SimCity review

  • Wonderful visual style
  • Watching Sims go about their lives is great
  • Social and online functionality is innovative
  • Glitches sometimes destroy cities
  • Server issues compound design flaws
  • Small city size might be a turn off

SimCity, like an actual city, only succeeds when everyone and everything works together. And when that happens--when absolutely every system functions exactly as intended--it's one of the most satisfying experiences that exists in gaming. Completing basic tasks like carving streets into the world is an incredible sight to see, and watching houses pop up and populate with miniature people is met with awesome reward. SimCity, at times, is nothing short of brilliant. But its balance is a precarious one, and the moment something doesn't work--when there's even the slightest hitch--everything comes crashing down.

On its most fundamental level, SimCity has you slipping into the comfortable loafers of a mayor, tasked with drawing roads onto a plot of land, coloring around them with residential, commercial, and industrial districts, and surrounding them with government buildings. All the while, you'll need to juggle the wants of your citizens, listening to their demands and reacting to make them happy and productive. SimCity upgrades the basic city building formula at every turn in the form of beautiful visuals, curvy roads, and a new engine that completely changes how you approach building a city.

"SimCity, at times, is nothing short of brilliant."

Maxis named the engine that powers SimCity "GlassBox" because it aims to be transparent. Whereas other games hide their inner workings, GlassBox puts them on display. This transforms everything that happens, from a building fire to a power outage, into bits of helpful, actionable information. It's because of this that the result of your work is immediate and apparent. Drop a park and you can see the land value increase, causing houses to immediately upgrade to larger, fancier estates. Create a new water tower and you can see the water traveling down the streets, spreading throughout your city. The people that live in your town look alive, and you can follow them as they go to work, shop at stores, get stuck in traffic, and return home. It's remarkable, and makes it nearly impossible to stop playing once you've started.

Everything you do is instantly visualized, creating an incredible feeling of accomplishment whenever anything happens. And if something is going wrong, that's apparent, too. SimCity's a remarkably dynamic puzzle, constantly shifting and evolving to challenge you in new, fun ways. It's fulfilling to observe a problem--say, a traffic jam--and find unique ways to fix it. You'll look inside the GlassBox, analyze the issue, and resolve it, feeling as though you've truly accomplished something. But then there are times when things really go wrong, and it's here where SimCity's whimsy and brilliance fall apart.

"It's remarkable, and makes it nearly impossible to stop playing once you've started."

This applies not only to the game's servers, which were barely functional at launch due to the always-online aspect of the game (and the fact that they were overloaded), but to the basic gameplay itself. Because everything is so clear--so transparent--it's frustrating when you're given contradictory information. When one graph tells you to build more houses because there are unfilled jobs, and another one tells you there's an unemployment problem, you're inevitably going to get annoyed. Sometimes you can learn how to deal with the problems and ignore the game's advice, but it's frustrating when SimCity spends so much time screaming at you to fix things that aren't broken.

SimCity often misdiagnoses its own problems, giving you solutions that actually compound the issues. If a fire truck doesn't arrive in time to put out a blaze because it was stuck in traffic, the game may tell you to build more fire trucks--which, in actuality, will create even worse traffic. Other times, things simply break. You'll sometimes wonder why your police force or firefighters have vanished, and wonder why building new stations won't create any more. Because the game is always-online, and because there's no saved games, this can mean that your city is literally broken. Sadly, these types of problems aren't all that uncommon, and even a small glitch left unchecked can destroy hours of work.

This same system of potential toppled by issues causes problems with the game's Districts. Instead of creating massive, sprawling metropoli, you'll be building multiple small cities in a large area, breaking the zone into manageable chunks. It's a strong concept, making for more intimate, personal affairs and allowing for further specialization, as there's less pressure to turn every city into New York. You can opt to go all-in on a gambling town, focus on industry, or attempt to strike it rich by mining resources--and the ability to join into Districts with friends creates a truly social SimCity experience. While some might dislike being forced to focus on multiple small towns (or to interact with others online), make no mistake: SimCity posits creative connectivity ideas that move the sim genre forward.

"Other times, things simply break." 

But just as is the case with the cities themselves, Districts crumble when things don't line up. You'll stare in confusion as your citizens refuse to take open jobs in other cities, or wonder what happened when donations you offered to neighbors fail to show up. Some of the blame can be heaped onto the game's servers, but other issues come by design--it's simply too difficult to accurately work with neighboring cities, even though it feels like the game was built around it. When Districts work well, you'll be met with the most customizable, adaptable SimCity yet. When they don't, the game is outright dysfunctional.

SimCity's a mess of moving parts, occasionally clicking into place and allowing for brilliant experiences before coming undone and tearing everything down. With updates to both server stability and the game itself, SimCity's wonderful moments may be able to overtake the bad ones to create the best game in the series. But if those don't come, EA's bustling metropolis may end up a ghost town.

More Info

Release date: Jun 11 2013 - Mac
Mar 05 2013 - PC (US)
Available Platforms: Mac, PC
Genre: Simulation
Published by: Electronic Arts
Developed by: Maxis
ESRB Rating:
Everyone 10+

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  • AceOfCrimson - March 12, 2013 12:25 p.m.

