Game Picks: SimCity

CorrespondentApril 4, 2013 

‘SimCity’ is fun, once you get in

“SimCity” (PC; $49.99; rated E-10) has not had a good month.

From the instant it was released, “SimCity” has been a target of complaint and ridicule, most of which has had nothing to do with the actual experience of playing the game. Rather, most of the complaints center on having paid for the game and not being able to play, thanks to the requirement that all players must be online. Servers were woefully unprepared for the load placed upon them, thanks to that always-online requirement.

There is an understandable anger associated with not being able to play a game you’ve paid for, and a jilted consumer base made its rage known in the form of user reviews on every site that would accept them. “This is the problem with an always-online requirement in a largely single-player game,” they would say, “and we won’t stand for it.” The legacy of “SimCity” seems destined to be centered on the inability to play it at all.

One of the more unfortunate effects of all the attention paid to the failure of always-online is the relative dismissal of the effort that the developers put into the actual simulation aspects.

Once you can get in, “SimCity” is a very fun game. Aspects of the game have been simplified from previous versions, such as the use of roads to carry power and sewer lines, but most of it has actually been refined to focus on the details. Specifically, more than any previous “SimCity” game, the player spends a lot of time looking at the people in the city. If you feed too many roads to a central highway, you see the individual cars slowly jamming up the entrances. Put houses too far from a police station, and you don’t just see a graphic that says “crime is increasing,” you see crime taking place.

You, as mayor, have a personal relationship with constituents, a dynamic that does an incredible job of making you care about them.

In addition to your own city’s population, another feature built in to “SimCity” – the one that somewhat justifies the online requirement, as a matter of fact – is the near-necessity of collaborating with other cities to bring prosperity to an entire region. You can send manpower to another city in exchange for tourists, or fashion yourself a champion of industry while another city becomes the tourist destination to which your tired workers blow off steam. Adding a human element to the proceedings means that every city you build will be different based on the teammate(s) you happen to draw.

Even aside from the connection issues, “SimCity” is a flawed game. The scale of the individual cities seems terribly small, and the simulation breaks down when the population gets high. Perhaps even more troubling, features that the earliest adopters got to experience – like achievements, leaderboards, and the fastest time-elapse speed – are now disabled. As such, it feels like an incomplete game.

Perhaps most disappointing, you cannot rain fire and brimstone upon your city in a fit of frustration, at least at the outset. Before you can activate one of the game’s many disaster scenarios of your own accord, you have to manage requirements set by some of the game’s achievements (disabled, remember). Forcing players to delay, say, a zombie attack is an unfortunate design choice for those of us just looking for a little fun.

New This Week: Massive multiplayer online shooting arrives in the form of “Defiance” (X360, PS3, PC), and fishing action jumps into the third dimension with “Super Black Bass 3D” (3DS).

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