Sim City 4 Review
PC: Electronic Arts
Mac: Aspyr Media
January 14, 2003
Lord Bum of Fartville and the statues in his honour
The now sidelined ‘Sim’ series, the original one, may have dabbled with a number of ideas over the years but the one they settled upon and which has provided us with the most satisfying gameplay any building sim has ever achieved is Sim City 4: it is elegant, busy and, at times, frustrating but satisfying to master. It makes the arduous task of city planning engrossing and fun, and strangely enough the rather more wacky elements of the Sim City series take a back seat for this very serious tongue-in-cheek game.
The game works in a deceptively simple manner by giving you enough command over the construction and management of your city that you feel in complete control without being overwhelmed by options and decisions. This balance of micro and macro-management is key to the success of Sim City 4 as it means you can still feel proud of your personally designed public transport network without having to worry about what trains use which stations and when. The sense of achievement is especially great when you can sit back and enjoy watching a city that you flowered from a single street only half an hour earlier as it rumbles with progress, except your cities are never fully content, and when one problem is resolved another crops up. Even if the issue isn’t pertaining to current facilities you are instead criticised for not making room for more people to move in, and so the endless cycle goes on: the game has no ending but there is only so far you can go in perfecting a mega city before you must move onto the next one.
The game is also played out in part on the provincial map which gives you a marvellous birds-eye view of your giant connected cities. Neighbouring mayors can strike deals to accept trash for cash or vice versa, but beyond that the interaction runs underneath your direct control. If a city does not have enough jobs for its people then it will seek access to another to facilitate the unemployed, allowing you to make your young cities flourish with the aid of more established ones. It also means that cities can specialise and will attract more people of a certain class. On the provincial map this translates into farmland, industrial and urban, but in the main view this deepens: a city with low-skilled jobs will only require people from poorer backgrounds with lesser educational standards and the housing will reflect this. This constant battle between supply and demand will be the driving force behind all of your cities and will make the difference between village and metropolis.
The actual ‘planning’ aspect is one of great mystery as there is no one right way to go about it. I always find that the best cities grow naturally as the needs of the city changes, although a city with straight roads in a grid pattern tends to be much more efficient, if a little dull to look at. The beauty of playing Sim City 4 instead of building your own city for real is that the only person you have to report to is yourself, so your city can look however you want it to. And if that means placing a diagonal road here just to break up the boring straight lines then so be it. Efficiency is only as important as you deem it to be.
The most frustrating aspect of Sim City 4 is trying to lower crime and pollution levels, as both seem wholly unresponsive to any initiative or infrastructure you develop. Your policing advisor will constantly tell you that the corner of your international airport is teeming with lowlife scum, and your ecological advisor will moan about the lack of trees despite your city being 60% greenery, but despite the number of patches now included with the game neither of them seem to be able to cheer up. Aside from that though every problem in the game can be addressed simply and intuitively.
It is not a game for everyone, granted, and yes there is certainly a large aspect of it that is very obsessive compulsive but for those of you who enjoy refining and streamlining then you can’t get any better than this. Of course, what with Sim City (5) on the near horizon you could probably pay more for P&P than the actual game itself if you got it delivered, so why not get into the spirit of city building now before the series giant wakes up again? The expectations, after this gem, are very high indeed.
- Well-paced difficulty curve
- Addictive gameplay
- Very satisfying
- Advisors sometimes difficult to satisfy
- Addictive gameplay
- Few inter-city interactions
Final Verdict: 90%
David loves Sim City 4. Did you like it or think that it was worse than the others?