It seemed like a good idea at the time. Introduce gambling into the city! It’s a great source of revenue, it’ll bring in tourists and will make the local businesses happy. And it did, for a while. But I wanted more. More money. More tourists. More gambling. So I started expanding and building more gambling houses. I improved existing ones with even more ways to separate people from their hard earned cash. And it worked. I was raking in the dough. But alas, my casinos and influx of wealth began attracting criminals. Lots of them.
They rampaged through the city, stealing and murdering and things started to fall apart dramatically as a result. My police force was overworked and understaffed – no match for the crime wave that had struck my once sleepy town. The tourists and traffic choking the streets as they flocked to the casinos ensured that the officers were never where they were needed. Citizens abandoned the city in droves, wrecking productivity and leaving behind abandoned buildings that were colossal fire hazards. These abandoned buildings then often broke out into flames, sorely testing my fire fighters and causing more destruction as they spread to neighbouring structures.
Having blown my budget on the casinos with the intent of earning future profits, I lacked the funds needed to address the situation and halt the urban decay. My policemen and fire fighters were helpless, my short term attempt to raise taxes and gain the funds to fix the problem just drove away even more citizens and I was left in charge of a city rapidly falling apart, its economy severely damaged and its people plagued by criminals. Truly, I thought, this is exactly the sort of urban hellhole where Batman is likely to be born. Then I noticed I only had ten minutes left and decided to wreck up the place with Tornadoes for my amusement.
No I am not suffering from delusions of godhood, I merely participated in the beta for the new SimCity and I must say, I was extremely impressed. The beta, which was sadly lacking the majority of features we can expect in the finished product and which had a time limit of one hour, was fiendishly addictive. My first instinct upon completing a game, apart from cursing bitterly at the fact that it wasn’t the finished product, was to immediately start again and try to best my previous performance.
A different layout for the roads perhaps? More parks to improve land value? Maybe this time I should try to make the best goddamn bus system known to man! Indeed even my incredibly dramatic failure at building a city based on gambling didn’t dampen my enthusiasm. It just convinced me that improving my police stations, fire stations, education systems and public transport services before creating a mass of casinos was the best idea. Doing so would increase the number of cops and fire fighters, reduce the level of criminals prowling the streets and limit the number of cars on the road, thus allowing the civil servants access to where they needed to be and not stuck in traffic as crimes and fires break out all over the city.
Improvement seems to be the key word here. The goal is to improve your city after all. Rather than placing things all over the map, one highly improved and upgraded building is better than many unimproved ones. Sure you can put police stations all over the map, or you can just have one and increase the number of policemen and jail cells that it has. It’ll do the same thing and take up less space overall. And the effects of these improvements are quite tangible as your city flourishes. The GlassBox engine renders all of that so you have a visible monument to your successes. Place your roads, then zone the areas and you’ll see properties being built, people moving in and your people living/working/shopping there. All basic stuff. But increase the land values – which are influenced by the immediate presence of Parks or City Services such as Police, Fire Stations and Medical treatment – and you’ll see the buildings become nicer as more affluent Sims move into the area.
Likewise by increasing Urban Density – which is affected by any number of factors such as the quality of the roads and overall citizen happiness – and small buildings will become multi storey creations and eventually towering skyscrapers. And all of this is easily manageable thanks to an efficient interface and map overlays that show you all the relevant information in geographic terms. Need to know where the wealthiest land is? There’s a map for that. Need to know where the ground is polluted? Map for that. Want to know where the sewerage is going? Map for that and horrible sound effects as brown blobs flow through the sewerage pipes. The gameplay and presentation are excellent, accessible but complex and with a wealth of options and customisation.
Still, I did have a number of problems with the game. Even accounting for increases in density, cities seem kind of small. Granted they give you a region where you or your friends can develop a number of cities, but the fact that you won’t be building the truly sprawling metropolises of past SimCity titles is rather disappointing. More importantly, and potentially more problematic is the online focus. While you can control a region on your own and build all its cities to suit your goals, you can also play online and have your region populated with the urban planning efforts of your friends. While some may find that attractive, purists may bemoan it. However something that’s likely to attract everyone’s ire is the fact that the game requires you to be online at all times. While I personally didn’t have any problems with connectivity, many out there won’t have that luxury. And honestly, we don’t need another Diablo III release debacle.
That said, I’m tremendously excited about SimCity. It’s a smoothly designed, very clever and incredibly addictive game. In fact I’m already planning out my region and how I’ll specialise each city. While the beta only scratched the surface of what the full game will entail, it already looks very solid. Fans of simulators and micromanagement games can expect to lose an incredible amount of time come March.
SimCity will available March 5th 2013, for PC.