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Review

SimCity Review

  • Game release: March 5, 2013
  • Reviewed: March 7, 2013
  • PC

SimCity is both a fun city builder and a broken product, equal parts joy and misery.

SimCity is a good game hobbled by its insistence on putting as many obstacles as it can between it and you. You can point to the ridiculous online connection problems that have bogged down the game's launch as the most obvious examples of this, but they aren't the only ones. From its online infrastructure to the simulation that powers each city, SimCity has numerous flaws that can turn a few hours of delight into a few hours of seething frustration. Many, or even most, of these flaws can be fixed, but it's the here and now that's important--and in the here and now, SimCity is a fun, engaging, and broken game.

Just how broken the always-online SimCity is depends on when you're playing, what server you choose, and the sheer luck of the draw. Did it need to be this way? Probably not: the game offers the option to have a fully single-player experience in a closed region of your own creation. Alas, you must sign into SimCity (the service)--as well as Electronic Arts' Origin service--in order to play SimCity (the game). Since the game's release, connecting has been a crapshoot. You may not be able to log in at all, or the server might be full. In that case, you don't enter a standard queue as you might in a massively multiplayer online game (though to be clear, SimCity is not an MMOG). Instead, you initiate a 20-minute countdown. Should the server be full when the countdown is finished, the countdown and the wait begin again.

So what is the benefit to the always-online aspect of SimCity? It's in the regional structure: you share an entire region with other players or, if you prefer, with other cities you yourself manage. This means up to 16 people are performing their mayoral duties in one geographical expanse, though you work with only a single city at a time. SimCity is a shared experience, though not just from a social perspective, but also from a mechanical perspective. No city is meant to be all things at once, as the relatively minor plot of land you get to work with indicates from the get-go. You can focus on tourism by placing--er, plopping, as the game calls it--landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and reaping the financial benefits. But in doing so, you may not have room to plop structures that allow you to mine ore, or export resources. You must choose: your city is not going to be a sprawling, self-contained urban center no matter how clever you think you can be.

Getting carried away with curvy roads in the beginning can inhibit growth later on.

Is the limited space disappointing? Absolutely. And yet the idea of specialization has potential, and you see it spring to life when you play with friends, or at least, friendly strangers. You can set up mutually beneficial arrangements. "I'll let you dump all your trash in my city, as long as you keep a steady supply of ambulances coming, and I'm gonna ship my sewage to this other town" or "I'll focus on commercial trade, so your wealthy residents can come to my city and spend money, and you can enjoy their tax revenue and set up an ore trade supply line." You can set this all up by yourself in a private region if you like, but managing multiple cities becomes a drag, and it dilutes that sense of connection you get when you devote your heart and soul to the metropolis of your dreams.

It all begins with that first road you lay. On a fundamental level, SimCity has that remarkable magic that compels you to stay at your keyboard even if real life beckons you. This is the nature of the series. The pavement snakes into the wilderness and you drag zones into being where residential, commercial, and industrial structures spring to life. You are no longer restricted to grids and lines: SimCity lets you create circular drives and serpentine avenues, which aren't always the most efficient use of space but at least have aesthetic value. Soon, you must focus on other concerns: providing electricity and water to your needy citizens, disposing of garbage, and getting a police force onto the streets.

Wish this were a lovely image of a growing city? So do a lot of paying customers.

The complexities then mount. As your industry grows, it needs educated sims, which means providing the population with schools and libraries. As your businesses grow, they need wealthier shoppers, which means upgrading your neighborhoods with public services and tree-lined parks. The push and pull then continues, with you balancing your populace's needs while keeping your income in the black, planning your future while dealing with the present. Most core structures can be evolved in a number of ways (adding wings to a hospital, for instance, or purifiers to your water pumps), and the most impactful upgrades require other structures to be built or other tasks to be performed. For instance, if you want to build a better array for your solar power plant, you need to research it at a university first. For a sizable sum, of course.

