I’ve always been a huge SimCity fan. I can safely say that SimCity 2000 was one of the first games that I ever became hopelessly addicted to. It was incredibly complex but still managed to be reasonably accessible to novice players. And, it goes without saying that it’s fun to run your own city and be your own boss, setting laws and taxes and placing important buildings around. It was always challenging and each game always played out differently, making it an ideal “desert island” game. Sadly, the developers were never able to fully recapture that magic as the series expanded into the third and fourth editions. While they both were great looking, there was just something about them that didn’t quite live up to expectations. Not content to just let the franchise die, the bosses at EA decided that it was time to hand the reins of this franchise over to some new developers to see if they could inject some new life into the series. In the end, SimCity Societies feels familiar, but the change is clearly a move in the wrong direction for long-time fans.
The point of the game is still the same: you are the boss of your city and it’s up to you to make the city a success. Unlike in previous SimCity games, you’re given much, much more control over the aesthetics of your city. You determine every single building that works its way into your city. Instead of just marking a particular area for residential, commercial, or industrial development, you go through menus and choose what kind of house, business, or industry you would like. That can mean an apartment building or a realtor or an oil refinery. It’s all up to you. But, unlike previous games, you no longer have total control – you don’t set taxes, you don’t determine the budget of the police force. All you need is people in town happily working at jobs to make money for your city. It’s clear that these moves were made to appeal to fans of The Sims, but in the context of SimCity, it doesn’t work all that well.
Of course, this doesn’t make for a bad game at all. There are a lot of genuinely fun moments to be had in SimCity Societies. It’s just a fun concept, building up a city, watching it progress, and being able to help shape the moods of your Sims (the more “fun” buildings, like movie theaters that you build, the happier they are). The biggest problems with the game is that it is simply too easy and you’ll quickly run out of things to do. I never once had an issue with money. I spent through a majority of my starting funds on construction of the basics for my city, and by the time I was done putting down just a few houses, businesses, and roads, I was making a ton of money. After that, it was like I was playing the game on “sandbox” mode with unlimited cash, which very quickly grew repetitive. My cities were also pretty boring to look at because I just wasn’t interested in all of The Sims-style additions. And even then, fans of games like The Sims are going to be disappointed by the fact that they can’t otherwise do anything with their Sims besides placing a house and a few decorations outside. While I’m sure a lot of people will want to put swing sets in the backyards of houses and hedges around the expensive private school, I personally was more interested in managing a metropolis and I just didn’t ever get to do that.
So, my cities quickly became just rows and rows of boring looking houses surrounded by the same businesses over and over again as I slowly unlocked more and more buildings for my city. To keep things from being too easy, each building has different requirements. For instance, in order to have your people work in the office building, you need to be generating a certain amount of productivity in addition to covering the construction costs. To generate productivity, you need to build other buildings that generate productivity, which are usually places your people can relax at. In addition to productivity, your city also needs to generate knowledge, authority, prosperity, creativity, and spirituality to build every building. Maintaining an effective balance of these is crucial to keeping your development rolling, but it isn’t very tricky to figure out the formula and after about an hour, you won’t really have to worry about it.
“In the end, SimCity Societies feels familiar, but the change is clearly a move in the wrong direction for long-time fans.”Ultimately, you won’t worry about much of anything and that’s probably the worst part about the game. The developers delivered an attractive game with a lot of new additions, but sadly, they left out a lot of the complexity that made the early games in this franchise so enjoyable. A majority of the changes to the game that were made to appeal to a wider market of gamers probably hurt more than helped – fans of The Sims won’t have enough to do with their Sims and city-builders like myself won’t have enough to do with their cities. SimCity Societies is a weakest entry in the storied SimCity franchise. If you are interested in building a city, pick up a copy of SimCity 4. If you want to play with Sims, get The Sims 2 and the 18 expansions for it. If you were hoping for both in one game, keep waiting.