Meteor Shot

Review: Yea, About SimCity

Meteor Shot

In game meteor shower that is a great metaphor for the game’s launch. Image from SimCity.com.

It’s time once again for a video game review and this time I’ll be offering up my thoughts about the new SimCity by EA developers Maxis. I’d like to start this off by saying how excited I was for a new version of SimCity. I spent literally hundreds of hours of my life playing Sim City 2000, Sim City 3000 and Sim City 4, as well as the SC 2000 Urban Renewal Kit, SimTower, Simfarm, SimCoptor and the strange but still fun Streets of Sim City. I still have the CD’s for each of these games and I play them from time to time. Even the 19 year old Sim City 2000 is still fun to pull out and play ever once and a while using and emulator. Hell I still have like 10 floppy disk with cities saved on them. These were all great games with tremendous replay value. In fact the only Sim City game I’ve ever played that was a dud was Sim City: Societies, but there is no reason going over that mess.

This winter I’ve been eagerly awaiting then next true game in the series, and SimCity looked like it was going to be great. But you can’t judge a book (or game) by it’s cover, and this game is a prime example of that. So lets look at some of this issues with this game.

Always Online Gaming

I have to admit that when this first popped up as a feature on the new SimCity I was concerned. Fans all over the internet claimed it was a DRM scam that had nothing to do with game play. Many said that it’s continuous connection to the servers meant that when EA decided to shut down the servers your game would be unplayable, unlike other games in the series that are still enjoyed 10, 15, 20 years after release. Many also pointed out that this could put people with less stable internet connections or players in rural areas at a disadvantage. All of these are good points, and valid concerns.

But the developers at Maxis said, “no city lives in a bubble and you need to be able to connect with other cities”. They said that the game needed to be connected to the servers for processing power, and that cities needed to be saved on those same servers. Even with the issues that had been raised by potential customers, EA went ahead  and stuck to the always on model for the game release. Even though I had my doubts I was willing to give it a try and see how the new game and it’s server based system worked.

That was really dumb on my part. As of the first week of play, pretty much every doom and gloom prediction that was made about the games all online systems was proven true. Game servers crashed, causing the game was unplayable. After I did get in and start up the game the “Getting Started” tutorial was broke, so I just started up a new region and taught myself how to play. The next day I go back to the server I had been playing in and where my region was saved. On the server list it was listed as available in green and not full or closed. I click on it to start the game and I get a message saying that the server is at high capacity and it will try and reconnect me in… 19 minutes. Basically it told me hey, for ne next 2 or so minutes you should find something else to do.

After a few days and another region on another server I got logged into the game and played for about 6 minutes before getting a message that said I had lost connection with the SimCity servers, but low and behold the game let me keep playing. That message stayed up for 45 minutes until I received a new message saying that my connection to the servers had been restored. So wait a minute, do I have to be connected online or not? That doesn’t make any sense. The whole always online with no offline mode concept is flawed from day one. I could go on and on about it, but there are post all over the internet if that’s what your looking for. And if you dislike the idea of the DRM in SimCity and think that it should be removed feel free to sigh this petition. http://www.change.org/petitions/electronic-arts-inc-remove-always-online-drm-from-simcity-and-future-games

But one more thing before I move on to the game-play. The developers used the cover that “no city lives in a bubble” to justify the DRM game-play when dealing with fan comments prior to the release of the game. They said that it needed to be online so you could play with other people and learn to work together. But when you log in and create a new region, like the second option it gives you is do you want the region to be public or private. If you chose private you can run all the cities in a region by yourself, which I could do anyways it the game was stored locally on my computer and didn’t make me go through this DRM based nightmare to be online all the time.

Connecting to a Server

Hey remember how we just talked about always connected based games and what a bad idea they are.  Well when SimCity came out it overloaded the woefully inadequate servers EA had set up, crashing them and rendering the game unplayable. Gaming media around the net dubbed it a disaster in nod to the in game events. As of today, one week after the games official release date, these issues are still not 100% cleared up.

City Hall Protest

In game shot of citizens protesting. I would assume they are protesting DRM. Image from SimCity.com.

City Lots

Once your into a server and have joined or started a region it’s time to chose a city in that region and start building. Finally and 45 or so minutes it’s time to actually play the game and build a

city! You are prompted to build a connection to the regional transportation systems first then it’s off to the race building and zoning city blocks. But after 30 minutes or so of game play you realize that your almost a third of the way across the space allotted for the city. It’s here when you come to the realization that you’ll never be able to build a city here, but just a town. Even if every building was a sky scraper this city wouldn’t be half the size of a SC 2000 map.

Adding insult to injury with the small lots is that this game features no terraforming. You can bulldoze a hill down or build up a coastal barrier. No moving of dirt period, that

means the terrain of your city is set and cannot me maximized in any way, greatly limiting the size of you town.

Roads

Roads are the one place where SimCity truly shines. Not only does the game offer a wide variety of road types, but for the first time in a Sim City game it allows you to build them on a curve. This is a feature that I’ve dreamed about for years. This new game also allows for lots build along or inside of these curves to function and any lot would on a normal straight street. This is probably one of the high points of the game.

Zoning

Zoning works similarly to previous games but you have fewer options then in Sim City 4. You can zone Residential, Commercial, and Industrial, with no distinguishable density. The density is controlled by the game, where as you use to be able to zone High, Medium, and Low density on each of these categories as well as a zoning Farm land. This system allowed you to control the kinds of structures that could be built in an area (i.e. single family homes/highrise apartment towers). The absences of farms also removes the food portion of the simulation from the game reducing you citizens to only needing power, housing, employment and water to stay alive. You would think that a farm zoning mechanic would work great with the regional play style that EA pushed so hard with this game.

Utilities

Again this game mechanic is simplified, you no longer build power lines or water pipes, all of that is built automatically. You just plop down water towers and power plants and your done. Sewage and trash pick up are added, but not very in depth. Really the utilities system can best be described as “meh”, not great, but a minor issue in contrast to some of the other problems with the game.

City Specialization

You can now use the natural or technological resources of your city to build up localized city owned industry, and then trade the goods with other cities in the region. This is a neat addition to the game that adds mining and oil exploration to the game. But again, the loss of Agriculture as a specialization type really hurts the regional play. There is a lot of possibilities to add to this part of the game with future expansions if EA choose too, but it seems like such a waist not to have them at the release.

In Conclusion

This game was not ready for prime time at it’s release, the consent online play system is an unneeded joke and should be corrected as soon as possible. I really can not stress enough to EA and Maxis that the DRM system is a bad idea that will eventually run off your customers. Beyond the server issues, the game has some very cool features but is also missing some of the things fans have come to expect from the franchise.

My over all recommendation is to pass on this game until an offline version of the game is made available to consumers.

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