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!