IGN has wrote about their experience with the SimCity demo at Gamescom!
The work of a mayor never ends in Maxis’ new SimCity. As the fire spread to yet another building I knew something had gone horribly awry. I only built one fire station, meaning my new city didn’t have the manpower to deal with such a large scale catastrophe. Heat built up in one building, crossing the temperature threshold for the materials that made up the next building in my densely packed industrial sector and setting them alight. Within moments the factories that my large number of blue collar workers relied on for jobs were burnt out husks, waiting to be bulldozed before I reconsidered how to proceed. But before I could react the GamesCom demo ended with an inescapable rain of meteors, washing away my failed city.
And just like it happened: my first go with the first SimCity in more than a decade ended in spectacular failure.
Despite a short tutorial designed specifically for the demo, my first time with SimCity was a bit overwhelming. It’s not that I fear failure (you can never “lose” in SimCity, you just lose population and income that you can eventually recover), it’s that there are so many systems to consider in such a short period of time. Does your city have enough power? Is everyone getting water? Are your civil services like garbage, police, fire stations and hospitals adequately spread around to give your citizens what they need? Hell, you even need to decide how much you care about their needs to begin with.
In order to be successful you have to first plan for what sort of city you want to build. This starts with road construction, done as easily as clicking and dragging between two points. If you want to make your city a bit less blocky, you can switch to the curvy road tool and layout your city in totally unconventional ways. Once you have your basic framework, you then zone roadsides for either housing, industry or commercial spaces. You can’t do this too haphazardly if you want specific types of citizens to move in, though. For instance if you want a city that rich people desire to live in, you have to zone your housing far away from the industrial area. Alternatively you could design your city to appeal to nothing but lower income citizens, placing housing right up against garbage dumps, factories and power plants. By clicking a tab in the interface you can quickly check on your city to see just how desirable the housing is based on the income level of the citizens, adjusting your zoning accordingly.
Each moment there’s always something that needs your attention in SimCity. You may have your city zoned and under construction, but then you have to consider the desires of your people. This is where the convenient visual layers of SimCity come into play; instead of reading graphs, you can click a number of buttons to see visual representations of how efficiently your city functions. For instance you can click the sewage tab and immediately see how the waste of your citizens is flowing at that moment. If you see that it’s getting backed up you can respond with a sewage treatment plant, placing it on the outskirts of town if you want to please your citizens, or plopping it right down in the middle of them. You can also click on things like your police or fire stations to see how well they’re covering the area, choosing between spending additional money or risking the higher crime rate and possibility of fire. It’s a lot to take in, but the visual representation of stats is easier to understand than any of the previous games in the franchise. The team at Maxis plays on things you already understand, using colors like red to represent when things are bad, and green when they’re good.
Even after you start to get a grip on the intricacies of running your city, the new SimCity offers a new level of depth with its online play. No city exists in a vacuum; instead, each city is placed into a region, either with friends or strangers. Like any real region in the world, what you do in your city affects those around you. This means that regions can work together to fulfill mutually beneficial arrangements (you specialize your government around education and build a “college town” while I build the hardcore city with nuclear power plants that give us both energy, for instance). Or your towns can compete and / or harm one another. I might build a gigantic city that churns out coal at a ridiculously high rate, but the pollution I’m producing could flow right into my neighbor’s city, angering his citizens. I could then attempt to offset my neighbor’s displeasure by giving them cheap coal, or just let them deal with it. My coal-driven city could even affect the larger SimCity world, because now the prices for goods are driven by a world-wide market. If I flood the market with coal the price could drop, or I could build up this city and wait for the price to explode to make a quick bit of cash. Just like real life, the actions of one city affect its neighbors.
The second attempt I made at constructing a city went much, much better. The same systems that moments before left me feeling a bit bewildered were already easier to grasp. With little help I could switch between tabs, quickly interpreting the visual aids and reacting accordingly. No fires erupted, my citizens were happy, and the money flowed as my city prospered. To take the sheer number of factors in SimCity and turn them into something so easily digested after only a few moments of play is a testament to the team at Maxis. With many more months before its 2013 release, and no doubt countless feedback from consumers at Gamescom, I can’t wait to see how SimCity ends up.