Nov 13, 2007
Would the hardcore SimCity communities please put away their pitchforks and torches? SimCity Societies is definitely an extreme change from previous mainline SimCity titles - did developer Tilted Mill Entertainment ever once say that they wanted to do just another city management rehash? - but it also happens to be a worthy branching off of the unbelievably popular brand. Societies takes a cue from The Sims by keeping gameplay light and simple but also playfully open-ended.
If you've seen any coverage on this game so far, you've probably already heard the gist of it: Societies trades in the insane detail of laying sewage pipes, budgeting taxes, and other such fun tasks from SimCity 4 for a much broader "society" system wherein your city leans in certain directions based on the types of buildings you plop down.
Players are given two basic options: you can go wild and build whatever you desire and then observe what type of city emerges. Or, you can filter the choices through certain city types ranging from the clown-and-candy-filled "Fun City" to the properly 1984-esque Authoritarian regime. While these focused options are fun for a limited amount of time, the real enjoyment comes in building a city one way and then taking a sharp right turn - flooding the streets of your Romantic setting with Capitalist landmarks, for example.
A whopping eight different resources (nine if you count population) act as the requisites to expanding your city. Power and Simoleons (i.e. money) will be familiar to anyone who's touched virtually any previous city simulation game. Unique to Societies, though, are six social values ranging from Productivity to Spirituality to Knowledge. Each building expends and produces a certain amount of one or more of these values, and the more your city uses any one value, the more buildings you unlock related to that value. Greater Spirituality usage might grant you a new cathedral, while an overabundance of Prosperity could lead to bigger banks or office buildings.
Of the game's 500+ buildings, just under 200 are locked from the start, but nearly all of them were opened up after a mere 10-15 hours of casual play, so there's no huge barrier to what passes for progression in Societies.
In fact, that ease of entry is an important element of Societies, which is sure to pick up some fans from the same crowd that has made The Sims such an unabashed success. Yes, we're talking about the much-maligned casuals. Where SimCity proper required intense mental concentration to balance the many fronts of running a realistic city, Societies allows players to kick back and experiment with very little worry of their city heading in a direction they don't like or falling prey to a disaster... unless they summon one.
While that's a smart move for the franchise from a business stand point, it also severely limits the actual content packed into the game. There's enough fun to be had toying around with various society types to make the game worth a purchase, but the more you start placing the same buildings over and over again, the less interesting the game becomes.
Publisher EA's solution to this is commendable: power to the people. EA claims that Societies is the "most moddable SimCity ever." Whether or not that's true, though, it remains to be seen if Societies can pull in a dedicated enough community to keep new content coming. After all, the hardcore SimCity fanatics are unlikely to be pulled into this simplified game.
It's also worth pointing out that there were some apparently widespread framerate issues still present in our review build of the game. Whenever we built our city to a certain size, things started slowing to a crawl, making some of the higher medals and achievements in the game that much more difficult to attain. EA says a patch will be out very soon (possibly by the time you read this) that should help resolve these problems, but it's uncertain whether this will be a total or partial fix.
So yes, Societies may cater to the mainstream, and yes, it might have a few important shortcomings. Regardless, it remains a surprisingly well-executed and satisfying game. We would not be at all surprised to see some of the more forward-thinking concepts from Societies somehow implemented in the inevitable SimCity 5, but until then Societies provides a great appetizer and yet another perfect gateway game from the Sims franchise.