SimCity is the miraculous reboot of the franchise from Maxis that lets you play, prod, and tinker your way to the city of your dreams. At GamesCom 2012, we got our first hands-on demo with the simulator to learn more about the basics of city-building, and to check out Sim World, SimCity's newly announced online community portal.
Even in its pre-beta state, SimCity looks absolutely gorgeous. The GlassBox Engine is a true testament to the developers at Maxis. They've managed to intertwine beautiful, Pixar-esque graphics with a fluid, fast-moving camera that's an absolute dream to use. Moving around your city and zooming the camera in and out is extremely responsive, allowing for fast, precise gameplay.
You play the Mayor in SimCity, and it's up to you to make sure that your Sims, the people living in your city, have everything they need in order to live happy lives. To start, you learn to create a road to connect your city to the outside world, enabling Sims to start coming to your city and interacting with everything it has to offer.
In order for your Sims to settle down and get to work though, you have to set up different zones. Zoning is how you'll lay out your city. Zones are divided in to three different categories: residential, commercial, and industrial. Residential zones are where your Sims' homes will be built. Commercial zones are where you'll be able to place shops, entertainment, restaurants, and more. Industrial zones are where you'll be able place buildings like factories. There really aren't any limitations to how you zone your city; a nice feature, and one that ensures no two cities will ever be a same.
Once you zone everything out it's time to start placing some buildings. The first one we had to place was a fire department because our new Sims somehow set their house on fire. When you place a building that will directly impact your Sims, like a fire department, arrows will display on the roads showing the route the driver will take. Closer to the fire department the arrows glow green, indicating the amount of time it will take the firefighters to help your Sim. As Sims homes get farther and farther away from the fire department, the arrows turn from green to orange to red, signifying that it will take longer for them to get service, putting them in more danger.
Regardless of which type of building you place, one of the fantastic features of SimCity is the peg system. When you go to place a building, you use the peg system to snap the building in place by a road. This makes sure your city looks nice and uniform, and it completely eliminates the frustration that comes from placing your building one inch off from where you actually wanted it.
After we put the fires out I noticed that a lot of my Sims had speech bubbles over their heads. They were asking for various things like more schools, parks, places to work, and to my surprise, a sewage system. The sewage system in SimCity is, surprisingly, fairly amusing. Hundreds of brown blobs dot the map if you don't set up a sewage system, and your Sims will begin to complain about how disgusting it is.
I even had to place a water tower in my city to get my Sims fresh drinking water. One of the developers told me that if I would have put the sewage plant and water tower near one another it would have caused a chain reaction of epic proportion. Essentially the pollution from the sewage plant would begin seeping in to the water which was being distributed out in to my city. If my Sims drank this poop water, they'd get sick and be unable to work because of it. Personally, I found this scenario to be completely hilarious and genius at the same time.
Once you place the water tower, the city becomes your oyster, and it's up to you to build it however you want. While Maxis has announced that you can build certain cities to have specialized economies, we didn't get to test that out. Some examples of specialized economies include industrial economies, tourism economies, and educational economies.
In addition to building up your city, Maxis also announced SimCity World, a way for you to connect on a higher level with other SimCity players from around the globe. Within SimCity World you'll get to access a few unique features broken down into four categories: a friends list, city log, challenges, and the global market.
Your friends list is what you'd expect: a way to chat and check out your friends cities. The city log was inspired by Battlefield 3's Battlelog. It will function similarly, with real-time stats that display your friends', and the whole community's, activities. The global market is where you can check out how much commodities like gas and minerals are worth. This area is for those folks who want to specialize in a certain type of city as it clearly shows what commodity is rated the highest and worth acquiring.
My favorite part of Sim World were the challenges. With Sim World, EA can pool the entire SimCity community's statistics in order to create challenges. These challenges are broken into collaborative and competitive objectives based on those in-game statistics.
For example, let's say the overall playerbase is low in population. EA can set up a challenge for everyone to increase their population by a certain amount, and then everyone will get some type of benefit. EA can also create competitive challenges, like offering the first person to get to a certain amount of population a prize. I think challenges are a great way for Maxis to continue making content engaging long after the game is released.
If you love simulation games, then throw any doubts you may have had about SimCity out the window. After only playing the game for a short time, it's clear how much polish, care, and creativity went in to it. The game itself was already looking extremely promising, but with the addition of all of the Sim World functionality, SimCity seems to have gone above and beyond our expectations so far. You can check out SimCity when its beta starts later this year, or when it comes out for PC and Mac in 2013.