Other Take

SimCity Review: A Real Mayor's Perspective

  • Game release: March 5, 2013
  • Reviewed: November 15, 2013
  • PC

Motion denied.

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Brett Todd is a longtime city-building enthusiast--not to mention, the mayor of an actual town in Ontario, Canada. He spent the equivalent of five or six real-life council meetings wearing a virtual chain of office in SimCity. That's around 20 hours, give or take a motion or two.

As someone who does this game-reviewing gig alongside serving as a real-life mayor of a small town in Canada, I come at a game like SimCity from a different angle than most. Not that different, mind you. The multiplayer focus and always-on Internet demands of Maxis' latest city-builder are beyond irritating. And the cramped borders that force you into constantly demolishing and rejigging your bulging-at-the-seams mini metropolis are almost enough to drive me to adopt the pastimes of another Canadian mayor who has been making the rounds of late-night talk shows recently.

But what really bothers me is the missed opportunity. This fresh take on SimCity comes a full decade after SimCity 4, yet it still repeats most of the same old mistakes, doubles-down on the regional approach introduced in that game with an obnoxious multiplayer push, and destroys the zoning system through unnecessary simplification. While you're supposed to be the mayor of a city, you're actually more of a dictator at the reins of a city-state. There are no limits to your power when it comes to spending tax dollars. You can rezone neighborhoods at a whim. Whole blocks of supposedly privately owned apartment buildings and businesses can be demolished with two mouse clicks if you get a sudden urge to create a massive football stadium to suit a Jerry Jones-size ego.

Tight city borders cause you to continually demolish and rebuild blocks. And they also force you to plop down key infrastructure in terrible places, like this nuke plant in City Hall's backyard.

Not that you would want to get too tied down to reality. Dealing with a council, staff, and senior levels of government involves a lot of process and red tape that wouldn't translate well into a game. Well, a game that anyone would want to play, at any rate. It's much easier and more enjoyable to click on a button to build and destroy than it is to shepherd real-life municipal legislation through public hearings, consultations with planning advisors, three readings of a bylaw, and so forth.

Yet the changes made to this new take on SimCity actually make the game tougher to enjoy, and knock back the realism even farther than it was a decade ago. Maxis continues with SimCity 4's regional approach, although there are significant differences. You still have the option of guiding more than one city on a regional map that can include up to 16 separate municipalities. But city size has been cut back by around 75 percent in comparison with SimCity 4. This forces you to branch out and take over the other cities in the neighborhood while playing alone or by playing online multiplayer, because you can never fit all of the facilities and businesses and homes that you need to survive and thrive within the borders of just one town.

City zoning seems to work well in the early stages, but after a few hours of play, it becomes clear that the game sacrifices too much control for the sake of simplicity.

This "honey, I shrunk the city" approach has been geared to hamstring you into playing the game how Maxis and Electronic Arts want it played--always online--with you filling all the roles and taking over every city in a region as a godlike hizzoner. Try building a self-sustaining city that is all things to all citizens, and you will soon bang your head against the wall so thoroughly that you might come out on the other side thinking about running for municipal office in the real world.

Even if you can somehow appreciate this regional approach, cities are just way too small on their own. You can build out to the limits within an hour or two of starting a city, and have no way of expanding beyond that besides taking over a neighboring town as the incredible multiple mayor or making nice with fellow human mayors in multiplayer. Once you hit the dotted-line wall (which has been made extraordinarily aggravating due to how maps have huge stretches of wilderness between cities that you can never touch), you have to start demolishing and rebuilding. You have to rework everything as your city grows, inventing ways to cram in Godzilla-size new municipal facilities like sewage plants and universities, expand neighborhoods to jam in more residents, and play with factories to create more jobs.

Get beyond these frustrating mechanics, and you don't feel like you're doing the work of a mayor, either. Municipalities function more like independent nations than cities, trading services and goods back and forth like members of the EU. Granted, this sort of thing happens with cities and towns in real life, but not generally for the reasons SimCity puts forth. I can't think of any cities that have contracted out police and medical services to other municipalities because they didn't have room for police precincts and hospitals within their own borders. My suspension of disbelief also takes a hit when it comes to natural resources, which are a national responsibility, not a civic one. Municipal governments looking after oil and ore is a bridge too far.

