EA had a closed beta for SimCity over the weekend and John and Travis got to play about an hour's worth of the game. Here are their thoughts.
Countless weeknights and weekends of mine were often consumed by Maxis' SimCity 4, which was praised by many as one of the best installments in the popular city building franchise. After having played the one-hour closed beta numerous times I can happily say that worries of limited features or online DRM became an afterthought when I was planning the expanse of my city. Fans of previous SimCity games will have no trouble relearning the processes of building cities and keeping your citizens happy.
The gameplay experience is similar to past games, but it seems that many of the micromanagement mechanics have been replaced with more polished and easier-to-navigate interfaces and info graphic overlays. Changes and additions such as the ability to expand onto buildings and the removal of water pipes make for a more enjoyable gameplay experience. The new SimCity allows players to take more time to gaze upon their city planning accomplishments.
The new interface fixes many of the frustrations from past games but places some icons or buttons in odd locations that take away from the game's minimalist approach. In a game like SimCity, the option to have immersive interfaces and icons that appear only when required would have been a wonderful addition. The other annoyance which interfered with my city planning bliss involved the change to the zoning of land from the previous games. In SimCity 4, zoning was straightforward as it allowed players to zone land by each individual grid square, where as the new SimCity instead is less-controlled in that the game simply places buildings where they begin by the street. It was near impossible to plan a city that was sized perfectly to a grid as I never knew if buildings would be limited with their space allocation.
Gameplay aside, the new SimCity incorporates the popular tilt-shift photography style that even earns a toggle within the graphics options. From crowded streets to detailed buildings, cities are far more vibrant with citizens going about their daily routines. The transformation from day to night with dynamic weather is truly a sight to behold. One major complaint I have with the presentation is the 2D sprites of citizens that look as if they were pulled directly from the previous game, which was released back in 2003. Since the game is in its closed beta stage, I'll hold off my judgment till the final product is released.
I have no doubt that many will avoid the game because of the often-mentioned internet fears of limited features and the online-required DRM. However, the new SimCity is a huge improvement from the previous games and a step in the right direction for the series' future. Lastly, the requirement of installing Origin to launch SimCity is no longer a valid argument not to play the game as the software is completely harmless and has improved tremendously since its initial versions.
An hour is just not enough time. It passed by so quick, but that’s SimCity for you. EA was gracious enough to let Travis and I into the SimCity beta and I really enjoyed what I played even though it was just too short.
I stopped playing SimCity with SimCity 2000, but I remember the many nights that would just fly by as I sat there building, molding, shaping my city. The tools given to you in the new SimCity game really does allow you to create the city that you want. Now you have so much more flexibility with placing roads, it’s almost limitless on how you want the road to traverse the land. There are some helpful tools to help you quickly create certain shapes such as squares, ovals, and arcs. But, you can freehand your road if you like as well.
The road seems to be the main focus here in that you’ll zone only against a road rather than a section like past SimCity games. There are various sizes of roads that let various density of traffic through. The roads also seem to provide the access for power lines, sewage, and water. You don’t have to manage where to place the lines and pipes as that’s done all for you since every building lines up with a road, it’s natural that the utilities do so as well. I love the fact that this aspect was simplified as utility planning is just one of those things I never enjoyed in the original games.
Graphically, SimCity seems so alive with all that’s happening around you. As soon as you start building, construction vehicles start moving in and it won’t be long before you see buildings start to go up. After a few moments, sims start walking the street and going about their day. Lights start to come on at night when the sims go back to their homes to rest. The level of detail is amazing and Maxis seems to have done a fabulous job at conveying a sense of a bustling city (when it’s prospering) right down to the individual person.
The artists did a great job at creating a wide variety of structures in SimCity. Depending on the land value, you’ll see houses or buildings that look like they belong there. In the lower income housing areas, I saw various tiny houses and motorhomes while the more valued land housed larger mansions. Seeing the various commercial and industrial buildings come together to create a unique looking city was really fun.
And it’s so easy to create unique looking cities with the tools that Maxis has provided you. Because some buildings allow additions to be placed on or near it, you can really expand your city by altering what’s already there. This also makes you plan a little more as you’ll want room around the building so you can expand easily.
There are plenty of visual cues, help, and icons to let you know what’s happening around your city, what needs looked at, and what needs your immediate attention. While there’s a lot happening on screen, I never felt overwhelmed or rushed to try and solve some issue. Perhaps once the city gets bigger it will be this way, but so far I felt pretty relaxed while playing the game. That’s one interesting thing about SimCity for me. It’s like watching an aquarium for some folks. Seeing a city grow, creating a thriving metropolis, making sure everyone’s happy; it just calms me down for some reason and the graphics in the game really drew me in to help enhance that calmness.
The beta has some minor issues such as the way some of the walkways are painted and I did have the game crash to the desktop after about 10 minutes of playing. Then again, it’s a beta so there’s bound to be some hiccups here and there.
A lot was still locked out in the beta such as the natural disasters, neighboring cities, and building an airport, but there was plenty to do that the hour time limit only netted me the tip of the SimCity iceberg. I can’t wait try the game out with others and so far, from what I’ve seen, SimCity has the makings to truly be a great and very time consuming game.