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Spend hours designing the perfect city, watching as tens of thousands of invisible Sim people move in and make it their home. Create a road network that spells out your favourite swear word, visible from outer space, and humbly accept the gift of a statue in your honour. Then smash the whole thing to pieces with a giant hammer and a huge spiky ball…
This version of SimCity offers nearly as many ways to destroy as it does to create, but given the amount of effort it takes to build anything worth dropping an asteroid on, the violence is best saved for the ready-made model cities that offer teasing glimpses of what could be possible with enough time and patience. It’s simple to play. Point the remote at the screen, draw a wiggly road, and paint some splodges of colour to show the zone (type of building) you want to go there. Hook the whole thing up to a power station, tunnel down to an underground view to add water pipes, then see how it develops.
Everything you build costs money, which you earn back by charging taxes. You can sweeten the deal for the Sims by making their residential areas green and uncrowded, ensuring they can travel to work easily, and siting the dirtier parts of the urban machinery well away from the posh bits. Once you delve into the pop-up menus there’s loads of stuff you can add to the city, including the Wii-specific ‘hero buildings’ that influence the style of architecture around them. If you want a business district made from donuts and biscuits, the option is there.
Drawing directly onto the map means you can create strange shapes with your roads and zones, but the stickiness of the pointer makes everything looks like it was sketched in the back of a car as it sped over a potholed road. Luckily there are tools for doing boxes, circles and straight lines. Neat cities look better. Although the menus are easy enough to navigate, the game insists on pausing every time you access them. Fair enough when you want to design an area without having Sims mess it up before you’ve finished, but the enforced slowness can be annoying. Even at full speed, the pace is glacial.
We often wound up selecting the wrong type of tool, drawing a line when we wanted a square, and then having to go back into the menus several times to select a bulldozer, flatten the mistake, reselect the correct shape and carry on. There’s no undo function either. Disregarding those problems, which may well be related to our own clumsiness and impatience, SimCity Creator is more than just a brilliant sandbox to mess around in. If you want a more structured challenge, there’s a mission mode that gives you a partially built city and sets various goals, from reducing traffic congestion to attracting tourists or promoting greener industry.
Some of the challenges introduce gameplay elements that you might otherwise miss, so they’re more useful than ordinary tutorials. In a twisted vision of London 2012, one mission required us to build sports facilities to nurture a professional athlete, which we did at the expense of the city’s entire police, fire, education and public health budget. Because managing all areas of a large city can become a pain, it’s possible to employ assistants to do the donkey work for you. If you stick them in neglected areas they’ll build zones according to the residents’ needs. To test it out, we put six assistants in an empty field, drew a few roads to get them started, and within half an hour we had a city of more than 20,000.
More advanced players can enter contests, which are like advanced versions of the mission mode with online scoreboards for comparing your progress with other players. But if you haven’t got an internet connection for your Wii, you can’t play this mode at all. With a collection of galleries for viewing the landmarks you’ve unlocked, some flight-based minigames and the option to have multiple cities on the go, there’s more to SimCity Creator than most players are likely to see. The 30 built-in missions will be exhausted eventually, as will the challenge mode – for those with access to it – but the main sandbox mode is completely open-ended. Building something impressive is difficult, but if frustration sets in you can deliberately set the place alight and then play the hero by managing the emergency services. Everyone’s a winner.
Sep 29, 2008