PC: SimCity 4

The long-awaited successor to SimCity 3000 has finally been released and, since I unwrapped the cellophane from my review copy, I’ve found it hard to prise myself away. For any fans of the previous versions, SimCity 4 adds plenty of new features to refresh gameplay. Newcomers are in for a treat.

SimCity is the RTS (real-time strategy) game that spawned the most popular title in this genre, The Sims, and in this release the two finally get to meet.

One of the new additions to this latest version is the ability to import your Sims to live in your city. This brings interaction with your townsfolk down to a very personal level, as your Sims also import their capacity for moaning with them. They are quick to let you know if jobs aren’t plentiful, pollution levels are high or their commute to work is too time-consuming.

While it’s a nice idea to be able to keep tabs on those dwelling in your city, sometimes listening to all their complaints and comments can be a bit irritating.

If you hadn’t already guessed, the aim of SimCity 4 is to build and manage your very own city right from its early days, nurturing a two-bit frontier town into a gleaming metropolis complete with air and seaports, links with other towns and a wealth of wondrous landmarks (See here for a screenshot). While this might sound simple enough, anyone who has ever had to balance needs and desires with tight budgets (and, let’s face it, that’s pretty much all of us) will know this is far from straightforward. Right from the early planning stages, you have to bear in mind the impact your choices will have on the future development of your city.

For example, you might pick a cheap powerplant to conserve funds. However, as it churns out energy it will also chuck out pollution, which will put people off moving in nearby. Equally, you might want to build up industry to boost profits but, again, you will be faced with pollution problems and you must ensure there are enough townspeople to work in your factories.

These problems just get worse as your city grows. Traffic, power, garbage disposal, health, education and emergency service provision all require constant attention lest your city descend into disorder and bankruptcy.

This really tests your mayoral muscle.

Another addition is the ability to not only influence the man-made landscape of your city, but to actually mould the terrain on which it sits. You can create your own landscape of towering mountains with deep lake-filled valleys or flat, wind-blown plains populated by wild animals. In fact, the landscaping is now almost as much fun as the city building.

Other changes include the ability to micromanage — for example, you can individually change taxes depending on the wealth of your citizens and the complex dynamics behind the development of your city.

One criticism we would make is that SimCity 4’s system requirements are a little crippling. It’s all well and good having updated sound and graphics, but it’s a bit crazy to require a top-of-the-range PC to play a slow-paced strategy game.

Overall, this is a welcome, if not groundbreaking, update. It will provide long-term fans with enough extras to make the upgrade worthwhile, while new players can’t fail to be hooked by the demanding challenges and intricate graphics on offer.

Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Maxis (EA)
URL: www.simcity.com

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