying the beloved franchise?

2013-02-15_00004I was lucky enough to be granted beta developer access to an early release of SimCity by a friend of a friend. I excitedly loaded the game through Origin (since the SimCity franchise is owned by EA, it’ll be a pretty safe bet to say that it’ll be available only through Origin) and waited for the updates to load, then I pressed the play button.

The first screen that opens when you start the game is the update screen and it’s shaped to look like an MMO update window similarly seen in games like Guild Wars 2, where updates and news are available from the get go.

Before the game welcomes you, there are your obvious splash screens showing the EA and Maxis logo and a charming video flying over towns and showing what they can offer. Up to this point, I haven’t even thought about this DRM nonsense, it’s not a huge deal so far.

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Now we’re getting into business. The menu for SimCity is pretty basic. You’ve got a resume button, so you can return to any cities you’ve created; a play button, where you can start new regions or join other regions and finally, a SimCity World button. This is where things start to get interesting. Your cities can be ranked by your friends, area or even globally. The whole idea is to have the best city in the world. At the moment however, I’m limited to one region (which contains your cities) and there aren’t too many people who have access, so one region I’m involved with is ranked #31 out of #114 regions.

Go Rumblelandia!

Once you enter a region and pick a city to play, you can invite your friends to play in the area with you and then you can help each other out. A main focus of this game is that it’s meant to be a multiplayer experience, where you can send different resources to your friends and buy utilities to run your own city. Using an MMO-style gameplay, SimCity has a global market for items like coal and oil so players can buy commodities that their city needs to run.

Planning your city is important since you can be relying on others for help or vice versa. If you have great hospitals, you can send ambulances to other cities in the region and trade garbage services. You can buy power and water from your neighbours if you can’t produce it yourself. When you build up your government and add on different departments, you can set prices for people to buy utilities. It’s a pretty good way to make a profit.2013-02-15_00008

Citizens will tell you what they need and when they want it. When they do want change, you’ll find speech bubbles over buildings and they’ll ask you to do certain things. Sometimes it’s to improve the congestion along the highway, so they’ll ask for public transport. Or they’ll tell you that they’re fed up with crime, thus, they’ll ask for more police. Your citizens will tell you what’s wrong and they won’t hesitate to protest and make noise about it either. Don’t ignore them, or they’ll leave in droves.

Making sure that you zone your residential and commercial areas close together ensures that shoppers are never bored. Putting in schools improves the intelligence of your citizens, so they’re less likely to cause fires, get sick or turn to a life of crime. Instead, they have better job opportunities, make more money and will live in better houses.

Industrial areas provide jobs and will ship out freights of whatever your city happens to be producing. If you have more skilled workers, your products are worth more money. The downside of a large industrial area is ground, air and water pollution which can make your people sick.

There are improvements everywhere. You can now build curved roads, which actually come in handy. Zoning residential, commercial and industrial areas is easier and knowing what areas need improving is a lot easier. The game has new overlays showing how pollution affects the water table, which way the wind is blowing so that you don’t send blooms of thick smog over your commercial and residential areas. Advisers in your government will tell you what needs attention and show you where and sometimes they’ll make bets with you! Now, I’m not a lawyer or anything but I get the feeling that might be illegal! Either make, quick way to make a few thousand dollars.

One of the stranger features of the game is the game filters. It’s like Instagram for you gameplay and while it’s fun to play around with them, they seem unnecessary. I could them being useful for people who make SimCity movies (It’s a real thing, check YouTube) but other than the colour-blind options, they seem like a quirky idea shoved in.

2013-02-15_00001But, the question everyone is asking is, “Are all the improvements enough to overlook the ‘Always-On’ DRM?” There are two issues to discuss when it comes to this.

Firstly, the issue potential buyers are seeing is an “Always-On” component.

 When users have seen developers use an “Always-On” DRM in the past, it has been poorly implemented and been used on single-player games. EA have stated in the past that they’re switching the focus away from the single-player experience in favour of a MMO-style feel. Players can play by themselves or start cities in regions with other players. SimCity has a global ranking and an online resources market where prices for commodities vary depending on their availability. The way EA and Maxis have developed the new SimCity is that you aren’t developing a city alone because that isn’t how city development works. They want SimCity to reflect the way real world cities interact with each other and that requires everyone to be connected.

 Secondly, everyone seems to have a lot of irrational hatred for EA.

 Let’s get something straight. EA are a business first and foremost. Yes, they’ve developed some of the best games we’ve seen and yes, they are known to also be quite… harsh when it comes to how they run things. Although, every other developer is the same, you just don’t hear about it.

 I’m in a small minority who don’t think EA deserve what they get. I don’t agree with some of their business practises and I was very vocal when Origin started, but I don’t think they’re the source of all evil in our world.

 2013-02-15_00011Maxis and EA have done an incredible job improving on an already successful franchise to relaunch it into a new audience. Listening to what the fans have wanted since SimCity 4, they’ve improved graphics, sounds, user-interfaces, and bought a new element to the game with the multiplayer added. Any complaints I may have about the game are small and don’t ruin the experience that SimCity brings.


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