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SimCity hands-on preview

With its awesome online connectivity, Maxis's SimCity reboot is as close to... well... real life as you can get


The first thing to be said about Maxis’s SimCity reboot is that looks incredible. It truly does. We spent a long time just zooming in and out, appreciating the minute details of Maxis’s new GlassBox engine. Every walking person, every moving vehicle moves with a purpose, and the Pixar-like animation style is a refreshing new look for the rejigged franchise.

The game kicks off with a short tutorial section that introduces the basics of building and population growth. More roads to the main highway means your population will increase, as does creating more jobs. Oh, and every city needs a decent sewage system – as we discover to our cost.

But soon enough the training wheels come off – and we’re left to our own initiative in SimCity’s urban playground. There are three types of ‘zones’ – Residential, Industrial and Commercial – that form the building blocks to your city, and finding the balance between all three is the key to success. Location is also important. For example, if the fire service is too far from certain residential areas in your city, you’re going to hear about it pretty quickly.

Within these zones, you’re also able to access modules – add-ons to buildings that give the game an even greater sense of detail. Stuff City quickly rouses the ire of its residents when its garbage collectors leave rubbish piling up in the streets – adding another garage to the main depot fixes the problem (for the time being).

Maxis has taken account of almost every little thing you could conceivably think of. Ignore deserted buildings and residents will complain they’re an eyesore. Build a sewage plant too near to a water tank and Sims will become ill and unable to work – stifling your city’s economic growth.

But times have changed since SimCity 4 arrived back in 2004 – you’re nothing if you’re not on social media, as the endless stream of SimCity Social requests cluttering up our Facebook news feed proves. EA’s recently-announced SimCity World feature takes the game into an entirely online ‘Sim World’, where you’ll receive updates on the progress of your friends’ cities in real time. You can even work together, sharing resources and workers to boost your individual economies. 

But here’s where things get very clever. Every city in the community will be part of a global financial exchange, with the prices of resources such as oil fluctuating according to demand within the game. This promises to give every player a sense of responsibility, knowing that their actions are having an effect outside their own domain.

What’s more, EA will able to observe the statistics of the SimCity universe and create challenges based on them. Has there been a slump in population growth among players? Well EA can unleash a challenge for players to build up their populations to reach a target goal, with the winner receiving a prize. It all promises real longevity to the experience.

When it comes down to it, SimCity itself feels like a natural progression for the series, more complex perhaps, but an evolution of what we’ve come to know and expect of the franchse. But in SimCity World, things reach another level entirely, and the online experience looks set to be a tremendous leap forward. So far, it’s all promising stuff. Let’s hope that Maxis delivers the goods when SimCity lands on PC and Mac in February 2013.

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