Revisiting SimCity

by Joe Juba on Apr 25, 2013 at 12:55 PM

The prospect of a new SimCity was exciting for many gamers, but the game suffered one of the most troubled launches in gaming history. Bugs, strange AI, and server problems stemming from an always-online requirement all contributed to a whirlwind of criticism that surrounded SimCity for its first several weeks on shelves. Since launch, EA and Maxis have been working to fix the problems, and the effort has improved the experience. But is the game where it needs to be?

After several weeks away, I dove back into SimCity to compare its current state to what I was playing when I originally reviewed it. What I found was a game that feels very similar to its original release. Thanks to some patches and tweaks, some things are different while others remain are the same. The game has generally gotten better overall, though it's still far from perfect. Here are some brief observations from my time heading back into the city limits.

The hilariously (and infuriatingly) inefficient traffic has been greatly improved. Cars won't make obviously stupid decisions, and emergency vehicles aren't as likely to get caught up in awful congestion. This is one of the things that was the most broken about the original release. Having it resolved makes creating a functional high-population a more realistic goal. 

Cheetah Speed
You aren't stuck going at a turtle's pace anymore. The Cheetah speed setting, which was originally removed to ease the load on EA's servers, has been restored. This is another major improvement, since it means time flows by much quicker in-game, allowing players to amass wealth and citizens faster. Achievements have also been re-implemented. Leaderboards, though technically present, are still not working. They're all completely empty.

Region Interactions
Changes still happen too slowly on the region level. If you're relying on a neighboring city to provide services like water or power, changes to those systems can take a long time to reflect on the region level. This makes it confusing and frustrating if you've got an immediate problem in your city, because even if measures are taken to solve it, you still aren't 100 percent sure they worked. This also applies to gifts sent between cities. Playing single-player, I sent a gift of 40,000 simoleons from one city to another. The money was deducted from the first city's budget, but didn't actually arrive in the second city until 20 minutes later when it was practically bankrupt. That is just terrible.

Finding a Game
If you're a new player, finding a region to play in is still an arduous and awful process. You don't have any filters by which to sort the kinds of regions you're looking for. If you want to build an oil-drilling city, you can't find a region that is looking for an oil-drilling city. This makes it hard to foster the kind of cooperation that is supposed to be one of the major draws of SimCity unless you have a full list of Origin friends ready to invite you. As it is, the list of available regions is largely an untamed and unnavigable wasteland.

Lost Data
I didn't experience any lost progress from a city rollback, but plenty of people are still reporting this issue. According to a Maxis press release,  the most recent patch "mitigates some of the issues that were causing cities not to process. We are continuing to work on and improve this issue." So you're still not completely safe. Cities that you spend time building may still revert to older versions with no way to regain the progress you made.

Network Connection
You no longer have a 50/50 chance of being shut out from playing the game you paid money for. From the time I spent playing, SimCity is reliably functional, allowing me to log in and load my cities without trouble. I'm hesitant to get too enthusiastic about this improvement, however; actually letting players access content is really the most basic feature a game should have, so I can't give much credit for this fix.

The Bottom Line
Because SimCity was so heavily scrutinized when it released, long lists of its imperfections were compiled. People catalogued every error and non-optimal solution. At this point, SimCity is probably not a battle that EA can win. Players expect (and deserve) a game that functions properly, and many of the issues with SimCity are dealing with that: basic functionality rather than small tweaks and fixes. No matter how hard the company tries, addressing all of the known problems with the game (without causing new ones to crop up) is practically impossible. And even if that did happen, so much damage has been done that the odds of winning back lapsed fans are small.

SimCity may no longer be the toxic and uninhabitable landscape that it was at launch, but it still has enough problems at this phase to wave off gamers looking for a satisfying city-builder.