SimCity games are always tough to review. On the one hand, they’re generally fun to mess around with. On the other hand, you start wondering what the point is. On the third hand you’ve got Wittgenstein.
SimCity: Societies is fun to mess around with. Your cities tend to take on the characteristics you build into them. While your usual SimCities had a tendency to look rather similar (to the point where building non-functional monuments was necessary to stay awake), Societies cities are very distinctive and visually pleasing. At one point the roads in my Creative city were spontaneously paved with gold.
The day-night cycle adds more aesthetics. Many buildings are lit from within. When night falls they light up and add a pleasing glow to your city. Streetlights and torches complete the look. Even the heavy industry looks suitably grungy.
This is a game from Tilted Mill, the guys who did Caesar IV and Children of the Nile, so you can bet the individual Sims are important. Clicking on a Sim brings up a handy virtual card that contains the important info for that Sim, including mood, employment status, and near-future plans. Very handy when you’re trying to figure out what’s going on. Graphics in general are colorful, useful and informative.
After the initial blush it’s time to get down to business. Sims need a place to live, power, transportation, and entertainment. Oddly enough, they don’t need jobs. You need them to have jobs so they can make money so you can buy them recreation facilities. Turns out Sims are like miniature Britons – they’re allergic to work.
That’s not the only unusual mechanic. Every society tends to have one primary value: Productivity, Prosperity, Creativity, Spirituality, Authority, or Knowledge. Each building produces or consumes one or more of these values (measured in points). For example, an Art Museum requires your city to be generating a surplus of 18 Creativity and 4 Spirituality points. In return, it will entertain 35 Sims at a time. Some times you will have to build building you don’t particularly want so you’ll have the points to build the one you do.
Building a city, then, becomes an exercise in deciding what value you would like to maximize then placing buildings that produce those value points. Producing more value points unlocks new buildings and can lead to earning Achievements. Achievements are mostly warm fuzzies, though some provide buildings that make future cities easier. As more buildings that produce a particular value are built, the more your city will take on the look of that type of city.
There are other mechanics: some buildings have an area effect, rioting Sims can shut down buildings, the much-vaunted energy system, Sim-on-Sim interactions, children affect household happiness, activation of building abilities, and many more. It looks overwhelming at first.
It’s not. There is only one rule in Societies: maintain a positive Simoleon flow. Nothing ever wears out, so as long as you can keep even 1 Simoleon a week coming in, eventually you’ll be able to save up enough to buy whatever you need. Keeping a positive simoleon-flow is ridiculously easy so this is not a problem.
Many buildings are location independent. Need some more Creativity? Just start a Wall Mural farm somewhere. Drop down like 15 – you have the cash. And it doesn’t matter where. The middle of nowhere is fine. Their effectiveness doesn’t depend on anyone ever seeing them. Pollution is the same way – build it way over there and stick a subway station next to it if you want people work there.
You may not care if anybody works there. You won’t need the money, but many achievements are based on the consumption (not generation) of value points. Remember that Art Museum? It uses 18 Creativity whether anyone goes there or not. You can spend a lot of money on useless buildings just to use up value points to get an Achievement.
There are other problems with the mechanics, but the point is made: most of the mechanics are interesting in theory but immaterial in practice.
When it comes down to it SimCity: Societies starts out strong with a high fun factor but stumbles down the stretch due to poorly balanced mechanics. It’s about as fun as chewing gum: a burst of flavor followed by lots of mindless chewing. Still, there’s something about it that will keep you chewing for a while.
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