And so you perform the engaging and entertaining SimCity dance, juggling needs and wants, and experimenting in between to see just what, exactly, a coal mine or a municipal airport has to offer you and your people. The interface does an excellent job of giving you information and advice. If your citizens are getting sick or complainign about sewage overflow, the icons along the bottom of the screen make sure you know about it. There is plenty of information to sift through, so you can see where your population is most dense, how long the average wait for the bus is, and so on. If you enjoy losing yourself in statistics, SimCity has lots of them to consider. Unfortunately, the good old ticker tape from SimCities past is gone, as is some of the hysterical writing that came along with it.

There's immense joy in watching a bustling city form, and even greater joy in tinkering with all of SimCity's little details. Click on a hoity-toity apartment building, and you hear the murmurs of the upper class and the dulcet tones of a string quartet. Zoom in on City Hall, and you see little protesters scurrying about with picket signs. Click on a sim, and the camera follows her around, updating you on what she's doing and where she's headed. (Jocelyn Garza lost money on investments; Loren Howell is headed to work to flip burgers; Donna Cardenas just left the Grunty Studio Apartments.) Poking about like this can reveal some idiosyncrasies, like the bizarre routes drivers take to their destinations, but it also inspires you to do right by these little computer people.

Does your neighbor have an arsonist on the loose? Volunteer a fire truck or two to help out!

Your neighbors may or may not have the same interest in your citizens. If you and your friends work together, you can offset one city's weaknesses with another's strengths, setting up a network of services, industry, and trade that keeps individual cities thriving. When strangers are involved, the potential to cause grief is high, both purposefully and accidentally. Two trashy towns next to each other don't create synergy: they create pollution.

This means that seeing SimCity at its best requires neighborly harmony. That's difficult in offline politics, so you can imagine that online politicking isn't necessarily any easier. When your citizens are getting sick from pollution and you are scrambling to keep them healthy without breaking the budget, and without help from your neighbor, it's tempting to abandon the city and let it be someone else's problem. And then you yourself contribute to this spiral of doom that could lead to someone else abandoning his or her post. Making everything work perfectly in this online environment requires a perfect storm of social planning, which isn't always possible, or even probable.

Citizens help keep you focused by giving you tasks to perform.

The deeper you dig into SimCity, the more possibilities you discover…and, sadly, the higher the mound of problems grows. You can move into regional view and poke around in your neighbors' cities as a spectator, where a bug allows you to plop parks in a city that isn't your own. Fortunately, this bug has no practical effect on the other player's city. You should be able to claim cities in your region that other players have abandoned from this same view, but clicking that button usually just takes you into spectator mode. If you want to make that city your own, you must go to the main menu and take it from there. And good luck renaming any city you snap up this way: your new name may not take, or it might appear minutes or hours later.

It's even possible for your city to not sync properly with the server, so any progress you make might not appear the next time you log in. It's not a frequent bug, but this is a case where once (or twice, or thrice) is enough. Or you might not be able to reenter your city and be forced to abandon it. (You also receive an option to roll back to an earlier state, but good luck getting that button to work.) As of this writing, Electronic Arts has disabled the game's fastest speed setting (along with leaderboards and achievements) in order to ease some of these problems, which has injured the game's pace, as you must now exercise even more patience as you wait for your coffers to grow and your neighborhoods to expand.

People from all over the region will flock to see what Shakespearean tragedy plays out on the stage of the Globe Theater.

Many hassles are smaller, but still bothersome. If you create a private region and the social features of the game don't work (a real possibility), you might be unable to invite friends. But you won't be able to open the region up to all, because there's no option to change region type. Your only choice is to scrap it and start a new one. The feedback from an apartment building might tell you that the residents love how much shopping there is nearby--and also hate how there's nowhere to shop. Firefighters might not be able to make their way from the firehouse. Both the main tutorial and the mid-game tutorial tangents find numerous ways to break. It's tempting to ask: What happened here? How does an almost-great game lose its way like this?

