Big Cities Come In Small Packages
The SimCity franchise has branched off in so many directions over the years it’s been difficult to keep up with all the different ways building (and destroying) a virtual cityscape or micromanaging the lives of pixelated avatars (and now even their pets) has morphed and changed. The Sims spinoff series seemed to take over the spotlight for a time on consoles, handhelds, and PCs alike, but the original SimCity line has made a comeback in various forms.
EA’s decision to bundle a handful of recent SimCity-related titles and expansions into a single package is indeed a bid for more of your hard-earned dollars. However, the quality of the titles and cost-effective nature of this package will be hard to ignore, especially for fans of city life simulation. If you’ve passed on SimCity titles for the past few years, The SimCity Box – containing SimCity Societies, SimCity Societies Destinations, SimCity 4, SimCity 4 Rush Hour, and Sims Carnival SnapCity – could very well be reason enough to dig back into the series.
Last year, SimCity Societies reinvented the classic city management formula with mixed results. The game transitions away from a heavy emphasis on energy, transportation, budgets, and the typically bottomless level of micromanagement associated with SimCity. Instead of focusing on how big and bustling a city is, Societies lets players delve deeper into what kind of city they’re making and what manner of people inhabit it. Though some money and a minor amount of energy resources are still required to construct buildings, the types of buildings you lay out determine what kind of folks move into town and ultimately the kind of city produced. Structures provide various flavors of cultural “mojo” that influence the vibe of your society.
Players are given broad flexibility to create some interesting societal landscapes in their cities. Whether your interests lean towards an authoritarian regime, a hippy-dippy farming community, a cult compound full of religious zealots, a futurist cyberpunk metropolis, or many other styles, there’s something for all tastes. This streamlined style of SimCity play may not suit all, but it does make the series more accessible for players who are intimidated by the traditional gameplay. The game is easy to pickup, but it contains less depth than past SimCity titles. This can be a positive or a negative aspect, depending on who you ask.
The new Destinations expansion pack remedies some of this, by adding another layer of complexity to the game. Aside from adding new buildings, disasters, scenarios, policies, and a slew of other minor updates, the expansion turns your cities into centers for travel and tourism. By building resorts and other accommodations and providing means of incoming transport for visitors, you can attract a broad range of unusual travelers who will flock to your city to spend cash and improve the economy. Juggling between the needs of visitors and permanent residents provides an added challenge, as you’ll strive to turn your city into a five-star vacation destination. Thought not amazing, it’s a solid expansion.
SimCity 4 is easily the cornerstone of this package. Though the game is now five years old, it’s still amazing how much of an improvement it was over its predecessor in every regard. It also looks quite good, despite its age. SimCity 4 evolved the franchise significantly with a slew of major and minor changes. A god mode allows players to meticulously sculpt the land for their city’s foundation using a highly flexible editing toolkit. Once the terrain is edited, the land can be populated with all manner of flora and fauna or devastated by waves of horrendous disasters. When you get down to the city management level, SimCity 4 uses an intriguing regional model where multiple cities can be linked together. You can easily go hands-on with each of your creations by jumping around effortlessly. The game also lets you import your characters from the Sims into your city. They’ll provide limited feedback, but aren’t playable on a ground-floor level.
The Rush Hour expansion pack adds an immensely detailed and upgraded transport system to your city including improvements to airways, roads, rail, and water routes. Tons of new vehicles are also included, but the coolest aspect of the expansion is the ability to jump into a large array of different vehicles to cruise around the city or complete specific missions. The birds-eye third-person view isn’t perfect, but it sort of feels like an isometric version of early Grand Theft Auto titles. Building certain structures will unlock corresponding vehicles that can be driven for fun or taken out to complete goals. This excellent feature offers a completely new way to experience your cities and can be useful for planning development purposes.
Rounding out the package is an oddity called SnapCity. Essentially, it’s a cartoonish puzzle game that combines gameplay elements from SimCity and Tetris. Colored blocks, corresponding to the three zoning types – commercial, residential, and industrial – slowly fall from the sky. These pieces must be rotated and joined on an isometric grid to form plots that sprout buildings when enough blocks are connected. It’s a great concept, but the game isn’t all that interesting or challenging. Just like in SimCity, buildings must be connected with streets, and special structures also appear from time-to-time. An occasional disaster will produce brief moments of excitement, as you struggle to put out fires or quell riots. Otherwise, the game ends up being a rather dull diversion worth only a good 20 minutes of entertainment or less.
Overall, The SimCity Box is a robust package featuring some very different ways to build, manage, and enjoy your own cities. There’s enough here to satisfy all manner of city simulation fans, and each of the main titles, and their respective expansions, offer dozens of hours of compelling gameplay. The package also includes a trial version of the Spore Creature Creator – bonus! At a price that’s far cheaper than it costs to pick up each title on its own, Sim fans can’t afford to pass this box up.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.3 Graphics
Great visuals in the two main titles. Even the cartoonish SnapCity looks good. 3.8 Control
Tons of menus and a steep learning curve can make figuring out how to play and maneuver around your city a bit difficult at times. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Realistic city sounds, funny Sim dialogue, and adequate background music across the board. There’s nothing else amazing of note. 4.5 Play Value
SnapCity is a throwaway, but the rest of this package is addicting and capable of consuming extreme amounts of your time and attention. 4.2 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.