“Online all the time, but that’s actually fine…”
Maxis are the Dreamworks Interactive of the games industry. On the rare occasion they’ve tried to pull off something serious e.g. Darkspore, they’ve come up short but when it comes to producing all round fluffy, lovely entertaining experiences you’d argue there’s no developer that usurps them. Enter SimCity, the next big colourful release from the Californian studio once helmed by the legendary Will Wright. The original creator of this franchise may no longer be with Maxis, but the lineage is clear from the moment you set your eyes on the game with zoning once again returning to determine whether a region is residential, commercial or industrial and all those telling graphs and statistics which show in absurd detail whether your particular urban hotspot is on the up or heading for decline. Only the 2012 version of SimCity is much more welcoming than previous games in the series, with much easier to orchestrate gameplay. Buildings automatically anchor themselves to face the nearest road and you can meld those tarmac thoroughfares in any direction you wish, with curves and all.
City management games can come across as a bit sterile, but SimCity bursts with a sense of colour and character that we’ve never seen in this type of game before, with a soft focus camera perspective which makes your inhabitants going about their life seem a bit less real. This smudging of reality takes away the harsh undertones of toying around with the existence of the ‘little people’, so you won’t have any qualms placing a coal factory next to a residential area or shutting down a local fire station for a few months to save tax revenue. This perhaps isn’t a good idea, so much so that the game tells you as much, but hey that kind of malice is what god games are all about!
What impressed us the most about SimCity though, was the way Maxis are using different view modes to communicate data. Place down a power plant and you’ll see electrical orbs darting quickly throughout the city in the energy overlay, easily allowing you to see where more power is needed. The same goes for the sewage network in its own overlay, only the ‘brzzt’ of the electrical orbs are replaced by the slightly disgusting squelch of brown orbs. Emergency services also have their own specific overlay, so you can see coverage holes easily, whether you’re talking crime, healthcare or firefighting. Holes can be plugged either by establishing new facilities or adding new modules to buildings, like a new pole to the firehouse in order to quicken response times.
All of these elements are communicated in an easy to understand and charismatic fashion which just begs you to dial time up to ‘x4’, only to realise that SimCity’s colourful exterior doesn’t mean that this franchise has gotten any less punishing.
Fires soon erupted all over our metropolis as we’ve overlooked opportunities to sweep away derelict buildings and costs soon spiraled out of control as we tried to make every adult and his dalmatian a member of the fire department.
The real goal of this demo though, was to show SimCity’s new connected world in action, as next to our PC were half a dozen others – all running through the same scenario with an ultimate victor determined by who accumulated the biggest population count. Suffice to say we didn’t win, but we were impressed with the competitive potential hidden in the online interface. Regional challenges, world challenges, and a real-time commodity price index all make the most of the new connected network.
Will this functionality silence the ‘online all the time’ haters? Of course not, but in an increasingly connected world it only makes sense for SimCity to follow this design route, with your city’s activities effecting your neighbours. Add that focus to the regular introduction of new content via challenges and you have an experience which will determine once and for all, who is the best major wannabe in your local area and beyond. Our hands-on proved conclusively that SimCity is just as complex and rewarding as it has always been, only now it has a more enticing interface and likeable atmosphere borrowed wholesale from The Sims. We’re pleased to see that Maxis are playing to their strengths and as long as they invest enough in network infastructure to make its more audacious online plans function properly, we can see no reason why SimCity won’t be an eye-opening success.
Read more about SimCity in the next issue of PCGZine.
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