SimCity returns with a more spruced-up iteration and some new mechanics.

User Rating: 8 | SimCity 3000 PC

The simulation genre of digital games is a HUGE one, and there is at least one sub-genre in it which would cater to players who wish to control the destiny of things ranging from a single complicated vehicle to entire civilizations. City-builders are one such sub-genre, and the SimCity games are perhaps the most iconic in this.

SimCity 3000 is the third major installment in the franchise. One difference from its predecessor that is almost immediately apparent is how different the user interface looks. Of course, this difference is not entirely unexpected, as SimCity 3000 is the true debut of the SimCity franchise on the latter-day iterations of the Windows platform. (SimCity 2000 was originally a DOS game.)

Gone are the Windows 3.1-kind buttons that had severe and very solid contrast. The user interface is now more comfortable on the eyes, and considering that the SimCity games tend to have a LOT of buttons that the player has to interact with during every minute of the game, this is a good change.

The next aspect of the game that players would notice is of course, the graphics. SimCity 3000 still uses a 2-D sprite-based graphical design, but it benefited from more powerful computers than SimCity 2000 did. The view of the city is now in an isometric perspective, which allow sprite models and textures for the city map to have more details and plenty more animations, especially when the camera is brought down to a level that allows the player to watch the flows of traffic and citizens milling about.

The game engine also allows for simultaneous swapping of many building models at the same time. Players will watch buildings turn into abandoned ones, brought down and have something else placed in their stead, or even several buildings merging into one big one (this happens often in heavy industrial zones). The game engine also allows transitions between the surface level and underground level (which is used to lay water pipes and subways, among other things that have to be placed underground).

The game also uses variation in colour to represent certain information, such as a transition from verdant green to snow white to represent increasing altitudes in an alpine region; the previous SimCity games only offered drab brown for maps. There are also improvements in the landscaping of maps, and the tools used to create such maps are also available for use in-game (in return for some fees to simulate the hiring of landscaping services).

The sound libraries have also been expanded. A particularly noteworthy change is the difference among the ambient noises of the different industrial zones; the heavy industrial zones have noises of heavy bass as befitting heavy machinery and chemical plants, while the light industrial is less painful on the ears (and eyes too - the heavy zone looks like an industry-blasted wasteland).

The soundtracks have also been expanded to include a greater variety of music, which is a great step above the MIDI music in the previous games.

If it is not apparent already, SimCity 3000 certainly has a significantly better presentation than its predecessor.

In keeping with the capitalist/free market/democratic themes of the previous games, players need only delineate zones for industrial, commercial and residential purposes - there is no need to build every individual building that would populate these zones. The city's private enterprises will do that instead. (Players still have the option of bringing down buildings manually, yet like the previous games, demolition still costs money and the benefits from doing so are still not really apparent.)

A new change to zoning here is the different densities of zoning, which has been somewhat mentioned earlier. Industrial and residential zones in particular now have three visually distinct densities, each with their own ramifications on gameplay as well. As a general rule of thumb, the dense variants benefit the economy of the player's city the most, but also produce the most pollution and/or squalor, which then leads to more complaints from citizens.

Speaking of pollution and squalor, SimCity 3000 introduces the element of waste management. This new feature brings the series closer to the simulation of the running of an actual city, though waste management in this game is an activity in that does not contribute to the main goal of the game (developing a city from an outback to a bustling metropolis) as it does have to do with the new pollution and squalor mechanics.

Certain infrastructure-related buildings, such as those associated with water supplies and electricity, are also now subjected to the mechanic of deterioration through aging, which necessitates the need to monitor their operational life and replace them once they are no longer efficient.

If it is not apparent already, some of the new mechanics in SimCity 300 have the goal of adding more complexity to the game; these inadvertently introduced new worries for the player to consider as well. A player with a penchant for micro-management is very likely to appreciate these new mechanics, though the game doesn't appear to offer any options to toggle these mechanics off for players who would prefer not to be burdened too much.

There also game mechanics - both new and old - that are less of a source of worry.

One of them is the refinement of neighbouring cities, a feature that was in SimCity 2000 but not as developed as this game's. Players can now deliberately communicate with the (AI-controlled) mayors of other cities and work out deals concerning the everyday running of the city, namely the water supply, electricity and waste management. Communicating with and working out deals with other cities is an optional endeavour, so shrewd players are likely to appreciate this new feature in order to develop a cost-effective infrastructure.

(On the other hand, the termination of any deal with another city seems to come with a cash penalty that ever only affects the player's city. The other cities do get somewhat affected too but in a way that is also detrimental to the player as their level of trust will diminish with every plan that was unilaterally terminated.)

