Lets get the first part out of the way, Simcity has easily been the biggest cock up as a released game in a while, which is surprising as you usually see the problems with a launch from MMO’s, its even more so when you remember that EA had managed a very smooth release of The Old Republic having enough servers to handle the first rush of players, then closed them down as the player base dwindled over the year. Unfortunately although Sim City has improved in the first week,
there are still massive problems with logging in, server responses which completely makes the multiplayer aspect of Sim City redundant. This is pretty bad considering the only reason Maxis made Sim City always online was for the multiplayer, so you would expect it to be refined, but more on that later.
For those who are unsure what Sim City is, it is a classic building sim from the developers of The Sim’s fame, basically a God simulator that allows you to take control of a city by being the Mayor the at start, with an empty plot of land, and as the game progresses slowly turning into a sprawling metropolis, with the challenge of dealing with the demand of your citizens and the problems that comes with a city. These include traffic problems, pollution and crime among many other problems. This is the first Sim City game since Sim City 4 was released 10 years ago building on the original formula, increasing the city size, amount of buildings available and a much higher level of detail of the sim’s and the city themselves, though over the last 10 years Maxis seems to have forgotten how to go forward, and instead released a game that doesn’t feel much more advanced than the original Sim City from 1989. Sure it’s pretty and has all the bells and whistles that seems to be attached the EA games these days (looking at you here Mass Effect 3 with your multiplayer).
I am a massive fan of Sim City, and City Builders in general, but I’m just as disappointed with Sim City as many other fans are, and also just as disappointed with the clear lack of communication from the Developers to the Publishers that has been seen this last week. It should be noted though that EA has acknowledged that the launch has been dreadful and decided to give out a free game to the players of Sim City in a sort of bribe, though no announcement of what game will be given out at this time. It is nice to see EA looking at the complaints of the fans in a serious way, instead of ignoring them and in some places insulting them as with their last big name releases (I’m sorry Mass effect 3 but it’s you again).
Unfortunately, this review will continue the negative tone throughout, which is upsetting seeing as Sim City is quite a niche title in some ways; it has a very loyal fan base that feel very betrayed, but for a game that people have been waiting 10 years for, and the blatant lies that have come from the company, it becomes understandable.
One of the biggest causes of problems for Sim City at first glance was the servers. The always online DRM was thought to be unnecessary and intrusive, and many did not think that a Sim City game would gain much from being online. Although, Maxis thought otherwise and the implementation of the game just ruins any good-will the developers had in the first place. On release day, the unlucky that did not get to log in due to server traffic were greeted with a “Sorry you can not log in” message, and this is one of the many choices Maxis made that makes no sense. Anyone who is used to seeing this kind of message (such as in League of Legends) are used to seeing a log in queue too. You are told your position, and the time it should take to get a log in spot. This works well, but with Sim City you are greeted with a 20 minute counter before you can try again. I’m sorry, on launch day I have to wait 20 minutes? Whoever thought this would be a good idea should really think again, especially since the wait time gets worse after patches, increasing to an hour. There is no Offline mode remember, so some people would think there is a way around this… lets just change servers to a less populated area (for me being EU East), perfect I can now log in and play the game! When I want to play with my friends I will just change server and… oh I can’t continue, it’s Server Specific, once again a screaming problem with the game being always online. To add insult to injury, the game then forces you to retake the tutorial every time you change servers, good job here guys.
Of course the train wreck couldn’t just stop here. Once you finally got into the game, you are presented with three tabbed options – Continue a Game, Join a Game and Start a New Game. Seeing as the problems I found so far are due to multiplayer, it is really problematic to see just how badly implemented anything to do with multiplayer is. So I fail to see why the developers thought it would be a good idea to forget to put filters on whilst looking for a specific map. Since the 90’s any online game has filters, why in 2013 does this game have no option to see which maps have free spaces in them? What’s worse is that a patch shortly after launch removed what little filters we had due to “Server strain”, at the same time they forgot to reset peoples current filters so some players are stuck being able to only see one map type, well done. It took 15 minutes constantly searching the games to finally find one that had an abandoned city. Perfect I thought! I can finally play with someone, I click the city to be given a message – “ You do not have the content from this city”. Great, DLC at launch, automatically segregating players and pissing off many others in the process, an idiotic move by any developer in my opinion.
After getting past all these problems, waiting 2 days to finally be able to log in, and then a further 20 minutes of searching for a game with spaces available I was finally able to play the game with people, as was originally intended.
