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Cities of Tomorrow Academy

SimCity Cities of Tomorrow – How is SimCity 12 months after release?

About this time last year, new life was given to the SimCity franchise. To say fans of SimCity weren’t chomping at the bit to get a glimpse of the new title would be an understatement. I was one of them. The marketing and preview material in the year leading up to release promised a whole new city building experience with detailed, awe inspiring graphics and a game that redefined the genre. For any of who you weren’t party of the nightmare of release day, take a moment to read my SimCity launch review. It was horrible, nothing worked from the game engine to the SimCity servers, which kind of was a big deal as the game was, and still yes, online only. All save games are in the cloud so no internet or server means no playing SimCity.

In this review, I want to kind of bundle two reviews into one. A second look at SimCity and how SimCity Cities of Tomorrow is, and how it has improved SimCity in general. If that sounds a bit confusing, bare with me, all will become apparent as you read on. I’ll do my best to keep it brief but there’s a lot to talk about.

 

Spark_2014-02-24_20-29-11How is SimCity 12 months on?

Better, but nowhere near perfect and still with massive issues. Between launch and December 2013, there have been 9 major title updates plus countless smaller updates. That’s right, the game is up to version 9 in 9 months! What’s worrying though is that there’s been nothing since December 2013 and there’s still major issues in my opinion. Although they have been addressed in a round about way, stay with me.

I’ve been dipping in and out of SimCity since the beginning and to be honest, I’ve noticed little difference between how the game played when it was first launched and how the game plays now. I’m not surprised as the biggest issue is at the very core ethos of the game and that is population. What’s a city builder all about if not about building population? Everything runs fine until you get a city that starts sprouting high density towers. There’s 3 huge huge huge issues. Traffic, intercity commuting, stupid fake population and space.

Traffic becomes an absolute nightmare which is how it was on day 1 and it cripples the city. Yes improvements have been made but they have by no means fixed anything. Sims don’t get to work or shops or services like hospitals so the cycle of never ending problems begin. Nothing moves, crime skyrockets, the city burns and everyone starts to die. It ruins your hard work.

So perhaps you build how you did in SimCity 4? One area of industry, one area of residential and commercial. Great idea apart from one problem. People will not commute. I’ve had cities with 10,000 unemployed next to a city needing 20,000 workers and yet, only a few hundred will commute. The whole point of SimCity was to bring multiplayer, co-operative city building into the world but if you can’t get people from the city next door to run your industrial super power city…multiplayer and regions are completely pointless. As they are now, you basically have to build self contained cities that share emergency services and utilities. Sharing workers is a big no no.

And this brings me on to the stupid fake populations. I can have a city of 200,000 and yet, for some unknown reason, I still only have 30,000 workers for 50,000 or 60,000 jobs. It ruins the game but I can see why they’ve done it. With the space available, you simply couldn’t sprawl a city to have a population of 200,000. There’s been mods to help with this but it’s no substitute for being able to build a region the same as you did in SimCity 4. I can not fathom why EA and Maxis won’t let us build across the region. Apparently it’s due to computing power required but that’s rubbish. The only power needed is to render graphics and that’s limited by resolution and screen size, i.e it doesn’t matter how big the map is, not much more power would be needed than is needed now. The algorithms really aren’t that complicated so I don’t believe that as an excuse.

Overall, SimCity as the original title, with no expansion, is still as rubbish as the day it was released. It’s impossible to fix the population mechanics of the game as they’re at the core but, allowing region wide building and sorting the commuting issues are very very doable and if they were, this game would be much much better. March 2013 I gave this 4/10 and March 2014, I’d give it maybe 5/10, yes bugs have been fixed but it’s still inherently broken. That is, until you buy SimCity Cities of Tomorrow.

 

Spark_2014-02-25_01-50-10

Simcity Cities of Tomorrow expansion and how it changes SimCity

When I saw the announcement for SimCity Cities of Tomorrow as an expansion priced at what a lot of games charge outright, I thought it was some kind of sick joke. I’m expected to spend another load of money to expand a game that’s broken? So I didn’t buy it. And I still wasn’t playing SimCity. That was till February just gone when I remembered I’d promised to revisit SimCity and put a quick call into EA who very kindly sent me a code for the Cities of Tomorrow expansion. I was curious to see how this expansion changed SimCity.

