You’re not our grandma and we’re not about to teach you to suck eggs. You already know if SimCity is the type of game for you, so if killstreaks and KDR are the very last thing on your mind then you need know a bit more about the newest SimCity.
Though many of you will already have been playing the SimCity beta – which launched yesterday – there are still plenty of features yet to see and understand.
Now we’ve had hands-on we’re a little clearer about some of the mechanics behind SimCity, and this could well be one of the best city building sims in a very long time.
Roads Control Density
Previous SimCity games were fairly regimented in the way you went about constructing your metropolis. You painted the ground with green, blue and yellow, strapped some power lines to it and the world grew from there.
Now it’s not quite that easy. Zoning is applied to roadsides, and providing that road is connected to the outside world sims will travel to your city as long as there’s a reason to be there.
Obviously low density roads are cheaper, but they can handle much less traffic. As such, any buildings attached to low density will be restricted to low density styles – shacks, fancy bungalows or low-rent stores.
This is good for two reasons: first, you can design your city around how you want it to look far more simply. Don’t want skyscrapers by the sea? Then don’t upgrade that low road.
Secondly, if roads start to take heavy traffic – and therefore signalling the area’s popularity – then upgrading that route also improves the density of the buildings surrounding it. It’s a natural evolution to your city, rather than a forced one.
In Fact, Roads Control Everything
A while back when SimCity was first shown there were power lines. It’s only now – post-building comedown – that we’ve realised they’re not there any more. They’ve been removed.
Shock horror, perhaps? But no. This all ties into the ‘agent’ system of SimCity’s GlassBox engine: as long as there’s a road there’s the ability to transfer electricity. Or water. Or police coverage. Or poop. You get the idea.
In fact, you can’t actually place a building if it doesn’t have a road. Workers need to get there, after all, so the road comes first and then the city comes with it.
But it works well, and the fact that it took so long to lament the loss of power lines suggests we never really needed them anyway.
The infographic style data layers rely on roads, and with so many possibilities in the way to lay tarmac it’s this one aspect that could be key to building the ‘perfect city’.
Multi-city Gameplay Changes The Way You Play
That might sound like something you’d read on the back of the box – and we’re sorry about that – but it’s actually true. While you can focus on building a very typical city carefully managing the needs of RCI, that’s not all your city needs to do.
Multi-city gameplay has been talked about a lot by Maxis, and for good reason. Now we’ve had hands-on, however, it’s clear that this is just another strategy to your city building.
One city could focus on industry, for example, gathering up ore, oil and other natural resources, and attracting commuters from other cities from across the region.
You might be tempted to give in to the RCI bars – it is an understandable addiction – but the hardcore SimCity player will find that persistence will make this industry city just as useful.
This then frees up your other cities to cast off any filthy industry, set up a commuting service between the two and focus on city on building a haven for the rich and the famous.
City Size Limits Aren’t Bad, Honest
Most diehard SimCity fans have been concerned about the 2k by 2k limit size to each city, and there was every reason to be. But there’s actually a benefit to this, primary among them being the multi-city gameplay.
After that though, the limitations actually make for a more interesting city construction. Through limits you’re given choices: do you specialise in tourism, for example, or trade?
You can’t have everything – as was the case with previous SimCity games – so now you create your own objectives. Work with the land available to you, plan for the future and – if needs be – make up for any shortcomings with neighbouring cities.
So yes, while your sprawling metropolises won’t be quite as sprawling as before, there’s a greater level of pride involved when you reach that ultimate goal.
Land Value Is Important
There’s a subtlety to SimCity that none of the others had before. Back then, if you wanted nice buildings you simply made an area safe, watered and full to the brim with parks and utilities.
Now there’s more of a careful cultivation involved. Land value is the key element to getting the rich to enter your buildings, and even that takes time. Everything starts off on the low-end of the scale, working its way up as its happiness is catered for.
Residential needs all the basic demands and places to shop, commercial needs shoppers while industrial needs workers and places to ship their freight.
Industry aside – let’s face it, that brings land value down - the only way to improve the quality of your inhabitants is to improve the value of the land they’ve built on.
Parks, libraries, local amenities; all important tools to improving this particular data. Most of all, however, is the Mayor's Mansion – a large but attractive building best placed where you want all the poshies to live.
See, this building can be consistently upgraded: keep your Mayor’s Approval rating above 75% for long enough and you’ll earn different building add-ons, boosting the happiness of Sims in the local area and the range of effect the building has.
It's this subtlety that really highlights this new SimCity's down-to-the-pixel depth, a gradual and careful manipulation towards the perfect city - rather than the unending march that previous games had and limited only through available cash.
Keep an eye on this SimCity, it's something special.