Try building a self-sustaining city that is all things to all citizens, and you will soon bang your head against the wall so thoroughly that you might come out on the other side thinking about running for municipal office in the real world.

Even when you do manage to team up with other human players or build a few sharing-is-caring cities on a map of your own, it all still seems pointless. Building cooperation seems great in principle, but I always find myself thinking that I could handle all that garbage myself, or put out all those fireworks fires without needing help from a sister city, if only the game would give me more room to grow. Push out the dotted lines that hamper city growth, and I'd never have to petition the Duckburg next door for any help. The interrelationship attributes come off as fake and forced.

Another major problem lies with zoning. At the center of your "mayoral" powers is the ability to zone areas for residential, commercial, and industrial development. You lay down roads, select the zoning tool, pick one of those three aforementioned categories, and draw a box around what you want to zone. Presto, you've created a zoning bylaw for part of your city. As soon as you've finished any sort of zoning, developers arrive and start building homes, stores, or industries on the block or blocks in question. If only it were this easy in the real world.

HQ may be called a "City Hall," but it sure doesn't feel much like you're the mayor of a city.

But even though this system might seem to be a fitting simplification of how municipal zoning really works, it actually makes SimCity more complicated, and is a huge step backward for the series. Back in 2003, SimCity 4 got zoning (mostly) right, with a low-, medium-, and high-density system very similar to how real municipalities function. Now you've got "build it and they will come" zoning where you pick from one of the three main categories and then watch as buildings get denser and bigger all by themselves. Growth occurs naturally based solely on economic conditions, how wide you've made the roads in the area, and how much land you've set aside to let three-bedroom bungalows expand into 20-story condo towers and little assembly warehouses balloon into massive chemical factories.

The result of losing zoning control? Utter chaos. This problem is exacerbated by the ludicrously small territory that each city is jailed in, since there is no room for mistakes. You need to guess at both how big you want your blocks to be and how wide you want your roads in order to accommodate future growth. Go too small at first, and you soon wind up demolishing roads to give buildings room to expand. Go too big at first, to allow for eventual growth, and you soon wind up demolishing buildings to add roads allowing more space for homes, businesses, and industries. You can't win. You're either bulldozing blocks because you don't have enough room, or you're demolishing blocks because you've left too much room. Perhaps this is supposed to mirror the evolution of a city over time, but it plays out like you're making one mistake after another and correcting these errors by blowing up huge swathes of the city to start over and over again.

This used to be my playground.

One other problem lingers from the game's horrendous launch early this year. You still have to connect online to play, and there are still regular periods when the servers cannot be accessed. I didn't play the game in the spring, when it went through long stretches of being unavailable, so I can't comment on whether or not this issue has gotten better. But during the course of playing the game for this review, it regularly refused to run because it could not connect with the servers. This generally lasted for no more than five- to 10-minute stretches, and was usually much shorter than that (although there was also one five- or six-hour outage). Still, these outages remain absolutely unacceptable, especially for a game that you should be able to play solo. The always-on Internet connection requirement needs to be removed so you can take your single-player city-building offline.

All that said, SimCity can hook you for lengthy stretches of time before the frustration of dealing with its flaws wears down your patience. The game excels in a number of areas. You couldn't ask for a more intuitive interface. A glance at the menu bar tells you immediately if you've got trouble brewing with the water supply, schools, police, electrical grid, and so on. The needs-and-wants heart of the gameplay is handled very well, too, so you're never left in the dark over such vital information as why businesses are failing or why citizens are loving your town. Click on any structure in the game, and you instantly get a rundown of what's good and bad in your city, from the perspective of the sims who live or work there.

Go too big at first, to allow for eventual growth, and you soon wind up demolishing buildings to add roads allowing more space for homes, businesses, and industries.

