Ryu’s Musings – SimCity Review

71572_LB_ukWell, SimCity launched on Tuesday to a critical fail. Much like Diablo 3 SimCity launched to overloaded servers, and a slew of server synching issues.

Me, I’m in the UK and ended up waiting till Friday to get the game, and that launch was significantly better. the reason being of course they’d learnt from their US launch, and added a lot more servers to the farm to handle the load.

As a result the UK launch was actually pretty stable, however that didn’t last for long. The problems started to hit the UK servers in the afternoon, with them going down twice for repairs; and delays of around half an hour at times.

EA responded by disabling certain aspects of the game: challenges, cheetah speed and achievements. Of the three it’s cheetah speed that’s causing the most problems. Losing that speed is essentially losing 1/3 of your game speed, and it’s the top third. EA have stated they want these back in game as soon as possible, but there’s no time line for it.

So is it worth getting even with the problems? Absolutely. even with the problems I’m loving the hell out of the game.

I’m a fan of the franchise, i still play SimCity 4 frequently, in fact it’s sitting on my comp as i type.  So yes, as a fan of the series i was very disappointed with the route that EA and Maxis decided to take the game.

The reduced city size for example is pretty much the biggest bug bear of the new game. I like a lot of fans miss the large sprawling cities you could make in SimCity 4. Yet, in truth you can still do this in the new game. However this time around because your cities are smaller you have to plan the city more. You can’t just plunk stuff down and then delete it later on. since unlike SimCity 4 you don’t get a partial refund when you demo something. It brings the old adage, measure twice, cut once, onto the game. Since you have to be really sure you want things where you plunk them.

What this means is that you’ll get a lot more meta gaming going on. Planning your city offline before building it. Personally, i don’t really have a problem with this, and  it’s what I’ve been doing. However the lack of maps and information makes it rather difficult.

Rather than having a sprawling city that has everything you need, you build a specialised city that relies on the surrounding cities in the region. So while your city May be the education capital, one of your neighbouring cities May be the leisure land, and another the industry centre. You’ll get Sims moving through the cities as needed, living in one, working in another and relaxing in yet another.

The problem here however is that SimCity has always been an offline, single player game. However the new game is actually an online multiplayer game, despite what EA is claiming. While it’s true that you can claim all the cities in a region yourself and then build all the cities yourself, the problem is that the only city that’s ever active is the one your in. All the other cities go to sleep, they stop earning and spending money until the next time you visit them.

Personally i would have preferred the game to have kept running the cities so long as you were logged into the region. The game would need to keep you informed of what’s happening, so if there’s a disaster you’d get a message saying “X disaster in Y town”, the same with other notices you’d get while in an active town. Once you logged out of the region/game then the game goes to sleep.

I’ve got two regions on the go at the moment, the first is one I’ve kept purely solo and the other is set as a public. The problem with a public game is the same problem you get in any multiplayer game: What do you do when you get a pilchard in your group?

The way the public games work is that you all work in tandem to get a ‘great work’, a region based structure that has a huge impact on the surrounding cities. Realistically it requires you all to work together to build it. the problem of course is who decides what great work to get. What’s more it’s possible to scupper the region completely by working against the others in the region. As a result this is one of those games that’s better of played with friends, who you can work with to get the most out of the game.

There are a number of elements that really make the game fun for me though. The ability to sell stuff i mine on a global market, which is bought from both by other cities in the region and the AI. The public transport aspect actually works pretty well, though not really the way i was hoping.

But there’s also a number of issues that do make me cringe. Terraforming is gone, which initially i wasn’t so bothered about. However as i played other maps i came to realise that terraforming was needed to fix certain roads. The game does a small amount of terraforming when laying roads, but i think the game definitely needs some sort of ability to smooth and lower the land.

Trains, and subways are gone as well, though I’m thinking that subways may be added at a later date as a DLC. Trains however have been taken out of the control of the user, and the railway is already added to the region as a whole, much like the main highway is. The most that we can do is add a station and a linking track, which is rather sad.

