If you’re in and around the mid-20′s+ age bracket, chances are you’ve dabbled with Sim City at one stage. The franchise, which has been running since 1989, has continued to deliver city management on a scale that’s arguably yet to be rivalled. With a distinct lack of “5″ from the latest title, what can this rebirth deliver to the fans?
From the get-go, one thing is clear: the Sim City formula hasn’t changed. That’s not a negative comment in the slightest, but it’s clear from what we saw that Maxis are eager to hold on to the established fanbase, as well as working to expand it. The formula, for those that don’t know, usually revolves around establishing a city zone, errecting houses/buildings and managing said petri dish. This micro world, your micro world, needs all the attention you can give it. Ignoring this rule means your city will fall into decay, buildings will be peppered with graffiti and riots will ensue. To give you a sense of cause and effect, Maxis have introduced a stack of brand new animations into the world as well as expanding the audio library which sees even the smallest of construction buildings actually function the way they are meant to. Take for example a coal mine – coal is processed, dug up, and transported via small conveyor belts – all visible to the eye which creates a sense of real progress and effort from within.
An interesting aspect of the new Sim City is the ability to focus the “specialisation” of each city. This means your city can range from strictly industrial produce to a more, o-zone friendly, agricultural presence. Each of the various avenues you chose will change the effect you have on the surrounding areas. You can of course, if you wish to do so, create a second, even a third city and open ip trade networks across the regions. Maxis pointed out that you can even enter the global market and trade your produce there, or alternatively trade with friends – but more on that later.
The winning formula of the older titles is still bound to the core of the new game – but it is now tweaked ever so slightly. One of the most noteable additions to the layout of a city is now the ability to created curved roads – something Maxis was keen to bring to our attention, but happy to poke fun at the lack of them in previous games. Players can now create sweeping, sleepy suburbs that curve at natural angles instead of rigidly sticking to the road like magnets. Maxis have also introduced an expanded placement indictor which will grant players a better visualistion as to where they are placing their buildings. As you hover over a location, the ground below become littered with a series of piano key-esque icons. Each of these icons indicate a space you can use. While these icons add a sense of “casual” to the scene, there’s also a deeper and more complex upgrade system that follows.
Once a building is placed, players can then, for a cost, upgrade the building to cater to a greater production scale for example. In the demo we saw, Maxis were lacking a fire station. Thanks to the new upgrade system, Maxis created not only the station itself, but expanded it with more garages and various other trinkets to help players easily spot the building in the concrete jungle. There was also an upgrade presentation on a mining factory which saw more smoke stacks added to the factory which increased production. While increasing the production is a good thing from your city, it can of course have negative effects too. By increasing the number of smoke stacks in the game, players will inevitably suffer from pollution issues. This can destroy crops, upset the villagers living there and even affect others players in the game.
Maxis dicussed multiplayer with us, but with E3 so close, they were also keen to keep their cards close to their chest. From what we know, multiplayer will see virtual cities running parallel to each other. The proposition laid out for us was a tale of two cities: city 1 powers itself via industrial means, while city 2 proudly is an agricultural city (with all unattainable resources sourced from the gloabal market). With increasing winds, randomly created by the game, some of the smog that has developed above city 1 starts to stray – crossing the virtual boundaries – and eventually lingers above city 2. This has a catastrophic effect on the crops and food in city 2 which leads to a severe dip in output, a drop in income and anarchy breaks out. The multiplayer portion of the game will support a cooperative feature, as well allowing gamers to go head to head in a race to the top – but details about competative modes are still under wraps.
Finally, and probably one of the most attractive elements to the game, is the graphical upgrade Sim City has received. Running on Maxis’ new Glassbox engine, Sim City looks stunning. Rich in both colour and detail, the world comes to life like never before and shares its new hues with other Maxis titles like The Sims and Spore. The graphical upgrade allows players to see their city in a light that previous Sim City games simply couldn’t thanks to inspiration drawn from tilt-shift photography. The city really feels alive this time with thousands of people making their way around the world, police cars chasing robbers and emergency crews responding to those in need.
Sim City 4 left us feeling a little deflated if truth be told. There is no doubt a number of gamers that aren’t too exicted about the return of the franchise (which releases in 2013), but from what we saw, the wait for Sim City has never been so painful. Sim City is back, and it’s never looked this good.