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SimCity Closed Beta Review

I don’t intend to write game reviews on a regular basis, but thought I’d write one for SimCity Closed Beta since I had the privilege of playing it.

Introduction

For anyone who doesn’t know, SimCity is a simulation game where you are the mayor of a city.  Your job to build everything a city needs (e.g. housing, police station, roads).  The game has a long history and advancements has been made with every release.   I won’t dwell on the past too much, but the game has come a long way.  Not only can you build buildings, but enact policies, make foreign deals, etc.  It’s a really cool game if you fantasized about building your own dream city.  There are also people who enjoy recreating real cities.

Tutorial

When you load up SimCity, you’ll be treated with the in-game tutorial.  You will play as the newly appointed mayor of an existing city.  Apparently the previous mayor did a poor job and left the city hanging.  Your job is to fix all the problems that the city has.  Your assistant will give you tasks from the townhall, and in the process of completing these tasks, you will learn how to play the game.  Although I’ve played previous games in this series, it was still helpful to see what’s new.   The tutorial is relatively short, but covers all the topics that you need to know.  From the basics of building to demolishing to making deals with neighbors.  I was able to complete it in about 10 minutes, while not reading every text that pops up.

Gameplay

Once you finish the tutorial, you can finally start building your own city.  In this beta, you only have access to one region to build on.  The area isn’t very big, but I think it’s sufficient for beta.  The game’s basic components are the same as the previous games.  You can build roads, assign zones (residential, commercial or industrial), power plants, water supply, garbage collection, public transportation, schools, fire departments, police departments, ports, airports, and so forth.  I’m a bit disappointed that there isn’t too many new types of buildings for us to utilize.  I suppose Sim City 4 already covered everything that a city needs, but I was hoping EA would’ve came up with some new ideas.

If you played any other Sim City games before, the first thing you’ll notice is the new graphics/game engine.  No longer are you constrained to building within a grid, you are free to build as you please.  You can build circular roads and curves so the possibilities have really gone up (just imagine a city with only circular roads!).  Another major difference is that all structures have to be built next to a road.  I have mixed feelings about this change.  It limits the flexibility a player has, but I guess it makes logical sense.  Even in the previous games, a building is useless if no road is attached to it, so this isn’t too detrimental.  A related change is that there are no more power lines nor water pipes.  Everything is connected via roads, so if your roads connect, everything will work itself out.  You won’t ever have to worry about whether a part of the city doesn’t have water or power.

One other difference is that buildings such as fire departments no longer have a “budget”.  In Sim City 4, you were able to control the amount of money that you provide to each building.  For example, if your city is still small, and your police department doesn’t need 100% funding, you can cut that back to save money.  This feature is no longer there.  Instead, you are given a basic structure, which will be sufficient for a small town, and then you can build it up by constructing add-ons.  I don’t know how well this concept will work out, but I never had negative income, so I guess it was a success (?)

In the beta, you will only have one neighbor whom you can deal with.  I didn’t look too much into it, since I was quite self-sufficient.  I disposed my own garbage, generated my own electricity, and so forth.  I thought about offering my services to them as well, but I didn’t need the money either.  There were really no incentives for me to make any deals.  I think this feature will become much more interesting when you deal with real players.  I wouldn’t mind making my city inside a garbage site that process the garbage of all my neighbors!

The game also introduced an idea called “Major Sites”, which multiple regions can help to develop.  The beta doesn’t go into details about what exactly that does, but I think you can build stuff like airports to attract more tourists.

The beta only gives you one hour to play, so I rarely put the game on hold or in slow motion.  In the span of an hour, I was able to build my city up to 8000 residents.   As in the previous Sim Cities, the best practice is to have different areas for residential, commercial, and industrial areas.  I also build all the basic structures necessary for the city to run (e.g. police station, schools).  The game was pretty quick.  In previous Sim Cities, I had to wait a long time for my cash to stock up before I can build more stuff.  But I never stopped building in the beta.  In fact, I was building too slow.  I was constantly hounded by my advisors that I need more zones or other types of buildings.

One last feature that I didn’t touch upon is “specialization”.  You can have your city specialize in a certain way; for example, turn your city into a gambling tourist town or a college town.  I definitely recall seeing that feature, but when I wanted to actually use it, I wasn’t able to find it.  I didn’t want to waste too much time just looking for icons, so I just kept playing.

Pros 

This game has most of the features that made Sim City 4 fun, and it also took some unpleasant, mundane things out.  The game’s complexity is slightly lower than Sim City 4, and I think that was intended.  Even from the title screen, you can tell EA’s objective is to hit as many audience as possible.  I think the game has a good balance of complexity.  Removing power lines and water pipes was a good move.  I have a friend who enjoys making sure all his buildings have water, but I think I’m with the majority in that power/water was just tedious.

I might be biased, but the learning curve seems non-existent.  I think the tutorial did a great job in introducing the basics, and anyone can just jump right in and play.  The fact that buildings can only be built next to roads also made it harder for newbies to screw up.

The biggest pro is perhaps the online feature.  I’ve always wanted to play Sim City games with friends.  It’s much more fun building next to other people and also look at what they have done.  EA promised a lot of online support – build cities next to other players, ranking system, online economy – but none of that is available in the beta.  Looking forward to this!

Cons

The game seemed too easy that it got boring.  I’m hoping they toned down the difficulty because it was beta, but the fact that I had zero financial trouble made it mundane.  I was swimming in cash even though I built without much consideration.  In Sim City 4, if you start off the game building a police station, fire department, and hospital, you’ll be in debt in no time.  I did the same in this beta, and I lost some money at first, but very very quickly started making more money than I can spend.

Another issue is with the new, freestyle engine.  Without grids to guide show you where things are built, it’s harder to measure how far you should build a strip of road, and how much space you should leave in between them for buildings to develop.   I didn’t look for it, but maybe there’s a way to lay a grid on top of the map as reference.

I also don’t know how EA intends on handling the size of regions a player can build in.  After building for an hour, my map is 80% filled.  And I still had tons of cash to spend.  If given a few more minutes, I could’ve filled the whole map.  I’m hoping that in the real game, you can purchase additional land to build on.  I didn’t see any mentions of this, but I didn’t really look either.

Final Verdict

It’s hard to say if I’ll enjoy this game from playing the beta.  I was able to burn through almost all the contents that the beta offered.  And that worries me.  The stuff that were marked as “not available in beta” were more advanced police departments, majors sites, and online features.  The additional buildings doesn’t seem like it’ll add much value to what I’ve seen in the beta.  With the current gameplay…. I don’t think I would buy this game.  Sim City 4 was fun because of it’s difficulty, and it required actual thinking in order for the city to sustain.  The beta was way too easy, and if the real game is just as easy, then it’ll be a bust.  Online play or “challenges” (e.g. build a city with limited budget or time) would make this more fun, and I really hope the real game have those things, since I already pre-ordered the game.

Categories: Reviews
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