SimCity: The Kotaku Review

To many fans of the original city-building simulation series, the idea of an online multiplayer game that required even solo players to be connected to the internet at all times seemed like a recipe for disaster. Maxis' latest creation is easily the most compelling SimCity I've played since the 1989 original. It's also a disaster.

The weekend before the game's March 5 launch in North America, I had a chance to experience SimCity the way everyone is supposed to be experiencing it right now. The handful of press participating barely put a dent on the special servers EA set up for the event. The game played (for the most part) flawlessly, giving early reviewers an exquisite taste of the collaborative multiplayer that defines the release. I saw what the developers no doubt wanted every player to see post-launch -- a new SimCity capable of bringing together people from across the planet to strive towards a common goal. It was glorious.

I collected that early experience in an article titled "SimCity Won (and Broke) My Heart in Just Three Days". I had no idea how apropos that headline would become.

That first, teasing taste was followed by a nightmare for everyone involved. There were problems downloading the game. Problems connecting to servers. Problems getting together with friends to play during the brief moments when everything seemed to be working perfectly. While EA and Maxis work aggressively on a solution to these issues, player frustration and outrage continues to build.

SimCity

One of the most compelling entries in the esteemed city building simulation series, SimCity's substantial connectivity problems aren't exactly giving players a choice in the matter.

Developer: Maxis Platforms: PC Released: March 5 (North America), March 7 (Australia) Type of game: city-building simulation What I played: built, maintained and destroyed multiple cities during the press early start event; attempted to collaborate with other members of the Kotaku staff on our own private region, but only two of us (myself included) managed to successfully play long enough to build anything of lasting value

Two Things I Liked

  • Laying down regions and watching them grow organically and change dynamically based on the objects I place around them.
  • Working together with other players for the good of an entire region adds meaning and purpose to my virtual cities. This is what a social game should be.

Two Things I Didn't Like

  • There's never enough space for my ambition in these tiny plots of land, and claiming multiples in one region doesn't scratch my megalopolis itch.
  • I don't mind a game that requires an always-on internet connection, as long as it returns the favour.

Made-to-Order Back-of-Box Quotes

  • "Hey guys. HEY GUYS. GUYS. Look at my city. No no, look at it now." -- Mike Fahey, Kotaku
  • "Unable to connect to the Made-to-Order Back-of-Box Quotes server. Please try again." -- Mike Fahey, Kotaku

I am not filled with outrage; only disappointment, fuelled by the knowledge that somewhere beyond these technical issues there's an outstanding game waiting to be played.

The original SimCity is one of the greatest computer games of all time. When now-legendary game designer Will Wright realised that using the map editor he'd created for the game Raid on Bungling Bay was more entertaining than the game itself, he gave that editor to the world, creating an entirely new genre in the process. The creative freedom SimCity allowed was intoxicating. I couldn't tell you how long I played when I first launched the game -- the days ran together. I would fall asleep in my computer chair, wake up and continue playing.

Over the years, freedom and I have had a falling out. Giving me a sandbox to play in with little supervision is a surefire way to ensure I wander away from the sandbox, possibly into busy traffic. So much of my time is not my own these days that I need a more directed experience. I require more than my own devices.

This brave new multiplayer SimCity grants me the focus I need to once again lose myself in the minutiae of running a virtual town. The success of my creation is intricately tied to the prosperity of other players'. They depend on me to foster a community of wealthy citizens that will flock to their shops to spend their simoleons. I depend on them to provide sewage treatment and medical services so that the wealthy citizens drawn to my tourist mecca don't die of cholera.

The SimCity series has always been a balancing act, with players struggling to maintain the right ratio of residential to industrial to commercial, all the while ensuring that enough funds are invested in services to make sure the whole thing doesn't go up in flames. It's just now there are multiple performers in every region, taking turns walking the tightrope while the others hold the safety net (or drop it, as the case may be).

The multiplayer aspect also allows for excellent opportunities to show off your city-planning skills. The creative gamer thrives in the new SimCity, thanks in no small part to the addition of curved and free-form road placement and the ability of residential, commercial and industrial zones to conform to these wild lines. These color-coded areas are painted more than placed, fresh buildings sprouting like architectural flowers that blow in the breeze of every little change the player makes. The GlassBox engine is a remarkable machine, transforming a technical process into something organic and beautiful. It's a joy to watch its work unfold, both from the sky above and at street level.

