GET YOUR GAME ON: ‘SimCity’ still building fun

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First Posted: 3/18/2013

It’s been about 18 years since I last played “SimCity,” but I look back on my time with the series with many fond memories.

“SimCity” is an open-ended city-building game series designed by one of the most critically acclaimed developers ever, Will Wright. Over the years “SimCity” has had many spin-offs, like “The Sims”, “SimEarth”, “Sim Theme Park,” and many more. There hasn’t been a proper “SimCity” game in a while, making the new 2013 release special.

The main concept of the “Sim” games is the power of creation; “SimCity” was one of the first games to be characterized as a god game. You start with a fresh canvas and you can build your very own city any way you desire.

It has always been the hallmark of city planning games. Aside from building, you must expand using the budget and resources you have. You can then build special buildings and supply your citizens with all sorts of services, like health, education, and so forth. You are responsible for the well-being of your people and the status of your ever-expanding city.

In the 2013 “SimCity,” these systems are much more advanced than they ever were; now your decisions have real repercussions. Now you have to keep in consideration climate change, the search for renewable resources, and natural disasters.

The way city planning works in this game is you have a regional map divided into playable zones that interact with one another; you create roads to connect the sections of the city and allow for commuting of your citizens. Unlike the “SimCity” games of the past, it’s not about building the biggest city you can. You have to set specialized zones, by dragging your mouse around, designating areas of the city such as residential, commercial, industrial, etc. You start laying your roads, water pipes, electricity, and so on, and pretty soon you start having to think about things like waste disposal, police, emergency, and other public services.

It starts to get more complex. As your city grows, it needs educated people, which means schools and libraries. As your economy grows, you’ll have to upgrade your stores and neighborhoods. The give and take continues, balancing your populace’s needs while keeping up your income. You must plan ahead while paying attention to the present.

As your city becomes more prosperous, you can upgrade most of your structures, purify water, turn power plants into solar plants, and even create sports stadiums. Later on in the game, it does create a glaring problem – unlike the older games, the city size is much smaller. You would think with upgraded technology it would be the other way around, but the size is very limited, so you must pay close attention to your design because you can run out of space very quickly.

The new user interface is very user-friendly and easy to use. It’s not hard to keep track of the citizens: it even keeps track of their name, home address, work address, happiness level, education level, wants, fears, and about a dozen other stats. Even though you may have a city over 150,000 or more, you can zoom in to see what it is like for the average guy on the street. The crazy amount of detail and power you have is still an interesting formula and is always a joy to experiment with.

There are some glaring problems with the game, however. They are fixing it now, but there are terrible server issues. There are several online connection problems, and because the game is always online, it makes the game unplayable sometimes unless you are lucky enough to get a good server at the time you’re playing. The developer is working on these issues and promises they will be resolved soon enough.

“SimCity” is really unlike anything else out there. It has no story, no action, but it can be really fun to use your brain to create something special; that is the real draw of the “Sim” games. Even though this game does have some problems, the graphics are gorgeous and the gameplay is an upgrade from the older games, so if you like building things or you’re a “SimCity” fan from the old days, you should give this game a try. If not, you may want to wait until the issues are resolved.

-Robbie Vanderveken is the digital operations specialist at The Times Leader. E-mail him at rvanderveken