    Im so glad I don't buy EA games anymore they screwed everyone over with DRM thinking it won't affect the user's experience. Go to hell EA and may your company burn down with your greed and ignorance to your consumers.
  • talleyXIV - March 11, 2013 8:18 p.m.

    If server issues weren't a problem I'd say this is a 9/10 if not a perfect score. I love it.
  • winner2 - March 11, 2013 2:36 p.m.

    I was hoping against hope to see a big fat 0/5 just to spite EA. Damn your professionalism Coop.
  • dkao12 - March 11, 2013 1:32 p.m.

    Online DRM sucks soo much but you can't blame it only on the company itself (sure EA isn't a good company). Hackers and pirates also play a huge role in companies using online DRMs. Though it does not excuse them for not preparing the servers, so don't pin all the blame on the company. They need money as much as we do, it's just that piracy is a huge problem in the PC game market.
  • dkao12 - March 11, 2013 1:34 p.m.

    though I'll admit that EA did do a horrible job in using the online DRM here. It could have been a lot better.
  • kyle94 - March 11, 2013 6:10 p.m.

    Many of the people who pirate games are people who: 1) Don't have the disposable income to pay for many games. 2) Live in countries/regions where there is no easy way to get these games, online or in actual stores [China and Brazil being big examples] and/or 3) Wouldn't pay for the games even if they couldn't pirate them. I can completely understand why people would use DRM. The guys who worked on the game absolutely deserve to be credited and paid for their job (though, publishers do take too much money, in my opinion, and the budgets for many games are over-inflated and wasteful). However, while I understand why they use DRM, I really wish they didn't. Especially with "Always-online DRM". That is just a completely idiotic move that pretty much makes it where your game, instead of being pirated in many areas, can't be easily bought at all. And, as the server fiasco shows, can often harm and annoy paying customers just as much, if not more, than pirates. And many forms of DLC can, at best, delay piracy. After all, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Several companies (such as GOG, Ice-pick Lodge, the humble bundle series, and several others that I can't remember off of the top of my head) have actually increased their profits by removing DRM, having sales, and speaking honestly and kindly to the sort of people who normally pirate. Hell, Ice-Pick Lodge went on piracy websites, answered questions about the game in the comment section of the game's torrent, and even uploaded and released their own torrent containing bonus material for the game. All they did was ask people to buy the game after trying it, if they like it and have the money, and the studio claims that the amount of sales of the game actually did go up after they did that.
  • BladedFalcon - March 11, 2013 12:12 p.m.

    Hmm, considering how Stubborn Cooper can get sometimes, I was expecting this to get at least 4 stars despite all the glaring issues that have come out. Simply because he had been so adamant to defend the game and speak highly of it when it worked. So, with that said, it's really respectable to see him giving what, at least from what I've gathered from other places, videos, and complaints, a very honest, down to earth review for the game. Because, anyone who knows me or bothers to read my posts, knows that I've already condemned and boycotted EA for among other things, how dismal was their handling of this whole situation. But even then, I acknowledge that when this game works right, it's really gorgeous and satisfying, so it's not like I would expect the reviewer to suddenly go and give this game less than 2 stars even if the launch was disastrous and made the game nigh unplayable. So yes, kudos to Cooper for what I feel it's a pretty much spot on score for the game from what I've gathered. With very potential highs, but marred with very terrible and annoying lows, specially for having to be published by the giant corporate asshole that is EA.
  • Sinosaur - March 11, 2013 1:11 p.m.

    Having listened to him talk about the game on the last Radio Radar, it seemed like he really wanted for it to be a 4 or a 5, but just couldn't quite bring himself to justify it. Even without EA making a giant mess of the launch, the game's not quite able to meet its potential. Of course, it's possible that if Maxis supports this for awhile, SimCity could be top tier a year from now... although by then, who knows how small the audience for the game will be.
  • BladedFalcon - March 11, 2013 1:31 p.m.

    "Having listened to him talk about the game on the last Radio Radar, it seemed like he really wanted for it to be a 4 or a 5, but just couldn't quite bring himself to justify it. " Indeed. And see, this is exactly why I think professional reviews are important, and why they are far more valid than a random fanboy or person's opinion. Even though a reviewer's opinion is still subjective, they are able to properly acknowledge a game's faults and virtues even if they don't agree or like them. A random user always go to the extremes, and this is clearly seen in say, metacritic user reviews. They love to give either 10s or 0s to a game, and thus is hard to take any of that seriously. Whereas with a review like this, you get to read a fair assessment of both what the game does well, and where it stumbles. Of course, you then also get reviews like the ones that came early for SimCity. Which is why it's also important to distinguish the quality of professional sites for yourself. But even though no one will ever have the right answer, there is always some places that are more trustworthy than others.
  • ncurry2 - March 11, 2013 7:07 p.m.

