Since its early days, SimCity has always been known as a good fit for the particular, precise gamer, one who has the patience to carefully place zones, trace roads across town to allow for perfect flow, make careful decisions around the best way to power and water your growing population, all while taking into consideration advice given by your town’s many councilors. SimCity’s a great game, as much of an institution as Civilization, Elder Scrolls and Final Fantasy rolled into one, with a huge and very serious fan base.
This latest version has really ruffled some feathers. To begin with, the idea of the game functioning as a reasonably realistic city simulation has been thrown out the window. These are not tiny replicas of New York City or Tokyo we’re building here. SimCity Societies is bright, colourful, and totally stylised. Depending on what ‘style’ of town you choose your pool of buildings from, you could make it look like anything from Candyland to something out of Snow Crash - and everything in between. The design of each of these different building styles is very good; the cyberpunk style is appropriately bleak, while the ‘fun’ style eventually creates a city where the street lights are all candycanes, and people live in trees or gingerbread houses.
The other sticking point is the other new inclusion to the game: values. In SimCity Societies, you can build a city that focuses on one of six values: prosperity, creativity, spirituality, authority and knowledge – or mix it up any way you’d like. This means you can create a really wide range of different towns or cities, including fun, contemplative, capitalist, romantic, and authoritarian. As your town produces more of any of these values, certain buildings and events are unlocked; your city can even produce special sims that will walk around and affect the general mood. There are heaps of them, including arsonists, cheerleaders, hippies, mimes, street performers and vigilantes.
Zoning is gone, but hey, so is laying pipe and threading strings of power lines all over the show (a personal pet hate). Instead, you can plonk buildings down here or there, with the fishmonger’s right next door to the elementary school, or city hall next door to the karaoke hall. It really lets you take a much more detailed hand in creating your city.
Disasters are still around, thankfully! Storms, meteorites and earthquakes are still very much a part of the build-develop-destroy cycle that is integral to the series. In addition there are external events that can affect the city – everyhing from a global event like a stock market crash, to a tsunami.
All up, I think this is a game that SimCity fans can be proud of. No, it is not the same as the SimCity games you’ve played in the past, and though to a certain extent it is a more stylised version of previous games, I would hesitate to call this ‘SimCity lite’ as others have. What it’s done is added a real human element to the SimCity genre. Where before people were really just another resource to control, they now bring some personality to the places they inhabit. This makes for a much more unpredictable and interesting game, in my opinion.