The bugs will probably be fixed, the wrinkles smoothed, and the online problems sorted out. What hurts most, though, is that it didn't have to be this way. SimCity's makers looked to MMOGs for ideas on how to bring players together, but didn't absorb the lessons MMOG developers learned long ago on how to implement practical online play. SimCity (the game) isn't the pinnacle of the series, but it's super fun. SimCity (the service) is a disaster. What you get out of the package as a whole rests solely on how many flaming hoops you're willing to jump through before arriving at your just reward.

The Good
Complex and rewarding urban planning
Lots of wonderful details that make you feel connected to your city and its people
Cooperation deepens play on a regional level
The Bad
Almost anything and everything can, and does, break in some way
Modest plots of land limit creativity
Uncooperative players can mess up your plans
5
Mediocre
About GameSpot's Reviews
Other Platform Reviews for SimCity

About the Author

/ Staff

Kevin VanOrd is a lifelong RPG lover and violin player. When he isn't busy building PCs and composing symphonies, he watches American Dad reruns with his fat cat, Ollie.

Discussion

2752 comments
MrTakeda
MrTakeda

Why the hell would you want to work together with other players! The whole point of the online in games is that you can kill other people and feel better about it than usual because your not killing some faceless AI dope, You're killing someone with feelings and there's nothing they can do about it.

nazart81
nazart81

After months of waiting I bought it on a sale and I really regret it. The city sizes are ridiculously small, you start building and within an hour you are with no space to build, but the game keeps asking you to build more areas for workers, it’s a joke. Don’t buy it.

P90SupportClass
P90SupportClass

Doesn't EA understand the level of personal connection people have with their Sim counterparts? These games have always been connected to people on a personal level, as all RTS games are. You are the creator and you are the controller, this is what has made the entire sim franchise great. NOW they want you to be constantly manipulated by other peoples ideas 24/7? I do get the online concept and how it could lead to the creation of small sim counties and states, but this should simply be a reason for a online and offline option for game players ( LIKE ALL STRATEGY GAMES!). Who got drunk at EA and created this atrocity against mankind??

I've never in my life played a game where I was one step from calling it a masterpiece yet realized that it was everything opposite that I wanted it to be, and hence it was in fact a complete failure. No patch nor any DLC can fix this. EA for the last 10 years has been plagued by what is called GREED. When I was growing up EA made quality games that you could play for years without needing any extra stuff, and if so they extra stuff ( DLC) would costs no more than a few bucks. Now they limit how much they add in each game in order to get you to buy more later on! I bet next month we will see an " EXTRA LARGE MAP EXPANSION, and a OFFLINE MODE EXPANSION". Its all a con game now, and EA doesn't give a care about making great games. Madden is in the dump yet still costs 60$, NCAA 2000 whatever is still awful, and the Sim franchise is just used as a cashcow. I didn't even attempt to buy The Sims 3 because I knew they would barely include anything, and create 8 other DLC's for you to purchase so in all you would spend 200+ dollars on a game only worth 30$. Stay far away from this and just play the new starcraft or something. lol

Alpha462
Alpha462

Have the game in front of me.... still unopened. Every fiber of my being wants to believe that everybody's wrong... I really want to play this game!! And yet, I'm actually considering taking it back to the store tomorrow and getting my $40 back. I don't want to play this game 100% online, nor do I want the systemic problems that apparently abound within it. Kind of reminds me of STEAM and some of their epic download experiences. To say Kevin VanOrd's review of this game leaves a bleak outlook for what I can expect, would be an understatement. And although his review was many months ago, it appears by the posts that I'm reading that EA has not created some marvelous patch or fix to prove that it can pull it's proverbial head out of it's ass. And that's enough for me. Had the posts improved over time as patches became available, and fixes traded frustration with fantastic game play, I'd have opened this game on my desk. But not anymore. It's going back to the store tomorrow. Maybe I'll try the obviously broken game when it's priced down to $9.99. Based on the games value to dollars, that won't be too long from now.