Multi level zoning is gone as well. so instead of three levels for each zone we now just have the one. Instead the zoning level is based on the road level and land value. So a low density road gives you low zoning, medium gives medium, and heavy gives heavy. Personally i like this, since i found keeping track of the different zones in SimCity 4 to be annoying.

On the downside the way the roads works is damn annoying. It’s easy to to draw your road, but the way you upgrade to the next level is tedious to say the least. You’ would think you could simply draw the next level of road you want over the current road. However it doesn’t work like that, rather you have to manually upgrade each portion of the road. When you get into later stages of the game where your city covers the entire map, this is very frustrating; and time consuming. Hopefully EA will fix it somehow to make it easier to upgrade roads.

What really sucks though is the different levels of pre-order that EA did for the game. The Limited Edition came with a Villains and Heroes DLC pack. this pack give you a super hero and super villain to add to the city. On the surface this wasn’t a bad deal, since there was no other pre-order pack lower than this one.

The Digital Deluxe version of the game though was significantly more expensive, came with the Villains and Super Hero pack; and three city DLC packs. These city packs, Germany, London and Paris, each have a building. tourist spot, and changes the city design to look like the city the structure is from:

As well as all the great content in the Limited Edition, the Digital Deluxe includes three European City packs. Recreate European inspired neighborhoods in the center of your city! Place world renowned landmarks including the Eiffel Tower, Brandenburg Gate or Big Ben to help your tourism business in your city. Receive exclusive missions, complete unique achievements and earn big bucks as waves of Sims visit the landmarks. Watch as the businesses, homes and vehicles around your landmarks start to take on the flavor, style, and architecture of those countries.

I hate the fact that they removed these elements from the game and sold them as a DLC, a DLC costing £20 at that.

Yet, despite all of the problems and stuff that i don’t like about the game, i can’t stop playing it. The game looks pretty good, not great by any gauge, but it is an okay looking game. I love the day and night cycles, which frankly look amazing later in the game when you have some high zone stuff available:


Having events held in your large coliseum looks awesome, especially at night. Of course to get there requires you to build a city capable of making use of it, which is no easy task. Getting there requires you to make certain choices when upgrading your town hall, and this is where the meta game comes in. Since the upgrade you choose (lets say the tourism one) opens up a lot of new buildings for you to play with, it doesn’t just open them up for you. Rather it opens it up to the entire region. So city one May have the tourism and education upgrades, where as another city may have utilities and transport upgrades, they both get access to all four upgrades. This is a great addition and can lead to some interesting meta game building.

There’s some issues still with the game, much like how Diablo 3 had problems. However i feel very strongly that over the coming weeks these will all be resolved. what’s more the potential to add stuff to the game through DLC is unlimited, the game has so much potential to it it’s unbelievable, and frankly one of the few games I’ve bought the past few years I’ve not regretted paying full price for.

Finally, I’ve left the two huge bug bears to last, firstly we have mod-ability. EA have repeatedly said that SimCity will be modable, however looking at the game at release it’s hard to say how this will be possible. Later on they could be looking to add a store like they have for Sims 3, where mods are sold for varying prices. the problem here of course is that SimCity is a multiplayer game, so I’ve no idea how they’re going to do this so people who don’t have a mod will be able to see it.  That side of things I’m looking forward to seeing how it is done. I’m hoping they release a set of tools that allow us to mod our own game in some way.

The big bug bear of course is the cause of all the ire, the always on internet connection. EA’s explanation of this is that a lot of the complicated processes needed for traffic flows etc. is all handled server side. This leaves the users PC to handle only one task, rendering the graphics. The idea of course being that more PC’s can handle it than would normally be able to.

Personally i don’t have an issue  with this, I’m lucky in that i have a 75mb internet connection that’s pretty damn stable. However i can see why it’s an issue for people that were hoping to play the game on the fly, or don’t have reliable internet.

I’ve also found that the always on isn’t exactly true, since  I’ve played for about 3/4 an hour after the servers died without problems. However the issue here is that the game can’t save, as it’s all done on the server. As long as your internet is stable enough to be on once every half hour or so you should be okay really.

Hopefully EA will add an option that allows the game to save a short term local save that’s uploaded to the server the next time it’s able to connect. This would, i feel, solve a lot of the problems people have with saves.