Developed by Maxis and published by EA, the new SimCity (or SimCity 5 if you’re counting) was supposed to be one of the main contenders for Game of the Year. It seemed to have all it took to be even better than the venerable SimCity 4 and take the crown as the most sophisticated city-building game ever. Unfortunately, SimCity not only failed to meet our very high expectations, it was also marked by one of the worst launches in recent memory. EA isn’t the most popular publisher out there and the SimCity DRM debacle certainly didn’t help either.
Riddled with lots of issues when it first launched on the PC back in March this year, we could only hope SimCity’s Mac release would be smoother. Well, it wasn’t. The game was delayed several times, with no proper information coming from EA. When it was finally released on Mac, several users reported installation issues and many others complained about poor performance. To be fair, people love to hate EA and can be sometimes harsher than needed. Controversy aside, taking SimCity in its current state and forgetting about everything that happened before, how good is it really? Can it be considered one of the greatest Mac strategy games available?
There are no major changes to the classic SimCity formula here. With a limited budget, you will have to put in place the necessary infrastructure (a power plant, water supplies, roads, etc) to start a new city. From that point, you will have at your disposal the well-known zoning system, which will allow you to place residential areas, commercials areas and industrial areas. Common sense applies here, you will want to keep the industry away from your residential buildings and as your city grows, you will need fire stations, police stations, schools and so on. Using lots of statistics and specific view options (like land value and crime), it’s up to you to make sure your citizens have all they need. The objective is to create a thriving city, with healthy residents, wealthy businesses, and high tech (clean) industry.
I bet Maxis had great expectations when they set out to create the new SimCity. Some ideas here are very good and show lots of ambition, but in many cases failed to deliver. Region play is the perfect example. SimCity focuses on Regions and dreams of creating inter-connected cities that help each other and grow together. These regions are no other than a group of cities. Ranging from 3 to 16 cities, regions effectively introduce a new angle to the SimCity games we know and love. They encourage exchange and cooperation between cities. To give you one example, you can create a “dormitory” city, full of residential buildings, and connect it to the region’s train network and airports to provide workers for a neighbor industrial city.
It could have been the perfect way to finally introduce Multiplayer to SimCity, something that until now seemed impossible. However, Regions also introduced one of the biggest gameplay issues I found: Individual cities are too small! Compared to SimCity 4, cities here are tiny, and I really mean tiny. In no time you will curse those city limits and will struggle to continue to grow. At this point, Maxis and EA would expect you to go back to the Region and create a new neighbor city. But what if I just want to create a thriving metropolis? The next London or New York? Well, you can’t and if you’re lucky, you will be able to maybe recreate lower-Manhattan.
I saw this comment on a forum and completely relate: The game feels more like The Sims City than SimCity. There’s a ton of micromanagement here, with individual citizens giving you specific objectives and the ability to track every single citizen and see what he thinks, where he lives and where he works. If this added to the experience, I wouldn’t complain, but when you combine it with the fact that cities are so damn small, you get the feeling your managing Sims and not building a true metropolis. There was big hope the soon to come Cities of Tomorrow DLC, coming later this year, would fix this issue but sources say EA and Maxis won’t change maximum city size just yet.
Overall, SimCity has solid gameplay mechanics. It reminds me of all the things I loved about previous SimCity games while adding lots of new elements and overhauling the graphics. However, the fact the cities are so small makes it feel less hardcore than SimCity 4 and more apt for The Sims fans.
The graphics department is where SimCity really shines. Everything looks crisp and well-detailed. Mountains never looked so good and tall building never looked so impressive, especially at night. By the way, the day and night cycle really adds to the experience and it gives you completely different cities (aesthetically speaking) depending on the time of the day.
The attention to detail is impressive too. If you zoom in enough, you can actually see firetrucks put out fires and school buses pick up kids every morning. Every citizen is tracked and will go from home to work every morning. If you only have one road linking residential areas with industrial areas, the traffic jams will visually let you know that there’s a problem. Same goes for pollution. The game is full of visual cues, making the experience more natural.
A lot can be said about SimCity’s gameplay or performance but graphics is the only place where it undeniably improved upon its popular predecessor. Bear in mind though, SimCity 4 is 10 years old so it was about time the franchise’s graphics were updated to today’s standards.
The music and sound effects are solid too and respect the traditional SimCity formula. Everything has an associated sound that gives life to your cities, like the noise of cars or the sounds of birds near parks. The music is classic SimCity too and does a good job giving the game that laid-back mood SimCity games are known for.
If I had to take into account all the issues SimCity had when it first launched on PC, I would have to give it a 1/5 on the Performance department. However, this review is about the MacOS version and luckily, it went a little better.
Some gamers did experience installation issues but EA claims they were solved on Day 1. Controversy and bad press aside, I played the game for over 10 hours and never found any major issue or bug. One time the mouse seemed to be stuck. Closing and re-opening the game solved the issue. Other than that, the game played fine and was reliable throughout my entire experience with the game.
I did find the game was poorly optimized, in the sense that I expected it to run a lot faster than it did. As soon as my city would start to get big, the frames per second would suffer. The game would remain playable, but considering I played the game on a powerful machine (a Mac Pro with a Nvidia GTX 660 Ti Card, an SSD and 16GB RAM), I was expecting it to run at full speed no matter what.
The other problem I found was the invasive DRM SimCity uses. The game requires you to be always online to play and will eject you from your city if you have been offline for more than 20 minutes. This limitation is extremely harsh and completely unnecessary, as the game won’t let you play if you’re traveling or are somewhere without a steady internet connection.
Minimum System Requirements:
- Lion OSX 10.7.5 with a Core 2 Duo processor
- 2 GB of RAM
- 12 GB of Hard Drive space
- Either an Intel HD 3000, NVIDIA GeForce 9600M, or ATI Radeon HD 2600 graphics card
- Model: Pro (Early 2009)
- OS: OS X 10.10
- CPU: 2.66 GHz Quad-Core Xeon
- Video Card: NVIDIA GTX 660Ti (1GB)
- RAM: 16 GB
SimCity had incredibly high expectations to meet. With 10 years to release a proper sequel, Maxis was supposed to create the ultimate city-builder ever, taking SimCity 4’s heritage to new heights. Truth is, Maxis did have some ambitious ideas but most of them were poorly implemented and ended up hurting the tried and true SimCity formula. Expectations aside, the game plays well and is lots of fun. If you enjoyed SimCity games in the past, chances are you could have lots of fun here. It’s just too bad for Maxis that Cities: Skylines happened, which is a much superior alternative.
The main drawback I saw was the poor performance. If you plan to run this game on a MacBook Air or an older MacBook Pro, prepare to drop all the settings to low and face some lag.