m0nk3y5pac3
m0nk3y5pac3

I went on to metacritic and was absolutely stunned to see perfect scores for this buggy piece of shit. I couldn't get the damn thing to start up, yet Eurogamer Sweden says it's the best fucking game ever. Good on you Gamespot. Good on you for giving an actual review, rather than a load of horse shit.

absolufab
absolufab

Months after a difficult launch, nothing has changed nor will change. Ridiculously small map size make the game absolutely boring. If you played the previous SimCity version (2000, 3 and 4), do not buy this version. There is no tools for creating amazing road, public transport networks, bring decoration and build the city of your dream. The SimCity spirit is broken ... The only fix done so far is the connection difficulties due servers overload and I believe it was partly self fixed with players giving up playing.


EA communication is poor blaming the customers not to appreciate this fantastic game. DLCs are already on their way. It's obvious that EA's priority is money, money, money. I hope they will be back slapped as much as many (ex) loyal customer were. 


Good luck to them

MidnightValkyri
MidnightValkyri

I've been wanting to get this game since it came out, but some of the reviews put me off. I can live with the "always-online" crap - but not with the severely limited city sizes. Here we are a few months on from launch, do people still consider the city sizes a problem? Would you recommend this game for someone who really likes to get immersed in building?

Any answers are appreciated, I am on kind of a tight budget and don't want to put my money on this game if it is terrible.

mathi4s
mathi4s

From what I understand from the review is that the game will be great once the devs fix the technical issues.

grosgrostas
grosgrostas

Hope EA gets the message , no more DRM !!!


forluvofgames
forluvofgames

How many days now, and how many updates later, and we still are having problems playing this game online.  If you play private you have a higher chance of enjoying the game, forget the public option (sounds like the healthcare debate simulated)  :)    EA there is time to save this fiasco, give us an offline mode, and TRUST me people will go online eventually looking for the new thrills you are promising.   But this product and franchise  will die if you keep this as-is.

Metronoid
Metronoid

Always online is bad , but the game is very nice !

VendyD
VendyD

So, the problem is this "always online" thing?
I hope Skidrow will fix that ., ., ,   :P

Quaxillaz
Quaxillaz

I'm a SimCity fan, now I want the most objective answer.

Do you recommend me to buy this game?

The problems mentioned in this article are still actual?

wickedd
wickedd

For me, number one dissapointment of the decade so far. I deeply regret buying it. 

theend3r
theend3r

Even if servers worked perfectly the game would still be crap. Honestly even if it could be played offline it would still be crap. A 5.0 is pretty generous in this case.

lacee148
lacee148

20 minute countdown... because I have all day to play and have fun... thanks DRM

wongph
wongph

not getting the game not because the game is no good. it just that i dont want to support EA and its ludicrous DRM and day one DLC.


normsomers
normsomers

What I found saddest about the new SimCity. Is that it is nothing like the old SimCity and left me with a hole in my wallet and a very critical eye on Origen. I will probably not be buying their products in the future.

severe_009
severe_009

Haven't played the game, but watch a few gameplay and I'm quite dissapointed that you have a very tiny small little plot for your city... compared to Simcity 4

defanual
defanual

SERVER BUSY, that screen / feature shouldn't even be in the freaking game, I mean a single player game, seriously! A single player game that forces to play semi-multiplayer and puts you in a queue even if you don't want to play online? When will publishers learn (Ubisoft anyone?)

