The lights are on
SimCity releases on March 5, which means that the game is in the final stages of development at the Maxis offices in Emeryville, California. In fact, it's so close to release that we got to sit down and play it for five hours straight. This extended hands-on time gave us a better sense of SimCity than ever before, and these are some of the biggest take-away points about the game and what it offers. It's Not About One CityThe original SimCity had one primary goal: Increase your population. A lot has changed over the years, and the number of people in your town isn't the only (or the most important) objective. Now, you're aiming for a more collaborative success, even if you're playing single-player. Because all of the cities in a region can share services, it's wise to divide your efforts. Dividing unsavory services like sewage management and garbage disposal can dampen the negative effects on a single city, while maximizing the positive effects for multiple cities. If you aren't playing with other people, you can build multiple cities by yourself in a single region to share the burden.
Have It All If You're SmallEven though SimCity has an emphasis on
cooperative efforts, you can still create a single, self-sufficient town that
covers all of its own bases. "You can certainly have a small town that
does it all. That has its own power generation, its own police force,"
says creative director Ocean Quigley. "But that starts to break down
when your city is large. When your city needs a lot of water. When your
city is generating a lot of garbage. When you have a lot of injured
people who need hospitals. If you're making small-town America, you can
fit all that stuff into a single city. But as your city becomes more and
more dense and has a higher population, you'll find that it makes much
more sense to put things in adjacent boxes, and let them be handled
outside the city."
Sandbox ModeIn the standard mode, SimCity
offers a variety of challenges for your and your region-mates. On the
other hand, those wouldn't be fair if some players were allowed to cheat
and others weren't. To solve this, Maxis has included a Sandbox mode.
“Sandbox mode is where you’re saying ‘I’m not interested in
leaderboards. I just want to have access to a whole bunch of cheats. I
want to play with the simulation as a toy,’” says Quigley. “So, we give
you a bunch of money cheats, and a whole bunch of other cheats for you
to do stuff with. Everything is unlocked.” This means that even with the
emphasis on connected play and working together, players who just want
to explore the simulation without restrictions are free to play however
Looking GoodOne of the coolest features of
SimCity is buried a bit in the options menus, but you can select the
visual style of your city from a pull-down menu. This doesn't change any
of the actual buildings, but it does alter the color. Some filters give
your city a hipster-style Instagram vibe, while others just accentuate
cool or warm colors. My personal favorite was a black-and-red filter
that gives everything a Sin City look. Even better, some filters are
geared toward colorblind players. They may not look great to those with
normal vision, but they are engineered to accentuate the differences
between colors that otherwise would not seem distinct to those with
Different GoalsMultiple specializations are
available for mayors who want to take their cities down certain
lucrative paths. Maybe you want to focus on drawing in tourists. Maybe
you want your city to become a mining juggernaut. Whatever you choose,
you will find that SimCity guides you toward your goal without putting
pressure on you. "We want to provide just enough structure so that if
you’re not entirely self-directed – if you’re not doing SimCity as
creative play but you’re doing it as a gamer and want a game experience –
that you have a clear goal that you can move to. And you get feedback
as to how well you’re doing and what the stages you need to do are,"
Quigley says. "We’ve had to put in a bunch of stuff like that, because
otherwise, it is more toy than game. And it has to have aspects of
The Online ThingEvery time we post anything on this
site about SimCity, we see comments from outraged fans regarding the
game’s controversial always-online feature. People don’t
like sacrificing control over products they purchase – especially in a
series that has such a long single-player tradition. "There are a lot of
people who want us to be making a 1990s-era game. A lot people who want
us to make SimCity4++. It's not the '90s anymore. The world has moved
on," says Quigley. "We're building a new game in this new environment.
The Internet is a thing now." From my time with SimCity, this goal of
constant connectedness serves the game well. Yes, you need to be online
to play, even in single-player. Yes, it doubles as a form of copy protection, but it doesn't impact the quality of the game mechanics. As someone
who was skeptical of the decision early on, my time with the game has
convinced me that it has benefits. It contributes to the sense of
collaboration and cooperation, which (like it or not) are critical
components of this game. Yes, it is still annoying that you can't play offline single-player. Part of me misses the idea of creating one massive city that does it all, but another part is looking
forward to the possibilities with this new incarnation of SimCity.
That's it for my initial impressions, but we'll have a full review closer to SimCity's release. The exclusive screens below were taken during my time with the game at Maxis, and include shots that highlight the black-and-red filter, the building upgrade process, and a pipe spitting sewage into the open air. When you're doing looking at those screens, check out Ocean Quigley’s blog for more (and read his answers to many questions in the comments).
Email the author Joe Juba, or follow on Twitter, Facebook, and Game Informer.
Sim City predates GTA. The series improves the post-platformer consumer's collection: Less Mario, more GTA.
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The small city size is simply ridiculous. Everything about this game, on the surface, sounds fun. But the idea that you can't build a normal city is the real downfall. Perhaps the sandbox mode may fix that but I am not confident. The way this game seems to approach city building is completely unrealistic. Why can't I just build a large urban center, as opposed to a small rectangle that will focus only on casinos. Then there is another small rectangle that provides me with water.
i am loving the sincity look thats cool as hell
Uhh, yeah. What if we DON'T want to be connected to the internet the ENTIRE time we're playing? Answer: Play SimCity 4.