Maxis (and its parent company Electronic Arts) recently allowed various individuals who had signed up for access to its SimCity beta test to take a look at the game and give feedback about it. I was one of the individuals who was lucky enough to be able to give the game a go. There is a non-disclosure agreement that prevents me from being able to share videos or screenshots of the game, but I am allowed to use all the words that I would like. This is why I've decided to write up a brief review of my experience with the game. It is certainly a change of pace from my normal articles, but I hope that nobody will mind too much.
The original SimCity came out in 1989. At the time of its release, it was quite an achievement in simulation and in-depth gameplay. It was a bit ahead of my time, but I did spend hours and hours playing its sequel, Sim City 2000. This city building title was very popular and sold many copies. Since then, Maxis has released a couple follow up titles in the series, with the last real Sim City game having been released in 2003. I qualify that by saying that a Sim City Societies was released in 2007, but it was poorly reviewed and was not developed by Maxis.
This means that it has been basically 10 years since the last Maxis SimCity title was released. Does this new title live up to its namesake? How does it compare to previous incarnations of the city building series?
I'll start with the commonly made critiques of the title. For one, the game requires that the user have an internet connection at all times to play the game. While this may not affect many people (everyone is connected to the internet most of the time), it is a potential issue for people who would like to play this game on a laptop during a plane trip or in other on-the-go situations. This is most likely to prevent piracy of the game, but it's definitely an issue for some people. That being said, the game does have a pretty big focus on online multiplayer, allowing multiple people to play in the same region. Regions have up to 16 city slots, and cities can interact, allowing people to commute from one city and work in another. Cities can also share services, like utilities or police protection.
Another concern is the size of the cities. This is a valid concern; the area in the beta is quite small. Most people can fill up the city area in an hour or two. Some have suggested that this size was just for the beta and that there will be larger areas when the actual game comes out, but others say that the beta size is the only size in the game. I would love much larger areas to build in, but having up to 16 of these slots in one region makes up for it a little bit. It seems that Maxis wants to to focus on specializing and building up each city slot instead of just building one city that has a bit of everything. This is the biggest concern for me, and I would love to see bigger areas in a future patch or something.
Those are the biggest negatives that come to mind, but I can happily report that I had a lot of fun playing the game. The game uses some new simulation technology that Maxis has called GlassBox. Basically, this means that the game is tracking every "agent" in the city, from people to cars to electricity packets. There is a nice overlay to track electricity, water, sewage, etc. Everything is being simulated, and it's possible to follow a vehicle or a person around to see what they do. People and households give you their thoughts and often provide information about what your city needs.
The graphics are very smooth and look nice, although they don't seem to be "top of the line." It seems that Maxis is aiming towards broad playability for this game. If you have a computer that you've purchased in the last few years, you should be able to play the game (although I might recommend purchasing a video card if you have integrated graphics). I was able to run the game at 1920x1080 with the highest settings available. My computer has an Athlon x4 630 2.8 GHz processor, 8 GBs of RAM, a SSD, and Windows 7 64-bit.
One of my favorite aspects of the game is that you can upgrade and customize buildings. For example, when you build a school, you can add extra classrooms, additional school buses, school signs, and other addons to it. Almost all of the "ploppable" buildings have extra features like this that can be added to beef up what they provide to the city.
At the end of the day, I'd like to know exactly what it's like interacting between cities in a region. The beta only allowed people to play for one hour, and then your city was over. It also didn't really let players experiment with multiple cities within a region because of these limitations. That said, I had fun playing the game and I look forward to playing more of it after its March 5th release date.
Is it worth the $60 that EA wants for it? That's for you to decide. I personally still have some qualms about the game, but I was able to find the game on sale somewhere for $40, so I went ahead and pre-ordered it. It is available as a digital download or a DVD release. There is a digital deluxe version that is only available through Origin that has some additional city tiles (basically you can make your city look German, British, etc.) for an extra $20 to the price.
The beta is not the final release version, and many options were not available during it. I might write more of my thoughts after playing the final version.