Peazo
Peazo

Epic Fail's "quote of the week" goes to Eurogamer Sweden with their 100%  review score :-                                                                                                    "Sim City is a clear candidate for Game of the Year"

zenstrata
zenstrata

This online move is a blatent effort to monetize this title and keep the companies fingers as deeply inside the players bank accounts as they can get.  This sort of activity is ruining good franchise titles all over.  Just look at the disaster that is Diablo 3.  That game is now universally abhorred and a failure.  Everyone I know personally who bought it regrets the purchase and wishes they had not bought the title.  I foresee the same thing happening with this iteration of SimCity.

I will never buy a game that tries to do this to its customers.  And I also now have a much lower opinion of MAXIS as a company for allowing this to happen to one of its premier titles.  I did not purchase this newest SimCity, and I will probably think long and hard before touching anything from MAXIS in the future.

Redsyrup
Redsyrup

I applaud Gamespot, CBS Interactive and Kevin VanOrd for producing another straight shooting review. Without honest reviews the readership suffers. Ultimately the financials for the parent company also suffer because readers find dishonesty repulsive. 

True Reviews allow developers to improve their games (or at least their sequels) and the industry as a whole benefits. Good job guys. Keeping doing the difficult work of telling it straight.

Cappeduccino
Cappeduccino

Why do people still use the "yes this game sucked when released, but it will (hopefully) be fixed in the future" defense?? I'm still amazed by some game companies. If a game is still in the developmental, unfinished, or to put it plainly "suck stage", why release it? Blizzard always push back release dates for their games, and look how amazing all of them are, even with the launch server disasters. Simcity is no excuse.

kingcrimson24
kingcrimson24

like i said , they did this online thing to butthurt pirate gamers ... EA thought with always online game , pirate gamers won't be able to enjoy the game .

but EA is hurting its own ass even more :p

Schmeag
Schmeag

@mathi4s Even to date at just under 2 months post release, the game is still broken despite being patched. Save files don't disappear any, but the game mechanics are possibly in worse shape than ever before. There are still no working online features. Through the Retrospect-O-Meter, Gamespot's 5.0 rating is still looking very accurate.

AlwaysRunning
AlwaysRunning

@mathi4s Unfortunately, the problems go deep down to the very heart of the city simulation. All problems with the servers aside, the game is fundamentally broken.

It sure is pretty, though. Just don't look too closely at anything that's going on.

Fishdude909
Fishdude909

@Quaxillaz I recently bought it after never playing any other Sim City Game. Though I dont know why it "HAS" to be always online, I do enjoy the online features. Its like you control a city in a county and you can work with the other cities in your county to make your county thrive. Other than that I believe the game runs and looks great. Played about 10 hours in 3 days haven't been kicked off yet. I don't agree with the 5.0 score, Diablo 3 is online only and didn't get nerfed that bad


mauporte
mauporte

@Quaxillaz I've been a SimCity fan since the SNES version, I'm an architect and urban designer: I think it is worth it, the new engine has a lot of potential. I really hope they eventually get to fix and expand the series, if not, maybe simcity 6 will be amazing. Still, most console games are more expensive and give you a lot less hours of gametime.

00J
00J

@Quaxillaz If you really must see a new Simcity engine, it's worth a look now that Best Buy has it for $39.99. 

The engine is pretty cool if you've ever scene a model train set that's the idea. It's a damn shame that they fudged it up with the always online aspect of the game.

I got a copy for a really good price $30. 


Crimson_Erskine
Crimson_Erskine

@Redsyrup Oh please. Kevin is a hack writer and a crap gamer. Any reviewer that judges a game based on a shaky start loses credibility. GS reviews are outdated and in their execution and flawed in their wildly inconsistent rubrics. All I have to site is FF14 for evidence. Took one look at it and discarded it. Now it's a great game, but GS still sets it low. This site is a joke.

jcove2050
jcove2050

@Cappeduccino I don't think someone from Maxis deliberately said "there are bugs but we'll release it anyway." The Beta's were working fine it seemed.  I believe they truly thought the game was complete, until the mass number of players  never tested in that large sum before, caught some things and the server issue is somewhat to blame too. Things are improving now. The server issue that Gamespot was so unfairly focused on in this review, is non-existent anymore.  This game deserves so much better than a 5.0. For those who believe reviews over personal experience are going to miss out, especially if they are SimCity Fans.

