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As many of you may know, I was invited out to Electronic Arts in Guildford on Thursday 24th January to preview the new SimCity game, which will be released on March 5th in the USA and March 8th in the UK. During our time at EA, we were allowed to play the game and receive short presentations from lead producer Kip Katsarelis (iPad unfortunately saved over my notes from these presentations). This was an amazing day and I was thrilled to be able to go to EA, try the game with your questions and concerns in-mind and be able to be in a position to share everything that I experienced with you today.

During our hands-on day at EA, we were able to try the game in three stages which was great to slowly explore the new game. Firstly, we played a solo city which allowed us to learn the basics and how to play the game. We were told to forget what we know from previous games, and you’ll find this is true with the new SimCity – and I’m sure people whom went to the event would agree with me. To some, it may look easier or the same as before but a lot of changes have been made to the SimCity formula which makes it just as challenging and deeper than ever before.

By the time I was familiarising myself with the game and how it worked, we were pulled into a room for another presentation with Kip Katsarelis about multi-city play and big businesses. This means cities can now collaborate together to work on great works, share city services such as police and workers could even travel in-between cities for work everyday. Whether you do this with friends, or tackle a region alone, it makes other cities easier to manage as you can share services. For example, I was sharing water, police, and fire services between my cities.

Finally, the third part of the day was all about online play with several people in a region. Myself and Rachybop tackled a region together. This adds a whole new level of gameplay into the SimCity formula, building upon multi-city play, which we enjoyed experimenting with as you’ll discover later on in this article.

My first six hours with SimCity were absolutely amazing, and I loved every minute of it. Feel free to read on as we explore the new SimCity below:

Getting Started Tutorial

When you start the new SimCity, you are presented with a tutorial to get to grips wit the new SimCity. Even if you are an expert with previous SimCity games, you’ll need to follow this tutorial as I can guarantee you will be confused by some of the things in the game at first, such as where things are in the interface and how certain features work – as the game does work differently compared to previous games. During the tutorial you’re called in to help fix a small city which is without water, power, shops and other various utilities. Throughout this tutorial you’ll help make the new city stable and learn everything you need to start a city of your own. The tutorial is fairly short and is easy to follow, making it a great start for SimCity veterans and newcomers alike. You even get to see a meteor shower in a neighbouring city, which is amazing to see, as you’ll find out when you play the game.

Zoning

You can’t have a SimCity game without zoning, and zoning makes a return in the new SimCity game. You can zone residential, commercial, and industrial buildings (RCI) however zoning has a new twist in this SimCity which I feel is for the better.

Building density when you zone is now influenced by the roads you place. There are low, medium and high density roads which will determine the maximum density of the building. Buildings start out at a low density and will slowly upgrade as you progress down to the happiness of citizens, your population, land  value, and decorations. This means you no longer need to decide what density homes, business and industry will be – they can slowly upgrade. If you were to place a medium density road, and your home is ready to upgrade, then you can use the road upgrade tool and pay to upgrade them. This saves you demolishing roads and placing more down. Continuing on the topic of density, there are still indicators to which density is wanted by Sims (low, medium, high) for residential and commercial zones, just instead of choosing the medium density zone you need to select the correct road. One cool feature was that you can hold down the “CTRL” button and it will paint zones along the roads for you.

During my play time in my solo city, I had managed to familiarise myself with the new zoning tools and had a few apartment buildings popping up around town, which were high density. I felt that this makes the game feel more alive as you play your game over several hours – everything in your  city begins to grow, which feels incredibly rewarding.

Multi-City Play

The second part of the day was about multi-city play and city specialisation. Multi-city play allows you to share resources, city services, and more with cities in the region. To try out multi-city, I claimed another piece of land which I imaginatively called “BeyondSims City” which was close to my original city. This would allow me to experience things such as pollution coming over from my first city, as I had many brown clouds above it (air pollution).

One of the great things about multi-city play is that it makes starting new cities a lot easier and saves space. All cities now exist as a series of interconnected and interdependent entities that make direct and long-lasting impacts on one another. I was able to purchase power, water, police, ambulances, and other various services from my other city. Sims from my other city would also drive into BeyondSims City to work and vice versa. I think this feature will benefit those whom want to tackle a region alone or those whom want to help their friends. In my personal opinion it takes city management in SimCity to a whole new level as it allows you to tackle problems such as crime and providing clean water as a region.

Great works also come into play with multi-city, whether playing alone or online. Great works can be built in between cities at a great works site. To build them, you’ll need to meet certain requirements such as having the specified resources (this is when city specialisation comes into play – more on this soon). With multi-city play, you can collaborate alone or with friends to build these great works by sharing resources. Not all cities have resources, so multi-city becomes more and more important as you want to do more in-game.

My city had coal in the ground which you can discover through the new data layers, which present data in front of your eyes (say goodbye to graphs from previous games). This is one of the many resources you can get. Other cities will have things such as oil which you can specialise in, and these will allow you to work towards great works or have certain things in your city such as an coal power plant. All of these features give you so much more to do at the city level within SimCity, and every city you create is unique depending on where it’s situated within the region.

City Specialisaiton

During the second part of the day, which was when we were trying out multi-city play, it was suggested that we try out city specialisation. As I have already mentioned, there are many things you can specialise and access to these specialisations depend on the resources your city has. Things such as gambling, culture and trading can be done in any city, however things such as specialising in oil and coal will depend on resources. Some cities will have a mixture of all resources, some will have none.

