SimCity 4? Yes, you read that correctly, SimCity 4. But SimCity 4 was released in 2003, why are you reviewing it now? I hear you cry. Well, it’s complicated. You may have heard that Electronic Arts, owner of Maxis, SimCity’s original developer, released a new SimCity recently. It was not received with acclaim. And after a fiasco of a launch on Windows, there was a fiasco of a launch on Mac.

So imagine everyone’s surprise when SimCity 4 for Mac suddenly made an appearance last April. Why would anyone bother? One explanation is that this version was released by Aspyr, who perhaps saw an opportunity to cash in on frustrations with EA’s new version by rejiggering SC4 to run on modern hardware and releasing it at a lower cost. (Bonus feature: this version includes the Rush Hour expansion pack as well).

So if you too were frustrated and annoyed by the new SimCity, and are looking for top-notch strategy games for Mac, this could be the SimCity you’ve been searching for.

Enter SimCity 4

If you’ve ever played a SimCity (SC) game, SC4’s basic gameplay elements should be familiar. You start with some land, create zones for residential, commercial and industrial building, provide power and roads, and sit back and watch your sims move in. Obviously, that’s only the beginning; you’re the mayor of your city and are expected to provide all the other amenities your pesky citizens, or sims, demand: schools, fire & police protection, parks, etc. And you do not have an unending supply of money to provide these things. How do you get more money? That’s right, it’s the government, so you get most of your money through property taxes. Balancing tax rates and providing services is your main job.

SimCity 4 Mac

In addition to taxes, another way you can raise money is through agreements with neighboring cities. In previous versions, as long as you built a road, sea or rail connection to these adjoining blocks deals would automatically be offered. Now, you actually have to build a city in those blocks and connect them up. The upside is that this allows you to mold complementary cities so that one produces what the other needs. The downside is that it makes it difficult to concentrate on just building the one fabulous city that you want. It’s more realistic in a way, but takes away some of the fun; I was always a one big city kind of builder, and that doesn’t work as well in this version.

Both the interface and the gameplay in SC4 have been tweaked from previous versions, in my opinion mostly for the better. You have more control over the types of zones you create, and better access to the data you need to make those zoning decisions. SimCity 3000 simplified some elements of gameplay, in particular, the laying of electrical wires from zone to zone, and that is carried over into SC4. Providing water through pumping stations is similarly easier than in earlier versions. And unlike EA’s SimCity, you still have the ability to mold the land to your desires before you actually start your city; you can even add animals.

SimCity 4 Mac gameplay

The graphics and sound in SC4 are about what you’d expect from an 11-year-old game. They’re nice, an improvement over SC3000, but the more you zoom in the blockier things look. I did find it difficult to identify some of my city buildings such as schools and medical clinics when my cities got bigger; they used to stand out more, but with overall more realistic graphics, now they tend to blend in with the other buildings. You also get more realistic city sounds, which get louder and more distinct as you zoom in. There’s background music if you choose to listen to it, and a nice feature that allows you to play music from your iTunes library if you wish. SC4 is a nice graphics & sound upgrade over SC3000, though not as extreme as that from SC2000 to 3000.

SimCity 4 Mac

When this version first came out the high price and steep system requirements kept me from even considering buying it. Now it runs great on a 4-5-year-old iMac at the highest settings and at a price any gamer can afford. The game is single player only.

SimCity 4 Performance

As you might expect, this game had no trouble running at the highest graphics settings, even on my nearly six-year-old iMac. No stutters or artifacts, zooming was smooth, everything ran without a flaw. This is most interesting to me because, as stated earlier, when it first came out one of the main criticisms was its high system requirements. Not so amazing these days what 11 years will do for playability.

SMinimum System Requirements:

  • OS:  OS X 10.8.5 or higher
  • CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo 2.2 GHz
  • Video Card: NVIDIA Geforce 8800, ATI Radeon HD 3870, Intel HD Graphics 3000 with 256 MB
  • RAM:  4 GB
  • Hard Drive:  1.14 GB available space

Machine used for this review:

  • Model: iMac (27-inch, Late 2009)
  • OS: OS X 10.10.3
  • CPU: 2.8 GHz Intel Quad Core i7
  • Video Card: ATI Radeon HD4850 (512 MB)
  • RAM: 8 GB

Final Word

Yes, I think this is the SimCity you’ve been looking for. Aspyr certainly knows how to remaster a classic. Without much effort, they took an 11-year old game and turn it into one of the most popular simulation games on Mac.

That said, if you want a modern city builder and have a powerful machine to run it, you have to go with Cities: Skylines instead. It’s simply that good of a game…

There are certainly quibbles to be had: some people don’t like that the individual blocks you get to build your cities aren’t as large as they used to be, but having played EA’s version, they seemed plenty big to me; the graphics aren’t up to console or 2014 computer standards; and like the new EA version you’re strongly encouraged to build multiple cities in your regions to get the full benefits instead of being able to build one huge city.

But even with all that this game brought me back to the days of losing hours in my city (remember to save often, no auto-save here), trying to build the community of my dreams. Sadly I don’t have as many of those free hours as I used to, but it’s nice to have Aspyr tempting me anyway.

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