Megalomaniacs love to play god. The SimCity series makes ruling a world fun, even for people not obsessed with delusions of grandeur. The genius of SimCity, however, has always involved what you, as the mayor/god, can't control. Any buffoon can destroy a city with the help of tornados, Godzilla, or a flood. Getting the stubborn "sims" to follow your lead, however, is a tricky assignment. SimCity 4 offers complicated budget, business, and transit systems along with the expected (and great) gameplay of the SimCity series. With the fourth installment of a series, however, players should wonder if there's any reason to keep playing.
The biggest change from SimCity 3000 allows players to construct a metropolis of interconnected cities within "regions." Want a neighboring city to be a giant landfill? Build one. Need more water? Build an aquifer next door. Having neighbors offers immediate benefits for a city's industrial and commercial businesses, too, since they will be able to easily export and import products. The concept of a megalopolis is intriguing, but in practice it's mostly boring. Building multiple cities is time-consuming, and the need for city after city squelches the individualized personality of each borough. It's interesting to incorporate a new town's geography into the design, but individualized city plans were possible in earlier incarnations of SimCity too.
When zoning, as in SimCity 3000, mayors can choose from low, medium, and high density zones. High density zones are more expensive and cause traffic problems, but bring in more tax money. Deciding, early in a city's life, how to zone can be difficult. The medium density zones seem to be the best bargain, allowing moderate density without too much expense. Later in a city's life, with highways and developed mass transportation systems, high density zones are an attractive option.
City finances are the biggest challenge for any mayor, and SimCity 4 ups the ante with expensive city services and "rewards" that inevitably cost money. Sure, a soccer stadium is nice, but the resultant $400 per month is pricey. Players can attempt to market their city to high-wealth citizens and businesses -- a good plan -- but it's tough. Wealthy denizens want the best health care, education, services, and, to top it off, low tax rates. Pollution, garbage disposal, decaying power plants, and other fun byproducts of civilization will regularly torment mayors as well. Of course, SimCity, SimCity 2000, and SimCity 3000 were challenging as well, but SimCity 4 may be the toughest yet. The additional headache of coordinating multiple cities and their respective needs, while interesting, adds a new element of challenge.
The SimCity San Francisco earthquake or Godzilla-attacks-Tokyo scenarios were always fun. Unfortunately, SimCity 4 has little to offer beyond the basic city building modes. Options include regions of the world, like Paris, but players will have to construct the famous cities themselves. One new feature, called "My Sims" allows users to import Sims into their city. If they don't have any specific Sims, generic Sims can be created and imported. It's not terribly exciting, though; your Sims will find jobs and complain about various things, but seldom provide any new information.
With such an impressive pedigree, much is expected of SimCity 4. The impeccable gameplay has been tweaked, giving the same great urban cycles with just a little more challenge. The graphics, especially the new nighttime displays, are dazzling, and the regional options are impressive. However, SimCity 4 lacks scenarios, ready-made cities from the developers, and some new features -- the first person "streetside" view was discussed during development, but is absent. Whether or not players enjoy SimCity 4 for extended periods will depend on how much they like the basic city-building the series has always offered. Not too much has changed.
Graphics: Marvelous detail, especially on the highest zoom level. However, the graphics do cause the engine to chug along when scrolling, and zooming in and out causes problems as well.
Sound: Beeps, honking, sirens, explosions, and other city sounds. Nothing too impressive, but the noises add a needed touch.
Enjoyment: The excellent gameplay of the SimCity series has been tweaked, slightly; it's fun, and challenging.
Replay Value: For players who love city building, there's infinite play. However, scenarios and pre-made cities would have added a great deal of gameplay.
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