Visuals and sound are superb for the most part, though the graphics get oddly blurry at times when you're down near street level. Cities boast neat lived-in details that you can see when zooming in on your sim citizens, and the soundtrack includes a jazzy score and atmospheric effects that always tell you what you're looking at (though the developers could have chosen a less-disgusting glug noise for those moments when you're checking on sewage flow). All of this just accentuates the letdown in the end, though, because you're always aware of how much better this game could have been.

Whether you're a mayor or a wannabe or a constituent, SimCity is a big disappointment. As the first game in this classic series in a decade, it should have been something special that took the city-building concept in exciting new directions that let everyone see what it's like to serve as a mayor. Instead, the developers got tangled up with a multiplayer concept that is little more than an albatross hanging around the player's neck and never addressed the many, many ways that this look at a mayor's life could have been made both more realistic and more enjoyable.

The Good
Great interface, visuals, and accessible gameplay can still hook you for limited amounts of time
Concept of working with other regional mayors is interesting, though unrealistic
The Bad
Unrealistic zoning mechanics lead to a lot of problems with city development
Multiplayer remains problematic, especially with connecting to servers
City size limitations are incredibly annoying
Multicity focus turns cities into tiny nation-states and mayors into little dictators
Your duties have virtually nothing to do with being the mayor of a city
4
Poor
About GameSpot's Reviews
Other Platform Reviews for SimCity

About the Author

/ Staff

Brett Todd is a longtime city-building enthusiast--not to mention, the mayor of an actual town in Ontario, Canada. He spent the equivalent of five or six real-life council meetings wearing a virtual chain of office in SimCity. That's around 20 hours, give or take a motion or two.

Discussion

134 comments
komuchen
komuchen

Since when SimCity was realistic? I mean really, had USA really been attacked by Bowser in the 90s? Or Bush unleashed fucking tornados? Or nuclear powerplant really costs 5 grand? But "great visuals"explain it all - reviewer is blind. It's not great, it's just OK. Music on the other hand, is as great as it was in this series.

Those games were never THAT realistic, and that is what was fun about them. I bought it with expansion 2 days ago (20 euro) and I have fun.City limit looks like a problem, but when you can actually connect few cities together, it doesn't look like that big of an issue.

At least I can play it and it doesn't crash on me randomly, like Battlefield 4 - they gave that bugggy travesty 9, even though it barely works. And their fix is to give 2x exp boost, and for premium users, who have it every weekend, give nothing. That's bigger issue.

penpusher
penpusher

To be honest I don't understand the criticism about effectively being a dictator in control of your own city state. In every Sim City game you've always been something of a god dominating your own little city state, not only rebuilding whatever you like despite people's disapproval, but also calling down every natural disaster available to you. That's part of what Sim City has always been about. Why complain about it now?


I've not played the game though so I won't comment further. I've been waiting to see if it improves, looks like I'll be waiting for a long time. Perhaps the next one? For now I'll go back to the original.

DawgByte2
DawgByte2

Who is this idiot that reviewed this? After patch 8.1 (and even before), along with some expansions (theme park)... the game is VERY playable, and actually fun. Yes, the city limitation size restrictions are still apparent. However, the game's new changes actually work. The zoning is especially great. 

I like free zoning and then the city/game decides what suits best. You just build with future expansion in mind, and after everything is low-density... it'll eventually change to medium & high, along with wealth. Strategically placing schools & expanding out your fire/police, it's all easy and addicting. As for server connections. I NEVER had a problem since April. The only time I couldn't connect was when it stated officially on "SimCity.com" website that said it was going to be off-line for either maintence or upgrades. 

Get this moron off reviewing games, because he obviously doesn't understand change and how it actually works for Sim City. 

riggles_nz
riggles_nz

This is a great review which tells you just how flawed the game really is. All they needed to do was make an updated version of Simcity 4 and they would of had people throwing money at them however for some reason they tried to make some sort of Sim Village that prevents you from doing most of the things that make simcity great so that you can piss round wondering why all the traffic that wants to drive straight through at the traffic signals refuse to change lanes and pass the one car that is refusing to make a left turn.

