As a handful of users here may know, I own SimCity. The story of my acquisition of this game began when my girlfriend
dragged me to and I decided to go shopping. I decided to go to GAME and I noticed they listed the download code for SimCity for £19.99 - a store error on their part. By law I was entitled to the game for that price so I took the plunge and after spending a few evenings with this, I've decided to review it, especially as some users here on TSW were watching this and were initially turned off by the game.
The setup process was tedious. Origin downloaded the launcher for the game, which is used to download the 2GB of game data as well as updates and establishing the connection to EA's servers. The process is lengthy and if your internet sucks, you're going to have a great time.
After the download was complete, I had to go through the mandatory tutorial. Fortunately once you start it, you can Alt+Tab out of the game, close it, re-open it and you'll be able to start your own region. You can choose to start a public region which anybody can join or a private region that's invite only.
As far as gameplay goes, it's still SimCity at heart. So is it a carbon copy of SimCity 4? Well not quite. This time there are objectives which can give awards. Specialty buildings may ask to be expanded, like another jail cell, waiting room or fire engine garage. Admittedly these are nice touches although they don't add anything integral to the gameplay experience.
Another talking point of this game relates to the small map sizes. As expected, creativity is limited especially when you unlock the buildings that are really going to make your city some money. I had to claim the city next door in order to provide power, sewage treatment and garbage disposal because I simply didn't have enough room in my big city to do it myself. Sure it was a gimmick loads liked to embrace in SimCity 4 but this time around it's a necessity and if you're going to be playing with friends then working together won't be as easy as it looks.
Server performance is also very iffy. Often I'm notified for a few seconds that the connection to the server has been lost or that the servers are down, only for the "Connection Restored" notification to appear. Save files are also locked to a specific server, so you'll essentially have one save for each server, so if your chosen server is down for maintenance then enjoy not playing for a while.
The game is also very buggy. Granted it's not as bad as The Sims 3 but it's something I've come to expect from a Maxis release. Specialty buildings like my processor factory will ask to be expanded when I've already maxed out what I can add onto the factory. Traffic bugs are still present and if you're planning events at the stadium which will attract visitors from other cities then you could be losing money pretty fast. Police and fire vehicles often struggle to reach a property in time due to the traffic issues often contributing to high crime rates and buildings burning down. It's surprising that 7 months later this still hasn't been patched but hey, we've all played TS3, right?
Disasters also aren't as fun as they used to be. They have to be unlocked this time around. Due to the nature of the always-online system, save games can't be rolled back meaning once you've sent a meteor strike on a cul-de-sac, it's your duty to clean it up. This makes the thought of disasters scary as opposed to a god-like tool. In SimCity, you're not a God anymore, you're just a mayor now. Sure you can raise taxes, close down specialty buildings and bulldoze whoever you don't like but now it's time to think seriously. You can't even terraform, you get what you're given.
But despite the shortcomings, I still had a good time. You'll still be addicted to the gameplay and you'll still want to play. It still holds a lot of what Maxis does best but the experience is pulled down by some bad design choices. It does leave a cause for concern over The Sims 4 but here's hoping they get it right next time around.
Graphics and performance
Graphically, it's a mixed bag. Despite the charming art style, it doesn't look much better visually than TS3. Trees and Sim models are 2D, probably for performance, yet turning geometry (which is basically a load of tree models in this game) from low to high does impact frame rate by 10fps, possibly down to the amount of alpha rendering involved. There are also a lot of blurring effects as you zoom in, possibly to cover up low quality assets. Turning up the lighting model from "low" to anything higher adds depth of field, motion blur and SSAO effects. I'm not quite sure why these are placed under lighting but regardless, these effects do pull down the frame rate significantly and can arguably make your game look worse. I prefer the more natural look of the "low" lighting setting. The deferred render path under DirectX 9 means that MSAA (multi-sampling anti-aliasing) doesn't work, hence Maxis are providing the less performance intensive FXAA (fast approximate anti-aliasing) instead. Despite blurring the game slightly, it does a good job of reducing jaggies.
Performance-wise considering at minimum it demands a 7800GT, it doesn't run very well. With my city almost full to the brim, my Intel HD 4000 (rough equivalent of an 8800GT) running at 1280x720 can only pull 30fps, as opposed to the 60fps I can pull in TS3 on maximum settings. If you're barely able to run TS3 as it is, I wouldn't bother with SimCity because, unless you like playing games at 480p, it's badly optimised - there are more demanding games that perform better. Yet another thing I've come to expect from a Maxis title.
SimCity is a great experience and a worthwhile one. Despite some design shortcomings and performance issues, it still has the appeal of older titles like SimCity 4. Granted I would wait for a price drop to something like £20 before buying, you'll feel satisfied with the game if you liked SimCity 4.
- Gameplay - 8.5/10
Bugs and small maps aside, you're getting what you wanted from SimCity. They've captured the feeling of being a mayor who can raise taxes, close down buildings and rule over a city quite well.
- Graphics - 7/10
The art style is the saving grace from a game plagued with low-res assets, blur filters and performance issues.
- Sound - 9/10
Despite sounding like remixes from TS3's score, the music is relaxing and what you've come to expect from a SimCity title.
- Lasting appeal - 9/10
The addictiveness is still here and if you like having multiple cities, you could be here for a while.
Final score - 8.5/10