City specialisation allows you to do so much more at the city level compared to other SimCity games. You can use your specialisation to help with a great work, sell resources on the global exchange and rake in the money as you do that. I found myself creating a casino city, which allows me to create several thousand simoleons extra a day. By placing a train nearby, and many commercial zones, my gambling hall was a hit! Specialisation brings you new ways to make money – to put towards new things in your city – however it’s up to you to deal with problems that arise from it, such as crime at casinos.

Always-Online Experience

This new SimCity is always online. You need to have a constant internet connection to play, which has sparked a mixed reaction within the community. While I agree that there should be an offline mode, since there at times I’m without internet, the games servers were stable and if you want to have a solo experience then the game delivers you that experience.

As I mentioned earlier, the day was presented to us in three stages. Our first few hours were all solo, without any of us working in a region together. The game does feel as if it were an offline game for those whom want that, as we know some of you do not like the idea of being forced to play with others. You can take on a region of up to 16 cities by yourself and use the multi-city play features to your advantage! However, the online service brings a whole new world of gameplay to your game and I am extremely excited about it. This allows you and your friends to tackle a region together and take advantage of multi-city play and SimCity World which we got to try for the final hour or so.

I was impressed by how the online feature works in SimCity. It’s asynchronous so you and other plays do not have to be playing at the same time. When a player is offline, their city is preserved in a frozen state so you can continue buying power, water, and their city services can continue to be sent over to you. The cities in your region are always simulating, which takes advantage of the always-online requirement. During my online play experience with Rachybop, I found ourselves sending each other city services such as police and firefighters which made starting our new cities in the region cheaper and easier to get going. Online multiplayer combined with multi-city play gives SimCity a whole new breath of life.

Some readers are concerned about what will happen if they have patchy internet connections. SimCity syncs every 3 minutes with the servers, so if you were to disconnect you have up to 3 minutes to reconnect. This is reasonable when compared to other always-online games such as Diablo 3 or even Darkspore – if you lose connection while playing those games, you’re instantly disconnected from the game leaving you unable to play. I do hope in the future this can be improved, and that if you are disconnected that you can continue to play – maybe it could save a local version until you’re next online to sync with the world or even an offline option to avoid the possibility of this situation in the first place (hopefully EA/Maxis read this!)

SimCity World, a feature that was announced at Gamescom, is also present in this game. SimCity World brings you challenges, achievements, leaderboards, a global market and the SimCity Store. Leaderboards are great fun when playing online or when you have your friends added to your Origin account. I always felt like I was achieving something when I was doing better than other players in certain areas of the game. Achievements are also new to the franchise and unlock as you do certain things in the game, and for those whom like a challenge you can use the achievements to challenge yourself. Unfortunately many achievements were secret so I can’t say much more about  them. There is also a global market in SimCity World, and this allows you to export resources in your city and sell them or purchase them – again, I can’t go into much more detail as the global market was turned off during the event. Now, I did mention a SimCity Store. I am completely unsure what will be in here at the moment, however I can only presume it’ll be DLC city sets, so you could compare it to The Sims 3 Store.

Verdict

The new SimCity targets veteran players and people who have never played the franchise before and gives it a whole new breath of life. The core concept of the game remains untouched however new and improved features truly make this SimCity a unique experience. I went into EA with concerns as I’m sure many of us have had when researching into this game, however many of these were lifted and my expectations were exceeded when I had the opportunity to play this game. SimCity will deliver the gameplay that long time fans want – sure things such as terraforming have been cut, and map sizes are currently smaller than we’d like (Ocean Quigley has said to bear with them), I’m sure these things will get looked into in the future. A patch may address map sizes, which isn’t much of a problem at all as you can spread things throughout the region and mods will hopefully arrive in the coming months after the release to unlock new possibilities for the game.

I can honestly say that this new SimCity deserves the SimCity title (what’s Societies?) and will pave the path to the future of SimCity games. The game provides a deep simulation and allows you to prod, poke and tinker with the game in ways that aren’t possible in previous games. You’ll love it if you’re a SimCity fan. And yes, there are curvy roads.

If you’re interested in the new SimCity, be sure to pre-order before March 5th (USA)/March 8th (UK).

3 COMMENTS

  1. Glad you enjoyed it.

    The gameplay sounds brilliant, the graphics look amazing, the engine sounds very expandable…. but… the always online is a deal breaker for me.

    I want to be able to play my games when I’m in places with no internet connection available,such as on a train, in a car, or when my Net is down. Also in place where the net isn’t cheap enough to afford cheap enough, for example in hotels on holiday.

    It isn’t just personal preference that makes it a deal breaker for so many people its a practical requirement.

    It’s a real shame as the game looks great and they’ve obviously put a lot of love and care into it.

  2. The game sounds much different than what I experienced with the 1 hour beta/demo or whatever it was. I wasn’t impressed with it, and I wanted to be. I don’t like the online requirement either. I love retrogaming, and this title can’t be one of those games. Once the server is down, that’s it folks. I like to “buy” a game, allowing me to play it when I want. I don’t like “renting” a game and feeling obligated to have to play, because there is a deadline or time limit. Hence, Sims Social and SimCity Social. They are okay games, but also a waste of time (and money if you spend any on it).

  3. Although the “Always online” requirement isn’t a deal breaker, I still think it’s an extreme bummer. Sometimes my connection is down, and all I have to do is play games. Obviously, I won’t be playing SimCity when that happens, and that’s a poot! If I don’t *have* to be play with others, why in the world do I have to be online all the time?

    At the same time, I get it” the game servers allow much more power than my individual computer could ever hope to achieve (at least, I presume that’s the thought behind it). It’s still a bummer.

    Can’t wait to have it though!

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