I had been playing Sim City 3000 regularly for 10 years. I am literally hooked every single time I start that game because of my utmost love for economic planning and shiny buildings. This new Sim City thus became one of my most anticipated games and threw myself on it at release.
Maxis clearly put all they had in their new «GlassBox» 3D engine : it is a BEAUTY! Buildings are quite varied, weather effects are astonishing and there are plenty of small details that make it extremely lively! On the management side, Sim City 2013 goes well beyond everything known so far. This heavy part can be divided in 3 levels.
General management and planning doesn’t change much from older Sim City games. Old timers will be immediately familiar with the various economic and social settings to monitor. Is your population fully employed? Are businesses making enough profit? Can your inhabitants move efficiently within the city? Are they educated? Can the police cope with crime? Le list is pretty long and hours go by quickly when taking on the stack of files. The AI is pretty solid despite recurring conflicts between the surface of residential zone (even with the ¾ of the map covered in green the game still says it’s not enough), unemployment and consumer spending.
This new Sim City introduces a micro-management system in which each administrative building can be customized with additional elements to boost its efficiency : the police station can have more patrol cars, the bus terminal will have to receive more garages, the university can be extended with a business school or an engineer school, etc. This system provides you further leverage to reach prosperity, and keeps you even busier than before.
But Maxis has more and offer you to choose a specialization to personalize your city. Gambling, Hi-Tech, Tourism, Oil, … a nice array of possibilities that add further value. Let’s stress that you can choose several of those in the same city : feel free to erect the Tokyo Tower next to an exhibition center, while you pump oil not far from there! Those ones are no gimmick : the warehouse exports, derricks provide barrels for your oil plant, the stadium welcomes tourists… more parameters again for the delight of virtual managers. And if you excel in one of those, you’ll have the privilege to build prestigious social headquarters to reward your talent.
The fourth layer of awesome is that your management actually has an impact on other Sim City players. The game is organized in regions of 4 to 16 cities which are communicating permanently. Goods will come from neighbours if your industry isn’t doing enough, students form other cities will come if you have the best university, stations allow tourists to visit. Economic parameters are very detailed : there are 3 levels of wealth, 3 levels of quality for merchandises and 3 levels of qualification for workers. If the middle class can’t find goods of their liking at home, they’ll be shopping elsewhere. If you’re few to produce high-quality goods, the rich from everywhere will rush to buy. Positioning yourself within your region is a game in the game.
Beyond this competitive side, cities can cooperate by sending ambulances, patrol cars or garbage trucks. Player can also sign contracts to provide electricity or water. That’s where the whole systems finds its limits. Let’s face it, you need every possible asset you have for your city, because there’s never enough. Your neighbour isn’t always monitoring his power supply, so you can being cut by mistake. To play cooperatively, players need to know each other beforehand.
I lament that the laderboards and the world market are still to be implemented. The dev. team is still working to stabilize servers. A quick word on that : apart from the launch day, I’ve never had any problem to play.
But there’s one big problem : cities are incrdibly tiny! I don’t have any problem on the principle because I used to choose the smallest scale in Sim City 3000, but here that just isn’t working and here’s why.
The standard size of the city is about one fourth of a small city in Sim City 3000. When I constructed my 2nd city (having drawn a map before), it took me… 3 hours. In Sim City, you must constantly invest to improve the standards of living. But you very quickly reach the point at which you can’t have further residential surfaces, which means you cannot your population and your fiscal revenues. And if, like in my first city, you choose the seaside, you’re fairly limited… the other issue lies in the expansions you can make to buildings : it can necessitate far more surface than you expected at first. If you haven’t made room in advance, you have to flatten entire blocks, lose inhabitants and revenues, which makes your budget worsen dramatically. The University fully developed is about the size of 6 residential blocks of high density! You need to make several cities to exhaust the game. I wish I had a big metropolis with everything in it, but sadly it’s not an option.
Sim City is an amazing game, so rich and complex that it seems infinite in theory. But in actual gameplay, it ends up being limited by a clear lack of polish. The dreams of ambitious managers might well be crushed by the ridiculous size of the cities.