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City Life 2008

City Life 2008 is a prime example of a game that takes a subject far too seriously, inventing its own rules and ending up devoid of logic, common sense and, most importantly, fun. There also appears to be a secret cult in which you’re told what the hell is going on and how to play the game because, despite numerous Google searches and reading the manual from cover to cover, it’s not often clear why you find yourself chasing an unknown solution to a problem that you didn’t know existed in the first place.

As a seasoned Sim City gamer, City Life 208 appears to be just so damned hard to get into, and once you have knowledge of why certain situations arise the whole thing becomes incredibly repetitive and devoid of fun. For starters, there’s only the barest of tutorials. Logic already tells me that you need to build houses for the people to live and then businesses for them to work in, and then amenities for your workforce to look after themselves, but the picture-by-picture guide on the main menu just isn’t practical. There’s a distinct lack of a guide that’ll hold you by the hand and show you the ropes through a constructive scenario, instead you either try and memorise the entire tutorial or throw yourself into the game and try to make what you will of the interface.

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My major beef with this game has to be the social difference between citizens, which I feel is unnecessary, confusing and present only to award you with new buildings to make things seem deep and interesting. The premise is that by leaving them alone and by not meeting demands will erupt a civil war in your estates and will see different classes burning down the houses of others and fighting the police. It sounds fun, but you have no control where they spawn. I know that in certain towns in the US and perhaps other countries too there are areas of cities in which only members of certain ethnic backgrounds live together – they don’t live amongst other people like in City Life, so already you’re fighting an uphill battle as the residents all build amongst each other in a big urban mess. The way to avoid disruption is to bend over backwards to every demand made of your taxpayers, such as giving them education, relaxation facilities and access to medical supplies, all of which strain your budget. Bizarrely, cities are able to strive in their early years without a power plant, but soon you’re told to build one as electricity has become too expensive – where they’re buying it from, I don’t know.

Plotting houses is a simple click-drag-click affair, and then you watch as the six social groups build next to each other and begin sharpening their pitch forks. You can’t build a police force until your city holds a pre-determined amount of warring citizens with which to disperse, so it’s best to try and keep things calm and ticking over by building workplaces. I can’t quite understand why industry and business areas are plotted individually, unlike the simple plot designation of residential areas. OK, so it helps to get employment figures even by building the appropriate workplace so every company has the right amount of wanted employees, but it’s unnecessary to grab different industries, of which their specialization matters not a jot, and then plot them down just to give jobs. Sim City‘s simple zoning for all three districts is a far better way of playing.

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As your city’s population increases, more buildings are unlocked. Residential plots hold yet more of these thugs whilst businesses employ more of them under one roof, and amenities spread further afield with a larger catchment area – that’s the game summed up within a sentence. Keep building, giving into your trigger-happy taxpayers on each occasion with bigger businesses with which to advance their skills, bigger houses to get more of the bigots into your city limits, and larger and more costly civic buildings to try and keep them from ripping each others throats out. There’s little scope to designing your city into something easier on the eye that a sheer mass of concrete and bloodshed because you’re always told to keep going and going – stopping to reap the money from taxes only heightens tensions between social groups because they can’t advance in their jobs or their usual route to work becomes blocked.

After years on Will Wright’s masterpiece I was expecting something with a more communal spirit in mind, such as protecting each cities business by making sure there’s ample but too much competition, keeping residents happy by giving them access to a variety of goods, but instead it’s just game after game after game after game of having to satisfy resident’s demands to keep the piece – and it just isn’t fun. There’s a little news box in the corner of the screen that keeps shouting demands at you – “Build new housing! Electricity is too expensive! Lack of opportunities for advancement at work!”, wanting more and more from your resources. Why do we need new housing? Can’t we just sit back and let the city live a little for a bit? Why do I have the option of plotting down a fishing company when all you need is the empty company with which to fill with employees?

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Visually you’ve got a delight on your hands, being able to see into people’s back gardens and even become a citizen yourself, walking all over everyone’s property and up and down each street to admire the view. The camera can be zoomed in and out quickly and rotated with the mouse wheel pushed in, so you can fly around city blocks in no time at all. There’s a bloody annoying bishy-bashy soundtrack that needs to be muted as soon as you load up the game, because the intense frustration of not knowing what the hell is going on turns into physical anger with this annoying tune pumping out of your speakers.

City Life is a game that took social generalisations and completely sensationalised them to the point of an unrealistic nature and made them unworkable with the concept of the game. Even by being given control of each group and giving them their own estate would be baffling as there’s simply no need for this social divide, it’s completely pointless, confusing and certainly nothing like any city in the world that I know of. A particular highlight was the “elite” rich sims being white in colour and the scummy, devoid of ambition no-hopers being black, something which will go down a blast with the trend of being offended by pretty much everything these days.

5 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in June 2002.

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