What I can report is that Cities of Tomorrow has made two significant changes. Firstly, Cities of Tomorrow  really does expand SimCity. It’s not just an asset pack that’s got more of the same stuff the original came with but in different colours. No, Cities of Tomorrow brings a plethora of features that pretty much sends you off into a new game entirely. I was confused when I first loaded up SimCity after the expansion installed, there was no reference to an update or a new menu…nothing. But, get into the game and tooltips start to inform me that there’s new buildings that do some really really cool stuff. I can have a whole new industrial fork of tech and buildings, research and development and of course, Mega Towers which are awesome. To get a city of the future, it’s not just a case of selecting future city. You need to evolve your city, futurise it!

Build OmegaCo factories and see your industrial sector start to convert to the future as they receive deliveries of Omega. Take it a step further and get Omega into shops and homes to futurise those districts of your city. Plop an Academy and welcome a whole host of new technologies and modules available to research. Everything from MagLev transport (seriously awesome as it can plop on roads but not add to the road’s congestion) to modules to increase power plant output. Mega Towers are the final major feature addition and they are perhaps not the prettiest of things, do provide some much needed heavyhitting control over RCI demand. With a quick click and no space used other than the tower’s footprint, you can add a couple of thousand units to whichever residential or commercial class you wish. It sort of solves the inability to ever balance RCI demand.

This is the biggest thing you feel with Cities of Tomorrow. A lot of the features feel and work like fixes for the core game, just packaged in a manner that covers up what it really is and makes it interesting. The OmegaCo factories have a module to construct service vehicles that aren’t effected by traffic, so perhaps now fire engines will actually get to fires? The Mega Towers can deal with the hugely imbalanced populations and the Academy can add things like the MagLev that moves people around over the cities roads without adding to the congestion or getting lost!

Visually, Cities of Tomorrow is stunning as I’d expect with the core game being equally beautiful. It does actually expand the game and increase its lifespan rather than just add content and assets which are, let’s face it, boring after the first time of use. On merit, Cities of Tomorrow is good and I’m happy to give it 7 out of 10, and that’s looking at it objectively without the fact it fixes things.

If you’ve got SimCity I’d suggest buying Cities of Tomorrow simply because it fixes so much that’s wrong with SimCity. It does improve the game. And, if you’ve read this far, you’ll see why I’ve written about what I have. SimCity is still very broken but, with Cities of Tomorrow, a lot is fixed. Now we just need EA and Maxis to sort out commuting and allow us to build across the region. Apparently version 10 update is out soon and it’s earmarked to include offline mode, not really a big deal but let’s hope there’s some map size fixes now the servers aren’t involved…something that’s apparently limited things as well.

Final thoughts, SimCity is still really broken, Cities of Tomorrow fixes some major issues but there’s still much to be done. Just hope EA and Maxis stay interested for another year. SimCity sold just over 1 million units to date so it may not make a huge amount of financial sense as I doubt 1 million units of expansion packs are being sold each time they’re released! I would say that if they got the game sorted, people will buy it and play it. They need to because at this rate, there’s not going to be another SimCity for a very very long time, the bean counters simply won’t allow it!

 

 

 

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FIFA 14 comparison: A generation apart

The difference a generation makes

For years, I put off my growing need to wear spectacles. This was partly due to the fact I resembled a certain infamous wizard when wearing specs, and partly due to my insistence that my eyesight was, in fact, fine. It was only when I started to pose a risk to fellow motorists that I decided to accept that I was blind and needed a pair.

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The difference it made to my life was incredible; everything became clear, not in terms of the meaning of life (I’m still working on that), but visually. This is how I found the transition between FIFA 14 on Xbox 360 and Xbox One.

I should start this by saying that the Xbox 360 version is by no means a bad game. It was another excellent continuation of an already excellent franchise, with new features such as precision movement bringing exciting changes to game-play. Such was the impressive nature of the game that I questioned how much the new-gen console could improve upon.

