SimCity Review, Part 1 – Welcome to “The Doghouse”
“The most highly anticipated game of the year” was not a stretch for me when referring to SimCity. As a fan of both Maxis and the SimCity franchise, seeing a reboot ten years after the launch of SimCity 4 was enormously exciting. Reticulating splines, how I’ve missed you.
So I’m sure you can either imagine, or have experienced yourself, the disappointment us SimCity fans have experienced in the last week. I am only going to touch lightly on the server issues in this article. I have tried to access this game at many different times of the day, across many servers, Friday morning through Monday night. I have been frozen in game. I have had servers marked available that then give me a “server unavailable” error when I click them, only to have them show as available again right after. I have been booted as a result of hitting a load screen that apparently means you lose your spot on the server and are then not allowed back in. There are no queues, you simply try to get in and if it fails, try again in 20 minutes. If you want to hear more about this launch, you can listen to the most recent Gamers’ Inn episode where we talk about the launch difficulties in detail.
Let’s play a game… Can you find the “More info” link?
Login frustrations and server errors aside, I did manage to get in about 2 hours of total gameplay. As a fan of the franchise, and not wanting my first Doghouse Network review to be ranty and negative, I tried really, really hard to love this game. Especially since people who played the beta and who had been able to get in seemed over the moon about it. I have to say, I noticed some serious flaws.
The tutorial starts you off with a pre-built city that has been “mismanaged” by the previous fictitious mayor. You are taught how to lay down a zone, turn on functionality of buildings that are already placed and talk to your adviser about protesters at City Hall. Interactions with your neighbors are already set up, you just have to accept incoming requests. The tutorial throws you into the middle of the game, shows you a couple of things and then spits you back out to the main menu. Time to create your own SimCity experience! No more hand holding!
It was impossible for me to create my own single player game as I was one of the people affected by the “Unable to claim city” bug. Thankfully, I had an invite to a region sitting in my in my inbox. It allowed me to bypass the bug and claim a city, and so “The Doghouse” (my city) was born.
The very first thing that struck me when my blank canvas finally loaded was how small it was. Regions are restricted to only 16 cities, and the cities themselves are fall smaller than in the past. All in all it didn’t strike me as a sprawling expanse of land, with a start anywhere and build anything your heart desires feel. You can’t have a large expanse of land if you want your player to feel in touch with the individuals in your town. SimCity feels like the wildly successful “The Sims” franchise has been crammed back into the package it grew from. There were times I wasn’t even sure which game I was loading, SimCity or The Sims 3. Personally, I felt fenced in, almost claustrophobic.
That’s it folks, The Doghouse in all its poorly planned glory!
Building the town was confusing, in particular laying out the zones. It took me a while to figure out that there was a back end to the zone as well as the strip of color next to the street. The back end is supposed to help you space out your zoning to allow for future expansion, but that’s not really clear. Neither is the fact that land value and street capacity dictate the type of buildings that spring up on a lot, as opposed to the density zoning of yesteryear. Most of my frustrations with the UI likely stem from how much time I spent with the old versions of SimCity, but some things, like city specialization, are really hidden.
What isn’t hidden though, is the future technologies available through the region. I am lucky enough to be playing with some really fantastic and hardcore players who toughed out the server issues and plowed way ahead in the game. So when I logged in without even a dirt road or a town hall to my name, I was already bombarded with messages telling me I could build an International Airport and that police, fire, hospitals and various other pieces of tech were unlocked in my region. Awesome, but spoiler alert, come on! I hadn’t even started building yet, so again, I was confused as to what I should be trying to build in my personal city.
There were some things about the game that I really enjoyed. When you place buildings and features such as police stations, bus stops and parks, you can see what area will be effected by the feature before you even place it. The park, for instance, shows a green circle of influence as you move it around the map, and when you place it the happiness of the citizens that live within that circle goes up. You can then turn on a function that the GIS geek in me loves, the data maps. These views turn your city white except for the theme you wish to view, such as happiness, land value or pollution. It is a quick, easy and effective way to see what is going on in your town, and it is visually appealing. I am sure that as I get to play the game in a more uninterrupted fashion I will enjoy it more thoroughly. It is really difficult to learn and get excited about a game that boots you out every thirty minutes or so.
My fire risk data map, complete with burning buildings… More details on that in my SimCity Review, Part 2!
Overall, the server issues alone are enough for me to caution anyone looking to pick up this game to wait for a few weeks until EA sorts out this mess. Although, if you buy and activate the game before next Monday, March 18th, EA is offering a free game as compensation for this terrible launch. Just don’t expect to actually be able to play SimCity anytime soon. I’ll be writing Part 2 of this review when I get more time into the game, to talk about some of the more advanced and (hopefully) enjoyable features.