SimCity 3000 Unlimited Review

It's best suited for those who haven't played much SimCity 3000 yet, though some of its scenario-editing features are better for hard-core SimCity fans.

SimCity 3000 Unlimited is the latest game in the classic urban-planning simulation series. It provides a host of peripheral additions to its 1998 predecessor SimCity 3000 but remains essentially identical otherwise. As such, it's best suited for those who haven't played much of the previous game, although hard-core SimCity fans may appreciate its new scenario-editing features.

Fortunately, the core game has survived the passing months with all its charm intact - the bright pastel colors and intuitive interface design remain good looking by contemporary standards, and SimCity 3000's isometric perspective and simple, tile-based terrain are still perfectly suited to the gameplay. In fact, the game's stylized 2D graphics are anything but passé. Similarly, SimCity 3000's great sound effects and cool jazzy music score still sound first rate, and since there are plenty of different tracks and they all tend to hum pleasantly in the background, you wouldn't think to turn them off even if you've poured hours into the original SimCity 3000.

Then again, if you played a great deal of SimCity 3000 last year, then you might find that SimCity 3000 Unlimited's additional in-game features collectively don't provide enough new material to restore your interest. The more sadistically inclined SimCity players will quickly notice that Unlimited adds several types of disasters that can befall their fair metropolis either at random or at their whim, whichever comes first. These include everything from a ravaging plague of locusts to a brimstone-like rain of superheated space junk. The new disasters are fun to watch, they look good, and they manage to lend a real sense of danger and urgency to the game without being too heavy-handed or serious. Although more-casual SimCity players will prefer never to encounter these ill events, veterans of the series will enjoy having to use new types of tactics to deal with and compensate for the new bad things that can befall their cities.

SimCity 3000 Unlimited offers several new types of terrain that you can build on, but in practice all you'll get is a color swap. For example, you can build your city on whitish, sort of snowy-looking scenery, but it's a purely cosmetic effect that isn't even very noticeable. However, the game also provides two new sets of buildings that you can choose from instead of the standard urban/suburban houses of its predecessor. These European and Asian building sets look good and help breathe new life into the game for long-time players, and the building sets are generic enough that they're suitable for representing cities throughout their equivalent real-world region - especially since the game also includes a huge library of national monuments and famous buildings that you can place liberally throughout your city if you choose to. So between the European and the Asian building sets and the variety of terrain, you'll actually gain a good bit of flexibility in personalizing your city. You can try to re-create a snow-covered suburb in Japan, a quaint French village on the Mediterranean, and more. Too bad your various city-advisor characters, who frequently offer planning strategies and such, don't change depending on your city's building set. Fortunately, the advisors are cosmopolitan enough as it is. Otherwise, as with the terrain, switching building sets has no actual effect on gameplay.

Indeed, very little in SimCity 3000 Unlimited actually affects the flow of the original game. As before, you're responsible for zoning residential, commercial, and industrial areas; providing them with power and plumbing; and generally helping your citizens improve their standard of living by providing education, transportation, recreation, and safety. SimCity 3000 added the aforementioned city advisors to help you along the way, and together with the useful and often funny news ticker at the bottom of the screen, they do a great job of helping you stay on top of all your many responsibilities. You're provided with a constant stream of optional advice that'll generally keep you from ever getting stuck or frustrated when things go wrong.

Since the core game was left unchanged, SimCity 3000 Unlimited provides most of its new gameplay material in the form of 13 scenarios, which are scripted challenges that you'll have a limited time to complete. Some are more difficult, and some don't even let you pause play, in order to heighten the tension. They cover a variety of serious and not-so-serious situations in both real-world and fictional settings, from a rampant crime problem in Moscow to a World Cup preparation in Seoul. Collectively they're an insightful simulation of the sort of damage control that a real mayor might have to do. In addition, SimCity 3000 Unlimited provides less experienced players with extensive and specific tutorial scenarios covering a wide range of subjects. New players will also appreciate the concise and informative, and often amusing, 200-page-plus wire-bound manual that comes with the game.

However, new SimCity players probably won't bother much with SimCity 3000 Unlimited's various design tools, which let you script scenarios and also construct buildings. They're elegant programs that are much easier to use (thanks in part to the manual) than most game-editing tools. But even so, the game packs a lot of content as it is, which is why you might not feel inclined to make your own scenarios and so on. The game also provides a prominent online link to Maxis' web site, which lets you swap cities and scenarios with other players and generally interact with other SimCity players. Maxis has done an impressive job creating infrastructure for an online player community with its recent games.

But regardless of SimCity 3000 Unlimited's tools and scenarios, the bottom line is that the real pleasure of SimCity has always been that it lets you build a huge metropolis from scratch. As such, if you're a SimCity fan who's not interested in solving other people's problems in the prefabricated scenarios or making your own material for the game, then you can let Unlimited pass you by. Otherwise, like its predecessor, SimCity 3000 Unlimited is a great game to play if you haven't spent much time with the series yet.

The Good

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The Bad

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