Now the 2nd biggest complaint about this game is the amount of space you have to work with. It is tiny, something like 1/60th of a Sim City 4 map, the reason for this is that apparently modern day computers couldn’t handle the city sizes that the players want. Games like Cities XL, Anno 2070 and Tropico 3 and 4 have been doing it for the last 4 years…
Now, finally the game shines through all the dirt, but not much. The game at it’s core is just as fun as the older versions, plus the addition of being able to edit your buildings to add extra delivery trucks or police cars is a great touch. Yes, it’s much easier to make money now, and yes you only have 1 type of zone which snaps to the road (plus all zones are free which takes some of the difficulty away), but the game is fun. It was enjoyable trying to sort out the small problems that the Sims had, albeit was a little disappointing to see such a small selection of buildings available, but of course it’s clear that DLC is the name of the game once again. The fact that the game only has 1 type of zone instead of the older densities of zones is interesting, you need to up the areas land value to get different zones, so to get low/mid/high wealth Sims you need to up the land value accordingly, same for commercial zones, and I think with industrial as well, but that never seemed to work for me. All the charm of the original games are still present, but charm will not save a game.
The multiplayer that the game was advertised to have is broken, plain and simple. You want to trade with people in your region? Well you better hope the servers feel like allowing you too. Want to chat with your region with the handy chat bar in the top left? Well sorry you might be able to type in there, but it just won’t send. Even the Great Works that you need to work together to create are bugged, showing one player a certain amount of the resources have been gathered whilst showing another that they are nowhere near completion. If all this really is down to the current server problems, then it will be interesting to see if the multiplayer adds enough to make the dreadful launch worthwhile.
Since release I have made multiple cities, some went well, others crashed and burned but I learnt a lot about both how to play this game and the problems that plague it, here’s a short list of current problems I encountered – Casino towns are currently bugged, not giving you the correct amount of money per day, meaning of the current 6 different types of city focuses you can make, Casino will just bring more crime without extra money. Paused cities can not be reclaimed, leaving a empty city unless the player comes back, which can break some regions. Though you can gift money, it’s pointless if the player forgets about their city.
Now if all this was the train wreck, this next part will be the train setting on fire and exploding. Once you manage to get your town to a population of around 200,000 many players noticed a few problems. For one, the population count is boosted, so when checking the tax income, players worked out that they are getting enough for around 30,000 citizens… where is the rest of that money going? It seems to just be a way for the game to pretend the city is still growing without bringing light to the small city space.
Once at this level of population, you face an even bigger problem – traffic. Now traffic has always been a problem in Sim City games, because it’s a challenge to overcome, but it becomes even more difficult when the game itself makes it harder. Terrible pathing AI makes this impossible with Sims always choosing a closer road regardless of how many cars it can handle. For example, if you have a straight dirt road and a slightly curved high density road, the Sims will ALWAYS choose the dirt, even when it’s backed up with traffic all the way into your city, not one sim will choose the slightly longer road that would allow them all to pass through easily.
But traffic woes don’t end there. Once you have this level of bad AI, Emergency vehicles become useless, as they have no higher priority than other traffic, so if your fire truck wants to pull out of the station, it will have to wait, and in some cases I’ve watched it sit there with its siren blaring for 5 minutes as a whole block of houses are burnt to the ground. This is the same with police, ambulances and even garbage trucks. There is no way to fix this from the players position as adding more of each building or cars just causes more traffic, making the situation worse.
It should be noted that another reason that Sim City is always online is because the calculations of the game are apparently so complex that it needs to offload it to EA’s servers. Ignoring the fact that this still causes terrible AI, modders have managed to run the game in offline mode permanently, with no difference to anything in the game, which means the need for online mode was a blatant lie from the developers to the consumers. Another break down in communication seems to be about whether players are allowed to mod their game without fear of bans. Recently on Twitter the lead designer of Sim City came out and congratulated modders for “digging through the source code”, as it’s always enjoyable to see what they can create, but soon after followed one from EA/Origin stating that you will and can be banned for modding the game, so which is it? Can we mod the game that we bought or will this be something else that is ignored?
Sim City is a train wreck and during its development clearly had some of the worst design choices seen in a game in a long time. This isn’t just a huge cock up of a launch, but a depressing realisation to many fans that games today are not worth the risk of a pre-order due to developers “vying for the larger audience”. (Read as, we want the Call Of Duty Audience). It is depressing to see Software houses throw away guaranteed sales from core fans when aiming for this, when in reality all they do is bring a lot of hate on themselves, which at the moment EA does not need.
Unfortunately the only positives to this game is that graphically, it’s beautiful and fun until the problems show in such force that it makes your city unplayable. If you want a Sim City game, go back and pick up Sim City 4, the pinnacle of the series, or pick up other builders that actually make changes, namely Tropico 4 and Anno 2070. Even Cities XL, if it weren’t for the memory leak bug… (Developers, now would be the time to get a massive boost in sales if this were fixed!)
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.