Great strategy games are all about reigning in the chaos. Often, the more challenging these games are the more rewarding they feel. It can take you multiple playthroughs before you really get your feet under you and start achieving the goals the game sets forth. Strategy games can be grinding processes, fraught with failure and frustration. If you’re of the camp that likes to shut the cranium off when you sit down at your preferred console, you probably are already aware that these kinds of games aren’t for you.
Released: March 5, 2013
Unfortunately, that means you are missing out on one of the best games to come around this spring. SimCity provides all the gnawing difficulties and brain tingling hurdles that one would expect from a strategy game, but it does something more. It streamlines the process and provides such effective feedback that while you may find a more than adequate challenge, you will also find an experience that is warm and welcoming, unlike so many of the technically confusing games that exist on PC. Whether you are a seasoned mayor who has seen it all (from alien abductions to gigantic lizards) or a fresh faced mayor-elect, you will find that SimCity is easy to pick up and play.
An effective. yet thankfully short, tutorial gives you the SimCity essentials, and you will be relieved to know that if you haven’t touched a PC since 1994 things haven’t changed much on the surface. Sure, there’s a little more housekeeping to do, but it’s all pretty common-sense. Once you dig a little bit deeper into the game you will find where things start to get a little tricky. Only after you have built your basic structures and start poking around many differing branches of city specifications will you find SimCity’s true complexity. During my first playthrough, I breezed through these options, grasping a limited understanding as I implemented the new features without much thought. Throw a community college here, a superhero mansion there, not really comprehending how these structures interact with each other. There’s plenty of cool things to create in the game that you will want to get your hands on. From the beautiful pro sports stadium, to electronics manufacturing the goodies bag is very appetizing and will drive you forward. However, when you relentlessly pursue these things (as I did), without taking the time to listen to your citizens, quickly things will spiral out of control. Whether they intended to or not, Maxis has built a very core message to their game: Greed kills.
Patience and planning are key essentials to the gameplay of SimCity, almost more so than understanding the game itself. As I started my second playthrough, I took my time. Soaked in the profits of my city when I could turn them and anticipated disaster. It is with this mindset that you can begin to work your way through SimCity and really accomplish the feats that are offered. Instead of hungrily attempting to acquire the coolest buildings, I sought to learn from my citizens. What did they want? What did the businesses require to thrive? How could I keep captains of industry in my city limits? The task of SimCity is not to build a rocket launching pad, it is to build a city that takes care of its people. The rocket launch is a reward for doing that.
With my second city, I took my time trying to provide for my population. I made sure that my people would not want for electric, water, or cleanliness. I even gave up my dream of a wind powered city and built a nuclear power plant to ensure their comfort. I spent time making sure the public services of fire, law, and medicine were readily available when needed. I battled people leaving to seek greener pastures in other cities by using education and building special facilities to provide unique opportunities. My population rose and dipped between 30,000 and 60,000 consistently, but I continued to be patient, observant, and smart.
That was when the servers crashed. Well, actually the servers went on and off for a few times, but after the third time they switched off, I was finally booted. The server requirement for SimCity is not too important, often it let me keep playing without being able to communicate to other cities. Which wasn’t too inconvenient because the integrated cities idea, while effective in theory, has yet to really find its feet. I built a trading center, attempted to develop my industry and reach out to other cities, but most were too underdeveloped to really trade anything of value. It is nice to start off next to a decent city that can lend you some water or electricity to get you started, but it does not seem to really be of much consequence. Give it a few weeks for people to build the metropolises of their dreams and maybe the trade market will open up. However all too often, when I was in need, I would poke around other cities for help, only to find them as poorly off as I was. Expect a lot of suburban wasteland neighbors in the first week.
This is one of the drawbacks to SimCity. The game can be such a slow burn that it will sometimes drag its feet. Especially if you are playing the game the right way, slowly perfecting your city and acquiescing to the needs of your people, hours a burn away before you will find your city any bigger than a mid-sized suburb. It is here that you will either have a Stockholm syndrome, accepting the zombie infestations and falling meteorites as invitations to play the game a little longer, or starting rolling your eyes as an eighth of your city is destroyed by six converging fires. But worse is when you’re saving up for that nuclear power plant or Arc De Triomphe and the game can only be sped up to move about an hour-a-minute. This slow fast forward of time can leave you sitting around for nearly a quarter of an hour, just waiting for disaster to strike. A slightly faster speed, that would automatically slow itself down during city problems would have been thoroughly appreciated here. Much like what Maxis did for The Sims.
That is about the only complaint I can lodge with the team at Maxis. These guys know their simulators and the excellence of SimCity almost seems to be expected. The most understated success of this game is how much goes on behind the scenes to give you the graphs, charts, and numbers that makes the feedback so deliciously simple. Everything about the game is cleverly delivered and elegantly designed. The difficulty and satisfying challenge comes from an expertly crafted curve that eloquently states the difference between being the mayor of a city like New York and being the mayor of a small rural town. And while one might be easier than the other, SimCity ensures they are all equally a fun time.