I was aware that EA had made little effort to hide the fact that they had spent the majority of their time developing FIFA 14 for the new-gen consoles, but still my doubts remained. I was wrong. The Grand Canyon is a mere surface crack compared to the chasm between the game on the 360 and the One.

The precision movement feature on the 360 version had rendered the game slower, something which once mastered, could be appreciated. There were drawbacks however. Whilst the players’ movements were more intrinsic, there were occasions in which they seemed to suffer massive brain farts and fall over one another – hilarious but frustrating. These minor flaws were easily ignored, until the new-gen game came to the party. Only now is it apparent how much ‘little brother’ has suffered.

Thanks to EA’s new Ignite system, FIFA 14 on Xbox One is a jaw dropping masterpiece of visual pyrotechnics and incredibly realistic game-play. It now makes sense why the players occasionally act peculiarly on the 360 version, this precision movement was always intended as the glorious centrepiece around which the Xbox One version was to revolve. FIFA aficionados will note that unlike in previous titles, FIFA 14 requires more care and decision making when choosing what to do with your player. Previously, a pre-meditated action would allow your player to execute an outrageous off-balance turn or incredible burst of speed to evade a marker. Now we have to ensure that our player is in the right position at all times, and only if they are balanced when passing or shooting will you get any joy. On the Xbox 360 version, this at times seemed unnecessarily slow and clunky, but on the One it becomes clear that you are dealing with the most advanced sports sim ever created.

When EA announced they would be using the Ignite Engine on FIFA and other sports sims, they told us it would give players “ten times greater animation fidelity” and “human-like intelligence”. It was a bold claim. EA, I am delighted to announce, were true to their word. Once I had played FIFA 14 on the Xbox One I realised I could no longer play it on my faithful 360. It would be akin to having a steamy one-night-stand with Megan Fox only to return home to Susan Boyle.

This game on the One throws you head first into the cauldron that is a top-flight football match. Visually, it is as close to watching a game on the T.V as humanly possible. The Ignite engine brings the entire environment to life from the moment the teams walk on to the field, to the match itself and right to after the final whistle. At the risk of alienating those who do not yet own an Xbox One, the contrast between this and the 360 game is staggering.

 

FIFA14_cut_sceneYou’ve got to enjoy the little things

The most marked difference comes in the fine details of the game. EA’s strap-line “It just got real” is not only very clever, but also entirely accurate. When a goal is scored, the stadium explodes into life. On the 360 version, sections of the crowd suddenly broke out into a mid 90’s rave dance to show their approval for your efforts. On the Xbox One however, you are rewarded with a gloriously realistic crowd reaction and as your player runs to celebrate with his adoring fans, you get the sense of the drama of this game.

On top of all this come sublime cut scenes when the ball goes out of play. Either the goal-keeper will nip behind the goal to pick up the ball and place it on it’s spot, or you will be shown a replay of a goal and then a close up of the ensuing celebration. All this is given a polish by perfectly timed commentary from the team of Tyler and Smith.

Another clever detail is found using the Kinect system for the Xbox One. If, like me, you are prone to occasional foul-mouthed rant at the T.V when playing FIFA, then you may find yourself in hot water. For example, during a particularly close match the referee awarded my opponent a very soft free-kick to which my response was “F**king Hell referee!” What I wasn’t aware of, however, was that the Kinect spotted the mutinous tone in my voice and, when in the post-game menu, I was greeted by an e-mail from the board of directors warning me that any more touchline histrionics would not be tolerated and my position at the club was in jeopardy.

They are little touches, but they make a world of difference.

It is with great satisfaction that I can report to you that FIFA 14 on the Xbox One is not merely a ported version from the previous console, but rather a ground breaking triumph of next generation game play. Games such as Call Of Duty: Ghosts have received criticism for not exploiting the power of these next-gen consoles, instead simply being a ported version of the same game. FIFA 14 is the shining example of next-gen gaming. If you have not yet sampled it, I implore you to do so. You will never look back.