Players more interested in straight lines and statistics will find plenty to love in SimCity as well. The game is filled with colour-coded maps that communicate a wealth of complex information in the most efficient way possible. The interface, aside from the odd obtuse bits, is amazingly intuitive without feeling dumbed-down. Micro-management is an option, but not a necessity. It's one of the game's greatest strengths -- catering to multiplayer play styles while remaining completely accessible (I'm talking mechanics, not connection) to all.

Of course there are downsides. I wish the individual city plots were larger or expandable, giving my city room to stretch out, perhaps link up with other players' creations. I wish I understood how trade depots work, one of a few obtuse mechanics in an otherwise intuitive game.

And I wish I could play consistently. That would be nice.

Team Kotaku had big plans for the SimCity launch. We set up a private region so we could further explore the symbiotic relationship between cities. I staked out my claim, a circular piece of land I decided to dedicate to tourism and travel. Stephen Totilo grabbed a plot, his city feeding mine with waste and sewage disposal. Between the two of us we managed to unlock two Great Works -- the Arcology and the International Airport -- massive undertakings built in special spots on the regional map, requiring cities to work together to harvest the resources necessary for their completion.

None of the others made it into the game.

Chris Person was able to claim two plots, but both bugged out before he could lay a single road. He can't access them, and we can't delete them. Jason Schreier hasn't been able to connect. Neither has Kirk Hamilton, who received my invitation to join the region yesterday -- two days after I sent it. Our grand plan will never be realised.

I understand the frustration and anger that players are feeling. Over the past three days I've slept maybe seven hours total, waking from shorts naps taken while waiting for server queues, maintenance downtime, server disconnects and the like. Each of those seven hours was spent in my computer chair, fearing I might miss an opportunity if I wandered off to the bedroom. I feel like I did when I played the original SimCity, only now I'm much older and a lot less happy.

SimCity's launch is more than just a disaster -- it's a tragedy, because somewhere beyond the rage, pain and technical issues there's an amazing game that I'm dying to play.

Yes, it's the same video from an earlier article. I couldn't log in long enough to record a fresh one.


Comments

    Generally, this is the impression I have of the game - some really smart gameplay decisions, marred by a few (or more) terrible ones, but when combined with a buggy launch, this is a game I don't want to play right now.

    Everything I've heard about this game says Maxis have done a great job, EA have done everything they can to ruin it.

    My EA boycott continues.

      Same here.

      I am hoping this will be the event that makes EA realise how ridiculous this "always connected" type of DRM/"service" is, but they'll keep going because I'm sure they've already made a heap of money out of it.

      Sigh...

      I had to jump onto the European Servers just to be able to connect last night.

      The game is amazingly fun, Maxis have put a lot of work into the game and how everything interconnects....

      .....However, EA have gone and taken a perfectly serviceable game and spoil it with this mess of Origin-only DRM and unreliable servers.

      I really hope they fix the issues soon, I really want to love this game, and in the hour or so last night that I got some interrupted play-time I did. But I can't enjoy a game to its fullest if I can't even launch it

      /rant

      Maxis are EA - they have been a wholly owned subsidiary since before Simcity 4.

        What he means is: the developers who make up Maxis are a really dedicated bunch of people who genuinely want to make this an amazing game. Have a look at their blog posts, youtube videos and interviews and its clear that this is the case. Corporate greed (as usual?) however has of course ruined this vision.
        Time will tell if they can sort their shit out so people can play the game that Maxis created as it was intended.

        Just because EA signs their pay cheques, doesn't mean they're not in the games industry to make amazing games...

          It's a pity, because I really want to buy and play this game, but I can't see myself doing it anytime soon due to the baggage that comes with it.

    I've been playing Sim City in all its iterations since it was first released, so when I found out there was going to be a new one I was delighted. But, if it requires you to play multiplayer online, I won't buy it. The whole point of these games is the satisfaction of creating something yourself, for yourself. I also object to the requirement to use up part of my monthly download quota when there is no genuine need for it.

    I really hope this is a nail for the coffin of always on DRM.

