The lights are on
My first Game Informer review was for a game I had never played a single entry in the franchise prior and ended up loving it to no end, and I rank it in my top 10 of all time. In that review, I said I rarely write reviews and if I do, I either loved the game so much I felt I needed to share my experience with others, or that I felt I was so disappointed, that a warning needed to be sent out to everyone. The second half of that statement is sadly what I must do with SimCity. I say this as someone who anticipated this title for a long time, had watched countless videos on GIO, YouTube, and other sites, stalked the official site until launch, and generally had high hopes for it. Even after a horrid launch, I gave the game nearly 2 months to make things right, and they haven't even come close to reaching that point as of this review. I purchased this game to play with my brother and we both picked it up day one. We were so excited to play it, and we both wanted so badly for it to be good. I will ignore the launch issues (mostly), and concentrate on just the good and bad overall that the game has in its current state with patch 2.0.
As much as I'm about to rant against this game, I need to make it known that no matter what you read, it isn't a total wash, which is why I gave it as long as I have to improve. Starting a new city is always fun for me. The first few hours are almost always incredible to witness. The graphics, while not always stunning, are almost always visually appealing to the eye, and at times (through the use of clever filters, much like Instagram) are gorgeous to behold, but it does take a high end PC to make that happen. There are two modes you can choose from, standard and sandbox. The standard option is the ideal way to play, and sandbox mode is essentially for either learning the ropes or creating a mega city right out of the gate as you have virtually unlimited funds to work with (by pressing a key combination on the keyboard) and everything is unlocked from the beginning. For the purposes of this review I will discuss the standard play mode, even though most of the pictures will be from the sandbox mode.
You have a near endless amount of options on how to create your city in virtually every aspect from the start. It helps to go into your creation prepared, and it will take a few trial and error cities to truly get the feel of it. My favorite part of the opening hour or so is drawing out my city, zoning it, and plopping the electricity plant (Of which Wind or Solar are your only options for standard play at the start) and a water tower, and then watching the flow of water and electricity spread throughout the city through one of several awesome integrated data maps they have. When assessing a city area at the start, you should check out all of these maps, especially wind direction (for placing things like sewers, factories, garbage dumps, etc.) and resource options such as oil, coal, water, and ore and decide if you plan to specialize in any of those or go with a different style of approach.
When actually zoning your areas, you will decide how your city looks, but also how it performs based on these data maps. The first picture below is a design I created to honor a friend's online production logo. Green areas represent residential, yellow are industry, and blue (not pictured here, but in later ones) are business. The ideal ratio for a balanced city is r:b:i (2:1:1) according to the strategy guide.
Below is a sample of the electricity flowing through a starter city. Red lines represent areas without power and yellow have power. Water flows blue throughout on its respective data map.
Once you get past this part, your city will spring to life as trucks come in and begin to fill in the spaces you brand. The size of the buildings is directly related to the type of road you build. Low density roads will yield rural communities, and high density roads allow skyscrapers. You can upgrade roads as you see fit to accommodate how you want your city to appear. If you like the way a certain area is performing and / or enjoy the way it looks, you can simply "de-zone" that area and it will remain as is until you zone it again.
Things go well as I said for the first several hours, and you can even track an individual family (house), business, or factory to see how it is performing. You will need, rather quickly, to add in fire, ambulance, and police services or request them from a connecting city. Trash and sewage are also a necessity. From there you decide whether to allow educational buildings, tourist attractions, or specialized buildings such as coal mines, electronics plants, casinos, or a number of other options. I decided to make the city above a generic city that was focused on industry and to a degree, tourism. Below is a picture of the city in a later stage of development.
As you can see, I filled in the corner areas with business zoning (this was in sandbox mode), and it worked pretty well for this small city which had a very tight design overall, and was not extremely complicated. I managed to have a relatively profitable time with it and didn't care about the other cities in the region and was playing the city in a private region alone. None of this carries over well into larger regions and online co-op play can be fun, but it has as many drawbacks as it has advantages. This brings me to:
Online coop is fun to play in theory. I have several friends I made just by visiting forums, and they joined me enthusiastically when we played for the first night, and even the second day we all were there in a 16 city region. By the third day of play, all but 2 of us had exhausted all of our resources, or had a number of other things go wrong. One player got so angry, he intentionally caused his nuclear reactor to have a "melt down", and thus the whole region was ruined due to radiation polluting it completely and entirely. In previous SimCity games, cities could go on for weeks, months, and if you check out some YouTube videos, even years (real time, not "game time" and house millions of residents.
The main issues I have with the game in its current stage are as follows:
Water: They said water will be in "infinite supply" near water sources such as rivers and lakes, or large bodies of water. The water is either depleted or contaminated within 2 calendar years in game, and that has not changed in patch 2.0. This hands down is my biggest problem with city sustainability, which is what ruins the game in such a short amount of time. Pollution: Regardless of how you build your region, and how much you try to take pressure off of other cities by creating "Trash Cities" or what not when cooperating fully with one another, everything becomes polluted within 2 - 3 calendar years in game for every city in a region.
Below is a demonstration of the water map of a city that had only been in existence for about 6 or 7 hours of real time passing. It was completely drained and most of what wasn't drained, was polluted.