 

 

 

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Rocksmith promo

Rocksmith – Rockin’ All Over The Xbox

Everyone knows that the most fundamental lesson in bass guitar is learning to get your axe as low as you possibly can and still play it – preferably on the same level as your slightly bent knees – and perfecting your sneer.  Ideally it’s the “Sid Vicious” look that you are aiming for, with one side of your top lip arching up to almost nostril level, but anything more eye-catching than “Billy Idol’s” limp affair is acceptable.  Having previously mastered both of these elements, I was intrigued as to what the latest version of Ubisoft’s Rocksmith might teach me.  “Intrigued” is my middle name – well, it would be if it wasn’t Roger – so I procured a copy of it to see if there was actually more to strumming my banjo than I had previously imagined.

Rocksmith in gameRocksmith was launched as a serious guitar-tutorial program in 2011.  Initially only available for PS3 and Xbox 360, it migrated into a PC version in 2012 and gained the bass guitar capability at the same time.  That was when it became of interest to me, as I’ve never mastered any more than four strings and prefer tones that liquefy bowels rather than allow communication with bats.  I tell people that the bass appeals to me because, as a fundamentally rhythm instrument, it places me at the heart of the band and is the instrument of choice of both “Roger Waters” and “Krist Noveselic” – two of my bass guitar heroes – but in reality I do it because it’s not as complicated as having six strings to worry about.

The game requires you to have a real instrument and luckily, despite being bruised and abused by my inquisitive children, my “Fender Precision Bass” still falls into that category.  I had to connect the output jack to the Xbox via the supplied USB connector so, I had to make sure that my console had a spare one to plug into.  Once done, it’s into the game where I was presented with the option to tune my guitar.  This was a useful addition as, being mostly tone deaf, I’m never entirely sure if my “Precision” is actually in tune and I had to admit that it sounded better after tuning in Rocksmith,  just reinforcing how out of shape my ear really is.  I had played Guitar Hero before so felt completely comfortable with the interface.  In fact it was so familiar that if I was on the board at Ubisoft, I’d be half-expecting something nasty to turn up from the tame lawyers of Harmonix, concerned that their IP had been infringed!

Following the tune-up session, I was launched into the basics where the program taught me the fundamentals.  This section is part of an intuitive program that monitors how well you do at lessons before opening up new sections of the game as my skill broadened so that I was really sure of getting a full tutorial.  But this is fundamentally where Rocksmith falls down; it is a program aimed squarely at the novice or learner and a pro-user trying it will find it frustrating as they cannot just move onto working their way through the extensive song list without completing the basics first.  In truth, a seasoned guitarist would work through the lessons and games quicker than the casual user, but it would be an exercise in frustration; a bit like having a Ferrari but only a small area to drive it in.   Apart from that, the only other complaint that I had was that I couldn’t turn the in-program amplifier up to 11, but you can’t have everything.

Rocksmith infoRocksmith is intuitive and always interesting – even when I’m learning something.  It breaks down learning chords into a series of visual sessions as part of a section called the Guitarcade which uses unrelated video game type graphics to assist with getting your fingers in the right place.  One moment I was shooting at approaching ducks and the next it was whacking zombies, all done by playing the right chords!! Amazing!  Once I had proved myself adept, I got to play the in-game tracks, which seemed to compose of a few well known tracks, a bunch of B-sides and album fodder from well-known bands.  There wasn’t any “Aerosmith” who, love ‘em or hate ‘em, are a must when it comes to loud music.  Worse still, “Aerosmith” didn’t figure on the downloadable content so maybe Rocksmith is too highbrow for “Steve Tyler”.

Like masturbation, Rocksmith is essentially a solo endeavour but is also ultimately satisfying.  I completed the lessons in order and found that I had actually picked up a few new and slick moves, concentrating on perfecting my slap-bass, ‘cos it’s just so sexy and looks great and, as far as I’m concerned, image with bass guitar is way better than trying to play it right.

If Santa has just left you your first guitar in your stocking, then I urge you to dash out to get Rocksmith and work through it; if you are already a pro with your axe, don’t bother!!