      If only it wasn't SimCity that had to be the martyr for the anti-DRM cause.

        I thought that was diablo 3?

        Sadly, this won't be the end of it.

          Sure, but Diablo sucked all over. SimCity only sucks when it comes to the DRM and other online requirements,

    This is a nicely written article.

      Yep, hats off to Mike, looks like I won't be picking this up...

        To refrain from buying this game would be a mistake on your part. The connection issues are transient; the game itself is amazing.

        Last edited 08/03/13 3:36 pm

    Yet again developers and consumers suffer due to publishers being publishers.
    I have no doubt that left to their own devices Maxis would've made this game capable of running offline.
    This is actually one game I'm going to have to pass on, (unless they release an offline patch), and that makes me sad.

    I was just playing through the (obligatory) tutorial and looking forward to beginning an actual game but just got booted out and now I'm left staring at the launch screen with the error message "SimCity servers are down. Attempting to reconnect."

    These server issues are going to persist for quite some time and that means that any city you're currently building could at any moment just disappear into oblivion, leaving you staring at the launch screen like a dumbass wondering what has become of the fruits of your last two hours of labour.

    As a SimCity fan since the very first version I'll stick with this and be as patient as I need to be in order to eventually play this game but I'll feel like one hell of a gullible dumbass whilst doing so,

    The only way EA could fix this is to license servers out to the public so that people could run their own servers in much the same way as a persistent Minecraft server is run. Sure there'd be a few hurdles for EA to overcome in order to do this (server hardware compatibility being the major issue) but at the end of the day I'm sure there are multitudes of people who would be willing to pay a small monthly fee towards running - or being a member of - a semi-private SimCity server.

    As it stands, however, EA has managed to produce the very opposite of a polished turd: a gold bar covered in poop.

    Lol at the ads everywhere on Kotaku for Sim City, while all your Sim City articles basically say don't buy it!!

      Isn't that a good sign that they aren't being paid for reviews?

    To be fair its more: 'Don't buy it yet'.

    But regardless it's good to see they aren't being censored by their advertiser's interests.

    Edit: Reply fail to Trex.

    Last edited 08/03/13 2:38 pm

    I'll buy it later, hopefully the server issues are resolved by then. I don't share the outrage with the DRM either. A business putting in measures to protect its bottom line is ok by me. If it's that intrusive that it affects the enjoyment of the game, the only one losing out is the business itself.

      But people don't pirate games simply because of DRM. They do it because they don't want to pay for it. And in some cases it may just be easier than jumping through all of the hoops. Either way, you can't stop 'em. They are as much a part of the industry as the publishers who try to implement the very measures which may drive the disgruntled customer to the dark side. Whether we like it or not.

      How much time and resources could be spent elsewhere instead of on horrible DRM requirements and server/ cloud computing? How much of those resources could have gone towards more servers and stability at launch? Or allowing for a different model which implements something similar to the online pass for those who want a co-dependent experience? I have no idea, but I bet the current state of affairs is the perfect example of how these shitty practices hurt the paying customers and not the pirates waiting on the side lines for a chance to get a freebie.

      I am fighting every urge to buy the game because I know it's good. There's just too much against Sim City for me to take the plunge and at this point I see little reason to blame the pirates for a game that's failed out of the gates. There's got to be a better way. At least to appease the loyal consumer as opposed to forcing us to suffer for the mis-deeds of those who'd otherwise not buy the game anyway...

      EA need to realise that while many people will still buy their wares, more and more are waking up to the situation and avoiding these draconian hoops of fire. No one wants to get burned for trying to support a developer of a great franchise. But alas plenty are still none the wiser also.

      In all honesty I can put up with the online thing but please allow me to run and save the game locally. Please allow me to opt out of playing with or relying on other people/ server availability to enjoy the game.

      I hope two things come of this...

      1. EA make the game available offline.

      2. The extension of build areas is rolled out very soon and for free. My PC can handle it.

      I may just cough up the $80.00 knowing I could play any time and save my own damned cities on my HDD. Not to be at the mercy of a broken system.

      I know, I know. Dreaming.

    EA are not known for bug free launches... All their games have launched with massive issues. You can consider their launches as open beta's in my book. Give the game 6 months, and it will settle down, be stable and enjoyable!

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