The Sim City franchise is so well-known, I can’t believe I never really played it until this past year. Sure, back in my younger days I vaguely remember playing the first SimCity game, but all I remember was that every time I tried to build a power plant some kind of enormous gecko thing would crawl out of the ocean and rend it asunder. That was the very moment in my life when I became terrified of ever being the mayor of a city.
Anyway, I purchased SimCity 4 Delux on steam a few months back and have been plugging away slowly toward a united series of cities, each one more mediocre than the last. My progress has been mildly set back by one computer hard drive wipe and the game’s annoying tendency to crash right before I save, but may I introduce you to my city? I named it Hamburger, because I was hungry at the time.
The game starts off with a large map, chock full of tutorials. For new players, digging through those tutorials is a necessity in order to figure out what you can or can not do as mayor of your new town. For the sake of this article, however, I’ll skip ahead to the point where I spawned a new area that was completely flat (more on that later) to appease my horrible OCD, and picked a square of land to found my town.
Before you place your first residential zone, you have some god options available. You can raise mountains and dig oceans to create the kind of town you want to make. I usually just leave this flat, because not being able to build in perfect squares just eats away at my very soul and keeps me up at night. After that, off you go into your destiny as mayor.
There are three different zones you can place, residential, commercial and industrial. All you can really do is place the zones. It’s up to your residents to figure out what they want to go there. That’s not to say you don’t have options available to you. You can still build fire departments, schools, landmarks, hospitals, and a large variety of other neat things like parks and power plants. Managing these buildings is where most of the game play exists, because if you’re not careful you’re going to ruin everything.
If I would have been told fifteen years ago that I would become addicted to a game with balancing a budget as a main premise, I would probably have either punched you or myself, depending on my mood that day. But that’s Sim City in a nutshell, really. It’s endlessly fun. Balancing a budget, managing your utilities, and when you get sick of it all, unleash a full-scale alien invasion or earthquake and start from scratch. It is massively addictive as you quest to create the perfect city, probably on the bones of about fifty or so unfortunate attempts.
The game itself doesn’t help much. A few minutes after I finally got Hamburger’s budget balanced, one of my economic advisors popped up on my screen with an important announcement. “You should go build ANOTHER city, and then connect it to Hamburger!” He cheered at me, totally ignoring the nervous twitch in my left eye. “If you don’t, well, there’s not much point to continuing THIS town.”
And so, I started a new agricultural town by the name of Large Fries (I wanted to keep the theme running, okay?) The purpose of large fries was to A) provide a place for Hamburger to send its garbage, B) buy way more water off of Hamburger than the government of Large Fries could reasonably afford, and C) create employment opportunities that Hamburger could exploit. I quickly jumped back to Hamburger, where I was urged to go build another city, and so I established Chicken Nuggets, and then Cheeseburger and finally Combo Meal. My advisor urged me to build more cities, but at that point I advised him to shut the hell up and went about my business.
SimCity has grown a lot since the old days of gecko apocalypse. The runaway success of the Sims gave Maxis an idea to really personalize your town by creating your own Sims, who will work and live in the town you have created. This seemed kind of pointless to me, so I just created one, a woman named HATE FACE, because I gave her the stupidest face I could find and immediately hated her. I did give her a rickshaw to get around town, however, so I’m not a complete jerk.
The point of the Sims you create is to give you random updates on how you’re doing. You can also send them off on “missions” to see what they are thinking about a certain section of town. I think, in the end, HATE FACE also regretted having moved into my town. I sent her off on about 14 missions and then ignored her while she traveled, and I was constantly treated with horrible updates like “The place where I work just… vanished? I guess… I’m poor now?” and “Oh god this restaurant has so many cockroaches in it I can’t even see the table aaaargh.” Eventually, when she had a surgery botched at the local hospital (doctors get paid enough as it is, okay!?) she up and moved to Large Fries. But since I didn’t exactly build Large Fries to be a nice town, I can’t imagine she liked it there much.
SimCity 4 still has some problems. The flat landscape is key, as it turns out, because every time you switch to a new town you have to “reconcile edges” between the adjacent maps. This makes terrain look awful and also destroys everything you made on the borders. It would be great to make a mountain town, but I’m not so sure I want to deal with the headache.
Also, advisors will pop up on your screen, one right after the other and diverting your attention away from whatever problem the one before them wanted to tell you. I had a chunk of my city burn down, because after I got the notification that there was a fire, my transportation advisor started screaming about how roads are congested. Managing your traffic flow is tedious and irritating, and also not as important as everyone in a four block radius dying in a fire.
Argh, transportation. This is what stops Sim City 4 from being amazingly great. After a certain point, it becomes impossible for cities to grow. This is because your Sims will refuse to acknowledge that roads exist.
Homes will be abandoned, citing a huge commute time as a factor. I tore down other homes and installed a pricey monorail system to provide easy access to the industrial district. The Sims refused to look at the monorail. I installed a subway system to no avail. Trains went by, unused. Every car continued to use the same four roads, despite how I installed a pricey highway system. It stopped me from moving from a medium density city to a high density city. I was forever stuck with crappy blocky townhouses. The sadness, neverending.
Maybe HATE FACE had the right idea when she moved out.