Lord_Vader
Lord_Vader

At first I thought this was a review for the expansion. Why are they posting a review for the 8 month old original game that's been dead for months now? It's been buried in the ground and people have pretty much forgotten about it. Kevin already did his part in pointing out all the flaws in this horrible game in his review. I gave up hope when they released an expansion instead of addressing the major concerns of fans such as a non-online option and bigger cities. Time to move on as most of us already have lol.

sakaixx
sakaixx

been a long time fan of sim city and had most fun with 3000 and 4 but after buying societies (+expansion) it kinda went off the rails so I skipped the reboot and its a plan well executed

Sevenizz
Sevenizz

Did EA pay to have this 6 month old game featured on top? Why is it here with next gens being released this week?

jessie82
jessie82

probarly better off coming together and remaking an older simcity than hoping ea will fix or make a next one

Primeyuri
Primeyuri

best advice you can give to gamers: Never buy a EA game again. you will be dissapointed. 

greasemonkey42
greasemonkey42

I will not buy this game until:

1. It is not always online.
2. They scrap the size limits for cities.

Only then will this game be appealing that I might consider actually spending some cash on this thing. I 100% guarantee I am not the only one in this boat.

FroMcJoe
FroMcJoe

Good review. Glad they came back to this game following the launch disaster

Hurvl
Hurvl

"Multicity focus turns cities into tiny nation-states and mayors into little dictators" What with the small areas you're given in SimCity, I thought it'd be more like a city-state.

haegint
haegint

Alright, so this is another game I can forget about buying. Which is too sad because I liked the old SimCity games very, very much.

Mohjong
Mohjong

Maybe EA need to update the series name into SimNation.

ZoTrAcK
ZoTrAcK

The game had a better score when it was not working in spring! it must suck real bad!!

nicecall
nicecall

how does EA screw up simcity when the formula has been in place for over 20 years.  only they can screw up and kill a series like this.  what happened to command and conquer... oh EA did

wasakawaka
wasakawaka

It's not a real city mayor simulator until it has crack smoking in it..

Granatar
Granatar

I am not sure i want the game to be realistic.  Politics is very boring.  Have you ever watched C-Span.  

tealmantis793
tealmantis793

Hey GameSpot! You linked this review to the wrong SimCity wiki page! This review is attached to the very first SimCity game and not the one recently released. 

uglypinkmoose
uglypinkmoose

sucks I thought the new Sim City looked amazing but it had so many problems.... such a shame where this series has fallen I really hope they get back on their feet again 

gregrout
gregrout

The last game I bought from EA was SimCity. It was $79.99 straight down the toilet. I think I played the game 10 times and just gave up on it and EA. I'm not surprised to see anything related to this doomed title scoring badly. They had a winning SimCity formula that they chucked out the window in favour of this mess. Maybe after winning worst company for a third year in a row, they'll realize that they're the problem, not their customers.  

anakvunky
anakvunky

This game so fail that it needs 2nd review.... geez

faizanhd
faizanhd

Are Canadian towns so small that a game journalist can be its mayor ?

greater_bird
greater_bird

@DawgByte2 If your opinion differs, write a review of the game yourself. But this review certainly agrees better with majority opinion (both then and now) than your own does, so I hardly think it calls for being so personally abusive toward the reviewer...

jophy
jophy

@DawgByte2 most of the players who bought it do not agree. consumers and critics unanimously agreed this game is horrible. this is the only game I preordered and regretted it. if a game is bad or sucks, im fine, but this game is broken. so many bugs and issues that make it unplayable. and the worst thing is every bugs and issues posted to them, they did not bother to address and tell us they are working to fix it. nothing. I gave up on it completely after I went back to see if they bother to reply me after 6 months. The only thing I see is tons of others players begging for EA to give them an answer or solution.

shingui5
shingui5

@Sevenizz 

Oh yes, they paid the big bucks to get a 4/10.

Gamespot have said that, with the new site, they will periodically come back to games and tyr to give a different take on them. This is even more helpful, since we are in the age of patches adding content, and DLC releases that cna drastically change how a game is played, from how it did at launch.

JusticeCovert
JusticeCovert moderator

@Sevenizz Surprisingly no, EA didn't pay to have us post and promote a 4/10 review of their game.

