The city simulation that put Maxis on the map ranks with Pac-Man and Tetris as one of the greatest games of all time, so certainly the Electronic Arts-acquired developer had big shoes to fill, not to mention a big publisher breathing down its back, while working on the second sequel. Now that the dust has settled, either against all odds or to no great surprise, SimCity 3000 is fun, thoughtful, and satisfying, not to mention pristine and pleasant to the core. Soft, bright colors, an attractive and intuitive interface, and stylized comic characters all fit together with an easy-listening soundtrack to make SimCity 3000 a comfortable, relaxing place to be. Your city exists in an eternal springtime; no matter how bad things get for your upstart town, at least it won't rain.
The graphics not only look good, but they tell you everything you'd want to know: You can see how well a developed area is doing at a glance, as buildings that look expensive probably are, and those that are ramshackle and sparse are probably worth a lot less. The graphics are much more detailed than SimCity 2000's, but only along the same lines - that is, you can zoom in closer than ever before, down where you can see individual pedestrians and automobiles, and everything looks real. At the same time, there isn't much variety in types of buildings, nor do you get seasons, nighttime, or anything specific. In fact, the difference between SimCity 2000 and 3000 is only skin-deep - it's a cleaner, prettier game, but if you're familiar with the series, you'll know your way around.
The game plays like it always has. You set up your residential zones, which you keep not too close and not too far from your commercial and industrial zones, and tie everything together with roads, power lines, and plumbing, and maybe rail- and subway. With three zone densities to choose from, you can create suburbs or jam-packed urban jungles as you see fit, though high-density zones are more expensive. In a nice, new touch, you can even create farmland with large plots of low industrial zone along the outskirts of town. As your city grows, you need to provide it with police and fire protection, and with schools and colleges as well as recreational and educational diversions like museums, libraries, and zoos. Of course you need to generate revenue in order to fund growth, and there's no good way to do that without taxes. High tax rates are tempting since they'll leave you with plenty of money to spend, but then again your long-term vision may be for naught if no one's going to stick around to tolerate your exorbitant tax demands.
But all that's SimCity standard fare. In 3000, you'll face decisions previously taken for granted. For one thing, you need to worry about garbage. You need to zone for landfill, a necessary evil if you hope to keep your city clean. Just don't expect anybody to live anywhere near your dump. Zone landfill with room to spare, and you'll hear from the mayors of adjacent cities asking you to take some of their share for a fee. You can also sell excess electricity and water to your neighbors, or if you're at the other end of the stick, you can buy these resources from them as well. At other times, petitioners will encourage city ordinances, from a public smoking ban, to homeless sheltering, to parking fines. These have short-term and long-term benefits and disadvantages, and to help you decide whether to enact them or not, you can consult your advisors who'll tell you frankly what they think you should do. Your advisors are good at their jobs - their suggestions are usually right, although once in a while you'll wish to respectfully decline their advice (sure, it's a waste of real estate, but you know you want to build that exclusive country club). You'll know when all such decisions are at stake, or whenever anything's awry in your city, thanks to the convenient news ticker along the bottom of the screen that'll keep you ever-informed, if not in good humor.
Things are bound to go wrong at some point. Your power plants and water pumps will grow old and require replacement. Or worse yet, disaster may strike in the fearsome guise of tornado, earthquake, fire, or even alien attack. You can disable disasters if you'd rather not deal with their consequences. But the ultimate challenge of SimCity 3000 remains the same as it always has, and that is to keep growing, and to keep growing better, while conquering the problems inherent to that growth. And to that end, you have far more landmass to work with than in SimCity 2000, so you can keep busy for a long, long time.
Along the way, you'll run into the occasional quirk. The news ticker and your advisors tend to be extreme, one minute telling you your city plumbing is hopelessly inadequate, and the next - once you've remembered to link that new city block with pipes - that your sewers are the nation's envy. There are plenty of other too simple either-or situations, such as with traffic, garbage, and education. Other design decisions are half-baked; while SimCity 3000 contains dozens of historical landmarks, from the Kremlin to the Statue of Liberty, they are optional items that have no effect on your city save that they take up space. You can place up to ten of them at any time, making the act of doing so feel rather pointless.
Other frontiers remain unexplored - for instance, your role as mayor is never reevaluated, and your city exists only on the macrocosmic scale, meaning you can't place a coffee shop by a book store, and instead must remain content to watch your light commercial zone develop as it sees fit. You'll become familiar with all the city ordinances soon enough, there aren't too many new technologies introduced into the 21st century and beyond, and your advisors aren't going anywhere.
Given the facts, it's both tempting and valid to criticize SimCity 3000 for what it isn't while futilely pointing in directions it might have gone. Then again, you need but recall the game's torrid development cycle to know that its culmination in SimCity 3000 is probably for the best. The game that began as an ambitious, full-3D renovation of the series was scrapped in favor of something not so very different than its predecessors, no doubt because the old adage about not fixing what ain't broke is, in fact, true. As it stands, SimCity 3000 is a stable, attractive, finely balanced game with just enough new features to satisfy veterans of the series.