Power Failures: Power purchased from a neighboring city is sporadic at best in terms of reliability and even your own can do you in almost immediately unless you pause the game and fix things as soon as you notice the problem.
Below is the same city as the one pictured directly above only this was from a massive power outage that lasted only 2 in game hours. The yellow figures are "homeless" Sims that have moved out due to the outage and are looking for new homes, which they would never find.
Workers / Education: Commuting is not working properly at all for either of these. To make matters worse, the educational level of a city can actually impede factories in a variety of ways so that your city self destructs quickly. Tourism: Is completely broken, to the point that I'm not sure how it works. I would love anyone from the company to explain it to me. Gambling: Again, I have no idea how it works. The monthly reports do not generate revenue for the cities even if you are making huge profits, and it does not list in your hourly earned income either. Anything above the first casino type (cheap kind) doesn't make money anyway, because of the previous problem I listed. The problem "appears" to be fixed in the new patch, but in reality, it isn't. Money accrued never makes it to your bank, ever. If anyone can tell me how it works, please let me know, I've tried to figure it out and ask, to no avail.Roads: Firetrucks, Ambulances, Buses, Police Cars, and Garbage & Recycling Trucks simply do not path correctly, even after the last fixes. It is better than before, but by no means is it acceptable even. There is no priority given to anything really other than firetrucks (at times and seemingly random, like many things), and traffic is still a nightmare at higher than medium density, to a point that traffic is unable to move in multiple cities because there is no room for anything to go at all.
Specialization: It is nice to be able to have cities specialize in something, but not when it isn't working properly. You can only choose a few select buildings to place (schools, tourist attractions, casinos, fire stations, hospitals, etc) in any given city. The area is just too small and budgets won't allow you to have a city that is a "be all" city. The problem is made worse when specialized cities don't function as they should and one small problem, such as your sewage not going to a neighboring city as it is supposed to, can cripple your city in far too short a time span, and it's time to start a new region. Not just a new city, a whole new region. Once one city is done, the rest will follow quickly in almost all cases. Multi-player: The game is currently crippled to a point that it is unplayable for anyone for more than about a 2 or 3 day (and I'm being generous here) life span per city, before having to scrap it entirely and move on. Trying to solo a region with more than 2 or 3 cities is next to impossible. It gets better with multiple people working together at the same time, but only if they are all playing AT the same time and are working well together and communicating. Even then, it's only limited to what the game is able to perform and things do not run smoothly. Sending or donating resources, money, or services are unreliable and sometimes broken altogether.
Was this the intention all along? To be honest, having bigger cities will only compound the current problems, as much as I'd love to see them eventually. Cheetah speed was nice to see return, but it has actually caused me to run out of resources faster than I was before, which if you look at posts I made before they added Cheetah back, was my main concern. Of the 14 people I met and recruited to my region, I still speak and play games with a few of them regularly (not counting my brother obviously). Not a single one of us is playing SimCity though right now, and I don't think any of them are playing, as they are all still on my friends list, and I never see them on playing that game. The always online aspect, though not a deal breaker for me, was enough to cause major problems for many in game and out.
Great Works: These are absolutely terrible. The alleged end game of SimCity is to build a "great work" which can be one of four unique structures. It takes a lot of money, time, and resources to make one happen, and then to have it function properly once it does happen. I know many have done them successfully, but I have yet to complete one. They either don't register resources correctly (and in fact will go backwards in progression sometimes), or take so long, your city depletes itself of resources before it finishes. It is frustrating beyond belief.
In short, the game has potential to be amazing. The reality is though that as of now, it is still broken. I had high hopes that version 2.0 would fix many of the problems the game faces, but that again, sadly, has not happened. It pains me that it could be, at this rate, version 3.0 or 4.0 that things are working mostly as they should be, and EA knows they've lost this war already. What is truly upsetting is that EA refuses to acknowledge that they still don't have it under control and that a free game should shut everyone up. The free games offered were (with one exception) all games where you would be enticed to spend more money on DLC and whatnot. To make matters worse, they are working on DLC for this game, when the core game is not even fully functional. This is just poor decision making and the reason I deducted a full point off of what would have been a 5.5 score.
There are times that I love playing the game, and when things are going well at the beginning of a new city, it is incredibly fun and has a feel unlike anything else I've played. I hope to one day return to it and know that I will not end a session annoyed at the shortcomings the game has. The problem is that EA / Maxis have now lost my trust, and I would never invest in another SimCity game at launch, if ever. I leave on an optimistic note by posting my favorite picture I took from the Sandbox mode. If you pause the game at the start of a sandbox mode and know exactly what you want, you can still create a pretty awesome looking city in a short amount of time. Just don't expect it to last. It really is a shame, because I so badly wanted to enjoy this game, and it has jaded both my brother and I.
As always, I appreciate any comments, suggestions, or feedback you can give me. If you have a game you'd like me to review, send me a message, or post it on here.
I wanted to post a way late update to this review and say that the game has finally reached a point where it is mostly stable, and when I return to the game to play, I do enjoy it far more than I ever had before. The expansion was even worthwhile and fun, so all in all, I upgraded my score from a 4.5 to an 8.25 as it stands now. Sadly, no real future content is expected and they are already likely in the planning stages of the next installment which will almost certainly not be online only or mandatory.