Vertigem
Vertigem

I had to read your post twice when I got to the part you mentioned Blizzard as a good example. I have 3 words for you my friend: "Diablo 3 sucked".

jcove2050
jcove2050

@kingcrimson24 Online play was the mission and vision for the game, it's got nothing to do with what EA wanted or didn't want. It's no different than when a business creates a vision and a mission for their company, everything that business does should align with that mission and vision. Every game is a project (or business if you will) a good project should have a mission and vision in order to be successful and every decision made for that project should align with that mission and vision. You may disagree with their vision for this project, but they stayed true to that. The world is going online, facebook, twitter, all of these things are proof  that people starve for this social aspect. Like it or not, online is the future. If you ask me this was a very wise business decision.

mescovic
mescovic

@kingcrimson24  Actual they almost ready to release a pirated very that is better then a legal version. 

00J
00J

@Quaxillaz I'd like to add that a price drop to $39.99 is drastic, that's the same as a Sims 3 add on...

There was 1 copy still left on the shelf, hasn't moved in a week. I don't think Best Buy is ordering anymore. lol




00J
00J

@Crimson_Erskine @Redsyrup 

I have no problem with your opinion because designing a game is HARD WORK and takes dedication, even if it is Super Mario Bros. 

The only problem i do have personally is that you don't release a buggy flawed game for $59.99 when i could get Dishonored for the same price and everything works as it should... 

timedevourer
timedevourer

@Crimson_Erskine @Redsyrup If u wait years for a game to release and it comes unfinished IDK why it shouldnt be discarded, if its not ready dont release it, simple like that. FF14 is still far away from being a good MMO, it was not only GS that gave him lower points on reviews.


therealneoturk
therealneoturk

@Crimson_Erskine @Redsyrup are you kidding? ff14 was a unfinished game when they sent it to gamespot and released it. it was panned everywhere because of that fact. SE so embarresed by the reviews and state of the game let players play for free for a year and then two years later decided to actually finish the game after much trial and error... take your fanboy crying elsewhere and please state facts before you come back here

WayneSikes49
WayneSikes49

@jcove2050 @Cappeduccino Developers and publishers always know the state of a game on release. They're not stupid or innocent or whatever you'd like to believe. I'm a long-term game developer and I can promise you - games are intentionally released, unfinished, because of money. Pure greed and little care for the buying public. EA knew exactly what it was doing and assuming a stupid cattle-minded public would simply buy a flawed product and wait until it was really finished. Speak with your wallets - don't buy unfinished games. Would you buy an unfinished car or maybe an unfinished washing machine? Good luck getting your clothes washed ;)

cirugo
cirugo

@jcove2050 @Cappeduccino  

The server issue is because the game was DESIGNED to require a server connection and it never should have been.  They lied about how necessary it was and they won't back away from it.  Gameplay problems due to design decisions are most CERTAINLY fair game when review time comes.  And the server issues were just the tip of the iceberg...

kalarro
kalarro

@jcove2050 @kingcrimson24 Sorry, but a game where the only multiplayer aspect is some trading, is miles away from needing to be always online. It clearly was a design focused on preventing piracy. Absolutly. They could have done that city trading much simplier.

Avoiding piracy should NEVER harm paying customers. And paying customers can't play on vacations now if they don't have a connection, just to say one of the many failures of this "online" game.

jcove2050
jcove2050

@mescovic @kingcrimson24 If it's pirated it is not better than the original, it is illegal and stupid because god only knows what virus or malware will be weaved within it.

If it isn't from the original developers you'd be a fool to give into it.

SimCity More Info

  • Released
    • Macintosh
    • PC
    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 978 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