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13 Reviews

SimCity review: Addictive, beautiful, but broken

Server problems are only the tip of the iceberg in this disappointing reboot of the classic city sim

This has been one of the worst video game launches of all time. Players have lost their cities, found themselves in hour-long queues, or not been able to play the game at all, days after release. Maxis and EA's reputations have been damaged, and the already vilified concept of online DRM is now more widely despised than ever. It's been a disaster.

Diablo 3's notorious error 37 was fixed in a couple of days, but SimCity is only just becoming fully functional. Now that the dust has settled and we've managed to create a few successful cities, we've discovered that the game's problems run deeper than the server issues.

For the first few days we were hooked, staring red-eyed at our city until 4am, then tumbling into bed and dreaming about zones and land values. It's madly addictive, and watching your city flourish, as tiny suburbs grow into skyscrapers and roads swell with traffic, is really compelling.

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The GlassBox engine, which cleverly mimics tilt-shift photography, is beautiful, and you can zoom down to street level and follow individual pedestrians and cars. Buildings reflect land value, so a poor area will be filled with seedy motels, while affluent zones gleam with luxury apartments; a neat, visual way of showing you how your city's doing without having to dig through graphs.

GROWING PAINS

Your city can rely on natural resources to grow, mining coal or drilling oil and exporting it to other cities in the region. You can build a university town that develops into a high-tech Silicon Valley, manufacturing computer processors and shipping them for huge profits. Or you can make a tourist trap, bleeding visitors dry with casinos and sports events. There are a lot of ways to play.

The problem is, the cities just aren't big enough. You'll hit the edge of your plot in a couple of hours, and you regularly find yourself in a situation where there's huge demand for more industry, housing, or shops, and you have nowhere to put them. You reach the point where the only choice you have is to demolish existing buildings, or create a new city in your region - which isn't always an option if you're playing with friends and all the available land has already been claimed.

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We were convinced, briefly, that this was a good thing. Rather than endless expansion, you could instead focus on improving what you already have: increasing land value, raising the wealth of your citizens, lowering pollution, and so on. But you quickly realise, after creating a few cities, that they all seem to plateau at the same time; when expanding is the only way to really improve them.

The cramped city sizes also limit you creatively. Curved roads are a fantastic new feature, and you can make some fun street layouts, but they're a waste of space. You could create an elaborate shopping district built around a series of concentric circles; or you could make a basic grid and fit more stores in. Your city can be interesting-looking or efficient, but rarely both.

Much was promised about the complexity of the game's simulation - and this was even cited as a reason for the smaller cities - but the more we play the game, the more flaws we find. Vehicles will completely ignore an empty four-lane freeway if there's a small road nearby that provides a shorter route to their destination - even if it's completely clogged with traffic.

Thriving cities can be built without any shops or jobs, as long as you have low enough taxes and a lot of parks. Your sims don't have careers or homes of their own; they're mindless drones who, upon finishing work, return to the nearest random house - behaving the same way as the globs of sewage that are sucked down the street towards the nearest outflow pipe.

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