SimCity is an evil game. It’s disgusting, in fact. I love SimCity but at the same time I hate it. It taunts me and keeps me awake at night. I was pretty disappointed with the game when it launched back in March. It was a case of so close but no cigar. The game was buggy and it’s taken eight patches and many months to try and get the game up to speed.
In that time we’ve had numerous improvements to RCI, traffic and even the addition of overpasses and underpasses, which was a cool feature. It was cool because it helped resolve some or the traffic behaviour problems, or at least got the traffic flowing in my cities.
But with other issues still left to resolve, I was pretty surprised that an expansion for SimCity was announced for release so close to the original shipping date. So, is SimCity Cities of Tomorrow worth your cash?
This is the first of what we have to assume will be many expansions (this is EA and Maxis we’re talking about after all,) and as the name suggests it takes the cities into the future. The main addition is a pair of new tech trees, which go down two distinct paths. The Academy is all white and sparkly with its Control Net resource, whereas the Omega Corp is a the dastardly industrial power that utilises a mysterious substance called Omega. Essentially these are the two key elements of the expansion, offering new ways to either enhance a current city or build a new one from scratch.
I had this dilemma when reviewing the expansion: do I revisit Pooberg, which was one of my first ever cities, and bring it into the future? Or just start from scratch? With the money situation not exactly great in Pooberg I thought it would be a better idea to get a new city up and running in the same region. Which, incidentally, had now been abandoned by all the other players who were playing just after launch. Thanks guys!
Starting from scratch I wasn’t expecting anything different; just going through the usual routine of zoning, road building and generally managing the budget as the population grew. However, with new tech to play with my citizens started bleating about getting Academy structures built within about 20 minutes of playing, which when starting out is nigh on impossible as futuristic tech does not come cheap.
Getting a new city up and running was a doddle, it was just a matter of going through the motions of road building, zoning, sewage, power etc. In fact it really took little time at all and I wasn’t really paying any attention to resources or trading. I was actually quite surprised at how easy it was considering I had sunk about 100 hours into reviewing the original game.
With the city foundations set it was time to play with the new stuff and get an Academy up and running to get access to more new features. Here’s the kicker, researching anything in the Academy is slow. Really slow. The little research bar moves at a glacial pace. In the time you’re waiting for the little bar to move, the only thing to do is tweak and enhance the core of the city which after a while gets a little dull.
Thankfully there are now Megatowers which are massive structures that reach high above even the tallest buildings in the original game. These are stacked modules that are plopped one on top of the other, and come in different varieties; everything from different grades of housing to malls, parks and education. Most of the essentials you need to keep a city functioning, and the money rolling in, are crammed into these towers.
There can be only one reason for these to exist and that’s, dare I say it, the city size limitation. Maxis have a real problem on their hands as cities will never truly be expanded thanks to the limitations of the game’s original design. The only thing Maxis can do now is let players build upwards. Sadly, this completely misses the point of why SimCity fans enjoyed the previous game so much and Megatowers are not the solution but a workaround to try and keep players engaged.
Once these towers are up they can all be linked with Skybridges, but before you can do that, there needs to be a Skybridge terminal installed as a level on each tower. There is a problem with this as it’s quite likely a couple of towers will have been built and they will have reached the maximum height. This means the only way to add a Skybridge terminal is to demolish levels already placed on the tower working from the top down. It’s quite a cash sink and it’s not an easy decision to click the little bulldozer icon to demolish the nice rollercoaster and subsequent levels just to add this module. Quite frustrating.
Cities of Tomorrow has also not escaped some rather annoying bugs. On quite a few occasions I had placed a Maglev terminal only to find it had suddenly vanished and I won’t even go into the problem I had getting trucks to supply ore to the Omega factories. That was so annoying I had to get someone else to double check everything was delivering resources to the correct places in case I was just being a crap Mayor. It did resolve itself eventually but it took about 30 minutes of head scratching and moving stuff around to get trucks going to the factories.
Maxis has added a stack of new structures to make the cities look more futuristic but again space is the issue. The Megatower footprint is huge and all the extra buildings such as Police drone bays, Omega factories and extra new modules for some of the older structures all need somewhere to go. This problem does sap the fun from the game, and even more so now as there are more structures to place.
Cities of Tomorrow is a great idea and Maxis has done their best with what the game engine can actually handle. There’s not so much a problem with all the ideas in the expansion as there is with the game at its core.
The design of the original game is what cripples the expansion, and I hate to harp on about this, but there’s just no room in the maps to get creative. I don’t want to set up another city in the region, I want to tweak and enhance a fantastic single futuristic city. I do love the Glass Box engine, the game looks brilliant with its neon signs and brightly lit towers, but looks can only take a game so far.
SimCity Cities of Tomorrow can be picked up for about £20, and while it’s not massively expensive, it doesn’t really add that much in terms of new gameplay. It’s more buildings to try and cram into the small city maps with some new tech trees to unlock more buildings you don’t have the space for. Diehard fans may pick this up but anyone who was thinking about starting out with the game and buying the expansion at the same time should think again. The expansion is OK, but the core game makes it all feel rather pointless, and once again frustrating.
Looks like we’ll have to keep on waiting for a true successor to SimCity 4. Hop to it Maxis.