SimCity: The Unfinished Story

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Upon its launch, Maxis’ SimCity was one of the most highly anticipated games of the quarter.  Even people like myself, who had never taken part in the SimCity series, came out of the woodwork to try out its all-new systems: online cooperative play, city specialization, and true Sims living in the towns.  Unfortunately, most of these things fell apart within the first week of the game’s life.  An emotional roller coaster soon ensued as my SimCity experience hit its many ups and downs. The nonstop cavalcade of contemptuous commentary in the media has painted this game as one of the greatest gaming disasters of the recent past.  It launched with as much grace as an MMO hosted primarily out of a Cambodian basement server-farm running Windows ME on all of its machines. There was still quite a bit of work to be done at that point.

Release day spelled disaster for Maxis, as it became immediately evident that the servers were unable to handle the load of users logging on to try out the new SimCity.  I was among those who were met with full servers, 18 minute connection wait times, and frequent disconnects and rollbacks.  Thomas was not shy in his distaste for the game’s problems in his article.  I will try to be more objective here, though I did come close to shelving the game for the same reasons after my first couple of nights.  The game was broken; pure and simple.

Despite the server-related shortcomings, SimCity appeared to contain a decent game underneath its mask of failure. Though I did not partake in the earlier installments of the series, I can tell why it has survived so long as a franchise. I played each of the Sims games, wasting countless hours making sure that everyone was happy, healthy, and productive.  All the while, I wasted away in my computer chair, letting my real life bars go red.  The first night that I played SimCity with Thomas, I sought to start up a town and see what the game was all about for a couple of hours.  Next thing I knew, it was 5:00 in the morning, and I was the proud mayor of two bustling metropolises.  Apparently, making sure that your Sims have water, electricity, and enough places to shop so that they’ll shut the hell up, can be rather satisfying.  Unfortunately, when I returned to my city the following day, I was unable to connect to the servers completely.  My supply had been cut off.  That was when the news started to surface of the server fiasco.

The lack of server support, paired with the fact that Thomas and I found ourselves in the midst of a move, did not leave me with much opportunity to play the game.  More information came flowing in from across the internet, citing accusations against Maxis’ whole online system.  Why do we need to be connected to the servers if a game can run for 20 minutes after losing connection?  Are calculations really run server-side or on the local machine?  Did the mayor have sexual relations with that Sim? Honestly, if the game just worked, it would not have been such a big deal.  It is unfortunate to see a game with such market potential fall flat on its face at launch due to insufficient server support.  That, and the miscalculated residential needs, flawed traffic AI, broken social system, and a few others… no big deal.

Can you believe this traffic, Carl? I can barely even...seriously?!

Can you believe this traffic, Carl? I can barely even…seriously?!

In order to give the game a fair review, I decided to spend some quality time once the servers were back up, so I created a new city in my own region, without my friends.  I felt that this would grant me the opportunity to explore what the game had to offer, while having complete control over the region and its resources.  What I discovered during this experiment is that, by itself, the game was extremely frustrating. My Sims complained nonstop that they lacked every element imaginable.  It was nearly impossible to keep up with the utility demands among my constituents.  No one mayor should have all that power…and as it turns out, the game won’t let him.  Without online play, things just fell flat.  There was no cooperation with my fellow mayors, no competition to best my friends’ cities, no bartering, and none of that special kind of enjoyment that comes from seeing that one of your residents has begun a serial murder and arson spree in your buddy’s town.  After a couple hours of playing this new solo town, I realized that the fun just wasn’t there, and I went to bed with nothing but lackluster impressions of SimCity’s core game.

The following day, a friend convinced me to give the game another try with online play.  To my surprise, the experience was a complete turnaround.  That first night was more than just a fluke. Playing with another person made all of the mundane elements of the game seem that much more exciting.  Building up my city’s industry and commercial offerings, while he focused on education and government, allowed us to create a symbiotic utopia.  My Sims complained less than in any of my previous cities, because the two of us were able to anticipate all of their needs, and split responsibilities and resources.  That was when I realized that, despite all of the havoc that the online play had wrought on the servers, and the scandal of fudged population numbers or needless server connectivity requirements, SimCity thrives as a social game.  Maxis’ grand plan of taking SimCity online is a success when it comes to gameplay.  The smaller plots force players to specialize, and as a result, cooperate with neighboring cities.  As long as the servers remain stable, they should be able to reclaim some of the lost customers that resulted from their early fumbles. EA has even gone as far as to admit to the problem, and extended the offer of one free EA PC game for all those who purchased SimCity. Maybe you will forget what EA did while you are playing something else?

Source: pcgamer.com

Source: pcgamer.com

While I can say that the game has definitely come into its own over the past week, I would still have trouble recommending it to a friend in its current state.  The online component seems to be the saving grace of this title, and that can be quite iffy.  With friend lists still on the fritz, and the inability to join a friend’s private game, gaming with your friends is not the simplest task in SimCity.  Perhaps I would need more time with this one before I could say that it is something to which I would willingly subject others.  With the fun factor hinging on so many variables, some of which are still being reworked, I would suggest waiting before taking to the streets of SimCity.  Perhaps in a few weeks, Maxis will get it right.  The jury is still out for now, as it is difficult to review a title that remains unfinished.

Jon Malloy

Jon Malloy

Senior Writer & Editor at What's Jump?
Jon is a writer and co-founder of “What’s Jump?” With a passion for gaming, comedy, and discussion, Jon works to bring his unique views, along with a bit of humor, to his writing. With a background in information technology and development, his interests lean toward the newest trends and technological advancements. Reporting for “What’s Jump?” he is at home both behind the scenes and in front of the camera.
Jon Malloy
Jon Malloy

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