Axass
Axass

@Sevenizz Yeah, they paid to have a review that says not to buy it on top. Clearly.

DawgByte2
DawgByte2

@Primeyuri So Dead Space 3 is disappointing? I think not... 
...and the idiot that did the review just doesn't understand ANY part of the game. "T
hough the graphics get oddly blurry at times when you're down near street level". Yeah, you know why? It's called "tilt shift", nit wit! That's the whole point, to put it in a perspective where it looks like a tiny model on a large scale. 

God, I hate this Brett Todd so much. Who the hell has 2 first names as their real name, anyway? That's like being named "Smith Johnson". *ugh*

Sevenizz
Sevenizz

You must not have much of a game library if you boycott the number one publisher in the world. You play those terrible JRPGs then?

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@ZoTrAcK  

Kevin's a lot more forgiving person than Brett Todd. Also, you may want to ignore the number and consider the context of the review instead; numbers are for the lazy or dyslexic.

By the way, Brett Todd seems to be helping GameSpot make another review on the more updated version of SimCity.

Lord_Vader
Lord_Vader

@nicecall Don't forget about Battlefield which they are basically milking and turning into a modern generic FPS a la CoD. BF2 was the peak of the series. Everything went downhill from there.

tealmantis793
tealmantis793

In fact now that I look at it your entire game page for the new SimCity links to the wrong Giant Bomb wiki page, i.e. the original SimCity from 1999. 

Kayweg
Kayweg

@anakvunky It DID need a second review, because many people blamed review sites for scoring it badly just because of the launch disaster.

That myth has now been put to bed, the game is just outright rubbish.



snaketus
snaketus

@anakvunky It's actually a good game, only problem is small zones. And you end up doing your nuke plants next to elementary school etc.

woodyfr
woodyfr

@faizanhd Because of the snow. Too much snow and you can't open the door.

jophy
jophy

@Sevenizz terrible Jrpg? Ninokuni? persona? demon souls? dark souls? just because u don't like EA or Jrpg doesn't make them terrible.

Primeyuri
Primeyuri

@Sevenizz first of terrible? there are some awesome ones. secondly there much better publishers. taketwo, bethesda, ubisoft etc.

Lord_Asmodeus
Lord_Asmodeus

@Kayweg @anakvunky  

I completely agree about needing a second review - myself and numerous others were waiting for the storm to die down (Server issues, online requirements, patching to fix horrible gameplay mechanics) and after 8 months, it's still a piece of trash - Thanks GS for saving others and I a lot of time / money.



PETERAKO
PETERAKO

@snaketus @anakvunky 

yes, small zones is a problem

and that the engine is beyond repair and cant support whats normal for a simcity game

and that there is no modding

and that it has to be online

and that there is a bunch of DLC that is either meaningless and overpriced or downright imbalanced

and that we've been lied for just about everything in this game

and that you can't create your own land

and that it discourages experimentation by not allowing you to save and load whenever you want

otherwise "town dictator" is pretty good

PETERAKO
PETERAKO

@Gelugon_baat @nait2k4 I know what values I want from a simcity game, and I expected simcity to meet these values. I wanted the simcity that improved what made simcity, well, simcity but now with new cool functions like curved roads, awesome graphics, water and electricity streamlined to go with the placement of roads.

When instead of a simcity game I see a glorified facebook game with way less capabilities than its predecessor 9 years ago, an engine that is like a spaz and the only thing comming from maxis were lies, its not as simple as to just not buy the game.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@nait2k4

You may want to ask yourself what is the value that you yourself are looking for in a game.

If SimCity is missing that value you want, then don't.

SimCity More Info

First Release on Mar 05, 2013
  • PC
  • Macintosh
SimCity is a city-building simulation game that lets players create the city they desire to make the choices that shape your city and power the citizens within it.
4.1
Average User RatingOut of 974 User Ratings
Please Sign In to rate SimCity
Developed by:
Maxis
Published by:
Electronic Arts
Genres:
Management, Strategy
Content is generally suitable for ages 10 and up. May contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes.
Everyone 10+
All Platforms
Mild Violence