Since the disappointing SimCity Societies was released last year, a lot of changes have appeared in various updates. Many have significantly improved the core game, and addressed the reasons why it scored so poorly. Yet a number of important issues have not been fixed, leaving Societies hovering precariously between the poorly designed initial release and something deserving of the SimCity mantle. And now we have Destinations, the first add-on pack.
The theme of the new pack is to create a city that encourages tourism, bringing extra business from beyond your borders. You’re equipped with many new Venue buildings – Sim entertainment structures – from hotels and B&Bs to luxury resorts and theme parks, tailored to encourage tourism, and hence create a new revenue stream. Some are uniquely for tourists, providing accommodation. Others are used by locals for free, but have an entry fee for out-of-towners. And that’s it. You’re paying considerable cash for a new game mode, and on top of the price of the original game, which it requires to run, that’s way too much. Especially when you consider what has been added to SimCity Societies in free updates since its initial release.
The biggest flaw of the original Societies was just how frustratingly easy it was to play. In a single city you could unlock every achievement, reach maximum capacity, and have nothing but ecstatic citizens and a budget bursting at the seams, with minimal effort. Now called Creative Mode, this super-simple game is only one way to play. Strategic Mode ramps up the difficulty. The first and most significant change is building maintenance. Nearly everything you build now comes with a daily upkeep cost, which requires some extremely careful budgeting. Sliders enable you to decide how much you want to spend on building types, letting you gamble on their falling into disrepair, and the resulting economic and social loss. It’s a crucial addition, and rewrites how you approach the game. But when a bank makes 1,000 a week, but costs 672 to keep open, there’s no tricky decision to make.
Sims in the updated Societies will also work for longer, and spend more time visiting Venues, thus doing less in a day, and thus requiring more specifically targeted entertainment. In fact, the buggers are generally a lot harder to keep in a good mood. And achievements and monuments are now limited to one per city, sensibly encouraging you to focus on a particular theme, as well as keeping the Jack Of All Trades achievement for those wishing to mix and match. The result is a very hard game, which after the simplicity of before is perhaps missing a rather vital space between.
The updates have made many other new additions to both modes, such as buildings having particular influences on their surrounding area, and Scenarios that were inexcusably absent originally. There’s also a refreshing tendency toward silliness. Consider the Burgazoid 6000 disaster. A failed experiment in creating a more efficient cheeseburger creates a vast, laser beam-shooting burger-monster that causes mini-earthquakes with every step. That’s the sort of thing we like.
What don’t we like? The most ridiculous part of Societies is still the ability to spam the map with various Decorations to increase points in various required categories. Need more Spirituality? Stick a dozen shrines in the bottom left of the map, miles from anything, and the points are still yours. A UFO crash site can still replace a school. And worst of all, the feedback makes little sense. A city built almost entirely of Venues can have enraged citizens rioting because they can’t find anywhere to visit. Why not?! And the engine still can’t cope with its own game, staggering with a medium-size city. Fix it!
The original Creative game mode, now sprinkled with Destinations’ tourism and the numerous improvements makes for a more distracting (if still overly easy) time. Getting anyone at all to visit your lands will take a few hours of work. Impressing them takes a few more. The Strategic game mode needs a lot more balancing – something I suspect will happen in the next update. If you want a challenge, it’s there aplenty. At the price, plus the money you’ll spend for the core game, Destinations is hard to recommend. That price for just Societies, on the other hand, gets easier to justify with each update. Societies still doesn’t compare to the orchestrated intricacy of SimCity 2000, and that still isn’t good enough. But Destinations is even worse value for what it adds.
Aug 6, 2008