If you could say that every single PC gamer has played one certain game, it would have to be a version from the Sim City series. Ever since the very first release of SimCity in 1989 the gaming community has cherished the presence of the PC's most addictive game, making SimCity somewhat THE icon for PC gaming. Now Maxis are back for the 4th generation in the series with SimCity 4, but can it fulfill the large expectations of fans and general gamers alike?
Gameplay - 7.5/10:
If you have never played a Sim City before then the introduction into the basic functions and features will be very valuable for your future success as a virtual mayor. However they do not cover anything drastically new, so veterans to the series will have no trouble at all getting straight into the action.
The first thing you notice as you build up your cities is the indepth report and opinion features found in the game. Although SimCity has always featured a decent amount of information features about your city, Sim City 4 just seems to have much greater detail. Not only are you given the basic balance sheet reports, but you are also given access to citizen opinion polls regarding such topics as environment, education, safety and more. On top of this, you have a board of experts giving you advice and notices regarding their area of expertise. Overall, with this much information and help at your demand, it is hard not to become a popular mayor.
Building the city itself has not changed much at all since SimCity 2000. You have a selection of Commercial, Industrial and Residential areas to make while you are also given access to educational, medical and government agency buildings to make on demand. Buildings which have a direct impact on your ratings like schools and police departments give a clear indication in the form of graphical representation on what areas they cover so you will easily know what locations need attention for any specific service.
One beef I have had with the series since Sim City 2000 is the water pipes. I understand that some people probably see them as a necessary part of city simulation however I personally just don't see the need. As far as I know, you do not generate revenue from them, they simply seem to exist solely for extra micro-management with not only the physical placement of them, but also the cost of running them. Maybe it is just my style of 'laid back' gameplay that conflicts with the hassle and bother of managing water pipes, to which I can say I respect other gamers who feel they're a vital part of gameplay.
Another problem which I can't recall happening in previous versions is the technical performance issues when a city becomes roughly 40,000 in population size. Upon reaching a figure close to this, your city and everything involving it comes to a crawl making even simple tasks like menu navigation run at a snails pace. There is official statements saying more RAM will fix this, however 512MB of physical memory should suffice in any of todays games but fails to in Sim City 4. There are unofficial reports of gamers with 1GB+ of RAM experiencing the same issues, so one can only conclude it is an issue with the game itself, not the systems using it. Unfortunately even the best gameplay will suffer when acute performance issues are present, which is the case here with SimCity 4.
As you come to final edges of your city you realize it is time to move on and start on a new city, however with the new region system found in SimCity 4 you do not have to leave your city behind for good. As you keep making more and more cities you will notice that the populations from all cities in a certain region combine into one figure giving the impression that SimCity4 goes far beyond the scope of single city management. You can even see a tiny model of all the cities you have made in the region, and are also given the option of connecting neighbouring cities together with roads and other means of transport. The region system is really just a fancy way of loading up saved cities when you think about it, however the way in which it is presented gives an incentive to continue making more and more cities until millions of little sims are spread across a screen full of tiny cities. Once a region is completely filled, you can load a new one, make your own or download another off the Internet, there is just no reason to stop!
The visuals in Sim City 4 have certainly improved over the previous versions, back when Sim City 3000 was making its presence felt the need for high quality visuals in a simulation game was relatively non-existent. However in the 3D driven gaming world of today everything has to feature eye candy or the heads won't turn. Luckily for Maxis their graphics in SimCity 4 are quite impressive, especially the area of special effects, even if they only ever seem to excel at times of disaster (e.g. Volcano lava spilling randomly over the city).
However as mentioned above having pretty graphics is great and all, but when the game can't manage to keep up with them performance wise, you have an issue on your hands.
With nothing but you and your mouse, controlling in Sim City 4 can't really go wrong. At times you will want to use more indepth control options which do not feature on a standard mouse, like for example the rotate object function, however as far as mastering the control system goes you have very little to learn at all.
However, again, everything seems to come back to this one performance issue. When your city has reached around 30 to 40 thousand people in population even simple navigation function like scrolling the screen becomes a task as it is hard to move when the game is running like a slide show. Zooming in seems to fix some of the issue, though it is hard to place large zones when you can't see the entire surroundings.
When it comes down to the crunch, SimCity 4 probably needed a little more time before entering the market. The technical problems are very hard to ignore, especially when your city becomes moderately large, but the same addictive and feature rich gameplay that made its predecessors so successful exists. SimCity 4 will sell like hot cakes due to its legacy, and hopefully the technical problems can be ironed out in a future patch to make it a truly deserving best seller.