While the interaction with other cities is not any deeper than a feature to make convenient compromises, it is a convenient recourse to temporarily shore up capacities that the player's city currently lacks, which is a choice that the player does not have so many options for in the previous game.

Land value is another game mechanic that has been carried over from the previous game and further refined (or made more complicated, depending on the player's intellectual capacity). Before elaborating on this feature, this reviewer will have to briefly explain on a technical design of the game (and earlier games in the franchise).

The map used for play sessions (and thus which would make up the city) is still represented in a mesh of square cells (now in isometric view of course) from a technical perspective. Every cell can hold a variety of data, such as number of citizens populating that cell, what that cell is used for (e.g. industrial, residential or commercial purposes) and other information that the player would not be immediately able to see without poring over the necessary user interfaces to look at them. One of the information types is land value.

Land value affects how citizens and private enterprises make use of that cell according to the use that it has been designated under, i.e. which zone it belongs to. Low land value will tend to result in under-utilization of that cell, which tends to be represented visually such as slum buildings and ghettos popping up in portions of residential zones that have lousy land value.

These visual cues (as well as messages from advisors - more on these later) handily serve the purpose of notifying the player that there are problems of land use efficiency to solve; these visual cues also serve to highlight the improved graphical aptitude of SimCity 3000.

Land value in turn is affected by many things, such as pollution and proximity to other zones and infrastructure buildings. While this does result in an additional cause of worry, a clever player will be able to exploit this game mechanic to encourage highly efficient use of cells.

There are also new options that the player can take to exchange new sources of funds in return for often-negative consequences in the long run. These new options take on the form of so-called "business deals", in which private enterprises, the federal (or state) government, the military or other external parties approach the player at (usually) random times during a play session to offer a deal. This deal usually involves the building of a special structure, which usually brings along its kind of problems and rarely any additional benefits, in return for a steady source of income (e.g. rental fees).

(Some of these deals require certain prerequisites before they are triggered, such as a heavy industrial presence in the city before an agent comes over with a deal for a toxic waste conversion plant. Unfortunately, the game hides away this information deep within its in-game encyclopedia, such that certain players, without knowing in advance about these options, may see this occurrences as minor distractions or worse, annoyances when they are least wanted.)

On the other hand, these special structures certainly look and animate much differently from the rest that the player can readily build once the necessary amount of funds are available. Some of them also provide some surprises that can be refreshing (but not necessarily pleasant), such as the military weapons-testing grounds producing a weapon that can quickly get rid of a rampaging UFO.

Speaking of rampaging UFOs, disasters - man-made, not-man-made and natural - can still happen to the city in this game, unless toggled off by the player (and some players would do so, considering how much more complex the game is compared to the previous). Not all of the disasters in SimCity 2000 returned, but the returning ones have been re-designed to be capable of being even nastier, such as exceptionally powerful earthquakes leveling more buildings than they ever could previously.

In addition to calling in firefighters and the cops to handle disasters, the player can also activate warning sirens to evacuate citizens, though in return for a fee and a sudden dip in the economic output of the city, regardless of how severe the disaster is, e.g. an earthquake may be too minor to justify the evacuation of citizens at work.

Advisors also return in SimCity 3000. Previously, they were nothing more than chart- and table-crunchers. They are still so, but they now offer suggestions that are surprisingly relevant to the situation at hand; Maxis has certainly worked on the text displays and programming triggers a lot, thus making advisors actually more useful than ever.

The SimCity franchise has a tradition of having caricature-like characters popping up along with message windows, and now there are more of such characters in the form of petitioners. Citizens of the city are represented by groups of certain interests, and their spokespersons will occasionally approach the player with an issue to be resolved, ignored or handled in a way that would anger them (and sometimes please others).

For such petitions - and also business deals - the player can call upon the advisors and even representatives from concerned groups to consider their feedback, which is handy in making an informed decision.

Other miscellaneous new additions to the SimCity franchise are the option to plant down landmarks based on real-world ones, such as the Eiffel Tower, though these are mainly for cosmetic purposes and likely the result of fulfilling demands from fans for such famous buildings to appear in-game.

Another minor change is the replacement of newspapers with the news ticker, which has news concerning the city scrolling by at the same pace as how fast that the player has set the game time to pass.

For better or worse, SimCity 3000 is a tremendously more complex game than its predecessor. While the new game mechanics can make this game very daunting even for long-time fans of the franchise and (especially) for new-comers, the added complexity does serve to enrich the gameplay of SimCity. Maxis has made a game that is certainly for players who want more challenges in a game of the city-managing sub-genre, and one that has much more aesthetic appeal than its predecessors.