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SimCity

SimCity is a simulation city builder that’s name has spanned over 20 years. Infamous for its colourful graphics and complex simulation engine, SimCity can keep you entertained for hours. Be it keeping a handle on crime, developing cities to reach for the sky with glitzy skyscrapers or having an industrial super power; SimCity has it all. Now, with computers more powerful than ever, the simulation and content of the game promises to blow all us virtual mayors away!

Having waited a decade for a new SimCity to be released, fans were wetting themselves with excitement come Thursday 7th March 2013. Many would find themselves staying up late into Thursday night waiting for the clock to strike one minute past twelve, Friday morning. At this point SimCity was released for download. Alas, it has been a tumultuous launch for the highly anticipated game. Electronic Arts (EA) who own the developer Maxis, insisted on an “always-online” format for the game. They claim it is because the game’s simulation is so advanced, mega computers are needed to process the information and this can only be done on the massive servers within EA. This reporter feels it is more a ruse for EA to easily add micro-transactions to the game. Buy this for 50p, buy this for £1; a new expansion is coming for £7.99. Something which is available from launch incidentally, are three country specific themed expansion packs. It just shows the direction the game has taken.

So, you have to be online to load the game and all your saved cities are stored on the servers. In this day and age where your phone has better internet then the majority of households did 5 years ago, it’s not such a big deal. That is until some incredibly dumb person in EA’s accountancy department decided that money was more important than whether or not the game works. SimCity launched initially in the USA on Tuesday 6th March. I was a disaster. All the servers filled up in a matter of minutes and the majority of people who had purchased the game, weren’t actually able to play it. If you did get into a game, it crashed or froze. People were up in arms about EA’s no refunds for downloaded content and the USA media latched onto the poor performance from EA. The launch has made front page on newspapers, headlines in news programmes and the forums are buzzing with comments.

Come launch night in the UK, same issues. I personally had been anxious about the UK launch, hoping the issues would be resolved or we’d be unaffected. How naïve of me. Initially, the game worked fine but come Friday afternoon when I really wanted to get some hours under my belt, I was sat staring at the dreaded servers are full, log in unavailable and numerous other messages. If I could load the game, none of my cities would load. I quit after an hour of waiting and went and did something else. Credit where credits due though because checking forums for the latest Saturday, and EA were spamming announcements about how they are working around the clock to improve server stability and capacity. Come Saturday night, hey presto. Everything was working seamlessly and I sat down to get a few hours mayoring under my belt. What a way to spend a Saturday evening!

After getting accustomed to the controls, how the game works and building some bits and pieces, I can say this game is a masterpiece…nearly! The graphics are incredible, the gameplay is brilliant and the grip it gets on you is intense. And this is where it all falls down. Once you have played for a few hours and built something of decent size, you start to notice all the things that just don’t make sense. Emergency vehicles sat in traffic lights and sirens blaring, a population of 100,000 but only 10,000 workers, cars all trying to use one road. There’s so much that just isn’t finished. You are constantly hounded by alerts of crime and fires even if you have 50 police cars. They all just sit in traffic and all go to the same crime scene. Population is hugely inflated so you always have underemployment. Traffic completely cripples your city because your beloved sims are all using the same road. This is meant to be the most advanced simulation game out there. EA and Maxis drilled it into on lookers that everything in the game will be simulated. It just isn’t.

I have been trying to hold off for as long as possible writing this review in the hope that an announcement from EA comes to the fore or some of the problems are fixed. I would love to tell you this game is sensational and a 2013 must have but at the moment, all I can say is buy it pre-owned in 6 months when it has been patched and is working as it should be. Then it will truly be epic. Sadly though, I fear the damage to the SimCity name may be irrevocable and this will be the last SimCity we see!
This game should be a solid 10/10 but I can only give it 4/10. These 4 are because yes the graphics are great, the game is fun but there’s just too many bugs.

Maybe I’ll review it again in a month or two once these issues have been ironed out and I can give it the 10/10 it deserves.

Campbell, out!

 

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