SimCity through the Ages
Age-old franchises, no matter how successful, can sometimes benefit from substantial changes. However, making too many of the wrong changes can cause fans to revolt. With a series like SimCity, players have come to expect a certain kind of city simulation experience.
They anticipate numerous improvements, while taking for granted any new entry bearing the SimCity name is going to play very closely to past iterations. Last year’s mildly disappointing SimCity DS recreated the series isometric gameplay quite faithfully on the handheld, but it had its fair share of issues. For better or worse, SimCity Creator builds on the same foundation.
This time around, Maxis makes some substantive changes to the classic formula, while leaving the more problematic aspects leftover from SimCity DS intact. The basic act of building and maintaining a large city teeming with signs of virtual life remains as engaging as ever. It’s hard to stave off a growing sense of pride, when your sprawling metropolis begins to thrive on the countless design and operational decisions you’ve made at every step of the way. Unfortunately, with the new gameplay elements introduced here, several missteps early on can have a negative impact on your city’s progress down the road. Making matters worse, the game throw additional concepts on the pile and boldly assumes you’re already familiar with the main strategies of SimCity gameplay. Veterans shouldn’t have a very difficult time keeping up, but they may find the new flavors of city building found in SimCity Creator foul up their delicate palate.
It’s important to note the DS game is a far cry from the Wii title of the same name. The handheld version features only two ways to play. Challenge Mode is where players will be forced to spend most of their time, particularly if they’re itching to have the full freedom to play around with all the building features later on. In an unexpected departure from past SimCity titles, the main game revolves around building a single persistent city and helping it slowly transform as you progress from the primordial dark ages of civilization to the blossoming technological prowess of the future.
Each step in the evolutionary cycle has its own challenge to accomplish and obstacles to overcome. For instance, the initial Dawn of Civilization phase primarily revolves around gathering wood from the nearby forest, constructing paths, and building primitive housing in close proximity to food sources; things like budgets, transportation, electricity, and commerce are of no concern. On the other end of the spectrum, the Global Warming Age features many of the amenities of modern society, but the focus is on quashing pollution to make your city more green-friendly. After completing each age, you’re given the opportunity to pick from several unrevealed branching time periods, which incorporates an interesting level of surprise and variety into progression. Rather than starting your city over at the beginning of each age, all your buildings will simply carry over and visually shift to match the technology and construction of the time. This is a cool realistic concept, but it may not sit as well with some players, since each new age brings with it a desire to start over with a fresh design. Instead, you’re forced to incorporate new technologies and elements into a city that’s designed for the needs of past ages. This results in a lot of razing and unnecessary rebuilding.
Free Play mode offers a more traditional way to play the game, by letting you select a single time period and building your city from scratch. You can only pick from ages you’ve unlocked in main game – making thorough exploration of the numerous time periods unavoidable. In Free Play, all the various structures and building elements are unlocked. This lets you focus more on designing the city you want rather than settling for the piecemeal approach required in the challenges.
Anyone who played SimCity DS will immediately notice the bulk of SimCity Creator’s gameplay looks almost exactly the same – warts and all. The pixelated, isometric buildings do change from age-to-age, but the game appears to run on the very same engine. This is a disappointment, considering the visuals in the DS original were nothing to get particularly excited about in the first place. They get the job done with little finesse. Regardless of how you choose to design them, cities range from drab earth-toned structures in the early ages to the more visually interesting structures found further along the evolutionary timeline. Even with the subtle variety in the tiny buildings themselves, the game doesn’t make any real advances on the visual front.
You can now zoom into a static, 2D cityscape backdrop to consult citizens who wander back and forth. Mysteriously, they appear as featureless red and blue silhouettes that walk across the screen and offer comments about the high and low aspects of your city. Their design seems lazy, but these basic character representations offer a surprising level of personality, for little colored blobs. At the very least, they are a useful tool to gauge the needs of your city. In contrast, the special visitors who frequently stop by the mayor’s office with nagging requests have returned with a cool facelift. They sport a charming MySims-like appearance and frequently inform you of new buildings to create and other ways to improve your city.
In theory, the stylus makes an excellent tool for concocting your city designs via the touch screen. However, it’s still horribly imprecise at times – an issue not corrected from SimCity DS – and you’ll frequently find yourself hunting for the single undo button. This is more of an issue when undergoing demolition, which cannot be undone at all. The same crummy lag still pops up whenever you attempt to scroll around the map, and load times remain horrendously long. The upside is you can now save two games on a cart instead of one.
SimCity Creator is an occasionally fun experiment in what happens when you mix the series’ classic city micromanagement gameplay with the age-hopping aspects of games like Civilization and Age of Empires – though such concepts appear here in only the most basic of forms. The amalgamation certainly presents a different way to experience SimCity, but whether it’s really an improvement or not will hinge largely on individual players’ tastes. Some of thee major changes would be less of a put off, if Maxis had spent a little more time fixing some of the issues leftover from its predecessor. SimCity on the DS still has further to evolve.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.0 Graphics
A few pleasant upgrades brighten the game, but it looks very close to the last title. 2.8 Control
Many of the issues from SimCity DS persist. 3.6 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Upbeat tunes change up from time to time. They aren’t amazing or horrible. 4.0
Though it’s a fairly different experience, there’s a lot to explore in this game.
3.4 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.