    I really wish companies would just drop the always online thing for games not designed for it, let me start by saying that. It's just stupid. I'll also open with saying that this is my first origin experience and outside of Mass Effect 2 and a Tiger Woods golf a few years ago, I've had an extremely small amount of first hand exposure to EA. Now, with regards to this review, I think it was pretty well done. I bought the game day 1. I suffered through the servers. But I spent all Saturday and Sunday playing without a single issue. No trouble connecting, no dcs. Hell, I even connected with 2 other friends and played in their region. It was almost entirely superfluous, I gained next to nothing by doing so. But I was able to compare my stats to their stats and I guess that makes it worth it. Anyway, I feel like with all the reviews I've seen since the launch (all reviews that were posted based on the beta were over 90 believe it or not) have solely focused on the server issues which will be all but nonexistent in a matter of days, if not already. There are problems with the game itself but these issues are more often than not completely omitted to leave space for the mass-appealing server bashing. Again, I'm not forgiving the server issues at all. But I think the reviews should focus on the more crucial issues. Like how in a matter of hour(s) (even without cheetah speed, mind you), an entire area can be 100% full and you're left watching traffic and waiting on research to finish. This is made 1000x worse if the map happens to have any slope or hill in it at all. The omission of terrain control is mindboggling. Some people (read: majority) would rather build a single metropolis than a city that only mines and another that only has education and another that only has tourism. But that's purposely made to be an ineligible tactic despite being the sole objective in all the previous entries. But even with all of this, I still enjoy the hell out of the game and I likely will for some time (in the future, anyway. HotS tomorrow, Bioshock later this month so my gaming schedule is pretty full already.) It has issues, for sure. But simply put, it's damn fun and ridiculously addicting. It's a 4 minimum in my books. But I'm not here to argue numeric scores because that's more ridiculous than the absurd server issues this game had. I just want the game's actual faults to be more prominent. Also, Diablo 3 had an even worse launch in my experience and yet it still got good reviews, even though a large chunk of people now completely hate it. What gives?
  • APerfidiousDane - March 11, 2013 11:45 a.m.

    Maybe they should have had a less restrictive beta so that players could have actually caught some of their issues? I've never seen a "beta" that was so short and so restrictive. They just wanted get hype for it so more people would pre order it. Thankfully I didn't pre order so I guess I'll just wait and see if they actually fix any of their issues.
  • mafyooz - March 8, 2013 2:07 a.m.

    I don't normally buy PC games but was toying with the idea of getting this because I've enjoyed previous games, but don't think I'll be getting this, or any other EA game, in future. As for the refunds issue,there may be a case (here in the UK anyway) to force a refund through Trading Standards, as everything about it seems to point to it being sold when not fit for purpose!
  • Zeapron - March 9, 2013 2:48 a.m.

    If EA publishes the game in the EU, and it still has all of those problems, they are gonna have a lot of trouble with EU trade legislation.
  • shawksta - March 7, 2013 9:08 p.m.

    They are literally refusing Refunds, and instead of updating, they tweeted about same sex in their games EA, YOU FUCK UP BIG TIME
  • FemJesse - March 8, 2013 12:22 p.m.

    Making sure your company is not called bigoted is WAY more important that releasing a working product.
  • Shadow Of Death - March 6, 2013 6:37 p.m.

    I liked it up until the point it decided that what I needed was more fires. FIRES EVERYWHERE! I swear the game decided to punish me for doing pretty well by setting everything on fire at once. You know what would be EXCELLENT? Government-only roads. That is to say, roads only police, fire, and medical services can drive on. The game already has a road upgrade system, why not make a designated road system?
  • GR HollanderCooper - March 7, 2013 3:46 p.m.

    Or, you know, making the AI let government trucks onto the road. I had a firetruck that couldn't get anyone to let him onto the road for 48 full hours.
  • JohnnySpazwhacker - March 6, 2013 4:24 p.m.

    I was thinking about getting this for the UK release on Friday, and if server problems weren't enough to put me off it costs £45 on Origin! I wouldn't pay more than £40 for a brand new boxed 360 game, never mind a digital copy of a PC game, so what the hell EA? I can buy the boxed version from Amazon for £35!
  • thereptilehouse - March 6, 2013 12:42 p.m.

    Can I just get this straight? EA have released a game, at full price, which many people have bought, and it's a total mess and is basically unplayable. And because of this, you aren't going to review it? Ten years ago if this happened it would have been a 1/10, avoid-at-all-costs review. That is the right thing to do, because part of being a reviewer is performing a public service - you bring to the attention of the public the best and worst of what is out there. As it is, you've buried this story waayyy down on the title page of the website, and the result of that is that people will waste their hard earned cash on what is a currently a broken game. What you should be doing is shouting it out from the headline - "Sim City 5 is a pile of shit!". You would have thought after Skyrim on PS3 the games press would have learned something. Obviously not, because the whole always-online system is doomed to failure, and always has been.
  • Sinosaur - March 7, 2013 5:32 p.m.

    Part of why they aren't giving an actual review is that eventually the game should be working, and at that point in time, anyone who checks out the review from now will get information that's no longer relevant. They're putting up notes that you should not buy the game now, which easily covers the fact that the game is a broken piece of crap right now, but doesn't give a false impression to people who might look it up a month or two down the line. ...Unless the game is still broken a month or two down the line.