For years, Electronic Arts and Maxis has really been pushing its SimCity series, starting with a basic design and capitalizing from there with a number of huge features to keep players coming back for more. Lately, the series has been rather quiet in terms of new releases, but that will change next year when an all new SimCity hits the PC front. And if you think you knew world-building before, you haven't seen anything yet.
For this latest entry in the series, Maxis is going all out to make your city look as realistic as possible. They're utilizing a new simulation engine called Glassbox, one different from previous others they've used. With this engine, the city is coming to life in ways never thought possible. For instance, you're able to get a better glimpse of the life flowing through it, from the small modes of transportation to the people going about their daily lives.
Resources are also tied well into the game, through objects that represent water, power and workers. You see things processing as operations go day-to-day within your city, enabling you to see smaller items that could use improvement before they get out of hand. Management is everything – what could be smooth flowing one day erupts into chaos the next, with workers striving to keep things in order and put out fires. Even when things are at their worst, people brace and prepare for it, just as they would in real life. (And no, the Mayans aren't to blame this time.)
Even in the smaller things, you can see the effects of the Glassbox technology playing out. A traffic jam isn't just a bland fleet of cars, but specific vehicles that have their own small movements, whether they're getting off on an exit or simply honking their horn.
Speaking of which, the audio also plays a huge part in the game, with more and more sound effects telling a story alongside what you see happening on the screen. This helps when it comes to being alert about emergencies, as you can hear storm clouds coming in, or an activity that could throw everyone for a loop.
Of course, part of the fun of SimCity is testing the limits of what your little community can do. Sure, you can just have the usual proceedings go by without much events, but throwing people for a loop and watching them do your bidding is even better in some cases. Just remember not to abuse your power – you don't want to turn your city into one of the worst in the nation, overrun by a conglomerate without a care for its citizens. SimCity is all about finding that balance and having fun with it.
For SimCity, it's almost like Maxis went back and asked, "What is it that really makes this game click?" In three areas, they made massive improvements to make you feel like you're in complete control.
You've got Customization, which enables you to build and thrive however you please. Maxis has said that the game will also be open to modding, but it'll be added at a later date, not on release day.
Then there's Terraforming. This helps you get the structure of your city together, laying down a sound formation and building hills and other bits and pieces that you'll lift up your city from. However, you don't want to get too ambitious too quickly, as environmental consequences, like natural earthquakes and not-so-natural air pollution, can easily generate from the wrong structure.
Finally, Transportation Options really open up how your Sims can get around. Sure, there are cars that move about on the roads and freeways, but you can also open up other viable solutions to travel, including planes, streetcars and boats. Thriving a community will help keep people mobile and happy, and if one shuts down, you can hear trouble from a mile away. Again, balance is key.
Perhaps the most important component in SimCity is the return of online multiplayer, a first for the series since SimCity 2000 Network Edition. Though EA hasn't indicated whether it will be competitive or not, you'll be able to divide up cities into regions and see how each one fares compared with others. You will need to log in to EA's Origin services to take advantage of this, but it pays off with the right users on your list. You can even team up to create a "Great Works" collaboration – the ultimate city, if you will. (Then see how it compares to others.)
While the general nature of the beast that is SimCity may not have changed, everything else about the upcoming sequel certainly has, from its impressive game engine to its vast possibilities to the return of online functionality. We'll definitely see how it all stacks up when the game finally arrives this March.
Let's just hope the Godzilla-like creature comes back. We want to see things get smashed! (And yes, we're horrible mayors.)