In City Life, you must build your city, zone for construction, and bring in taxes, but it doesn't end there. The twist that makes City Life different from other metropolis planning games is the importance placed upon the different people living in the city. Instead of an overall "good" or "bad" rating from the general population, City Life features six different classes of citizens to keep happy.
All six, ranging from the "have-nots" to the "elite" have specific needs and wants to be satisfied. The "have-nots" may be more interested in simple things such as a shopping center and a school, while the wealthier classes might want more extravagant facilities like airports and art museums. Placing a neighborhood of "well-to-do"s next to a neighborhood of "do-nothings" could cause a riot, or other unpleasant occurrences.
The game offers two modes of play: "Sandbox" and "Campaign." "Sandbox" sets up an open environment where you can build everything your heart desires, while "Campaign" mode requires you to complete mission objectives to move onto the next challenge. Each objective has three conditions for victory. Online extras include the option to import and export cities and scenarios to and from your computer from the City Life website.
Maxis created the standard for the city-building genre with their classic 1989 hit Sim City, which has spawned many series and spin-offs over the 17 years since its release, some official, others not. City Life, from French developers Monte Cristo, follows in its footsteps, providing a new twist on the formula; you have to manage multiple conflicting cultures.
So, in what way does the cultural conflict manifest itself? There are six types of resident (with only the first three choosing to move in at the beginning of a game); Have Nots, Fringe, Blue Collar, Radical Chic, Suits and Elite. Each one of these cultures consists of highly stereotyped people ("Have Nots" wearing tatty clothes, "Fringe" driving VW van-style vehicles, and so on). Completely opposed groups (fringe and blue collar, for example) don't like living together at all, but a good city needs all of them to run its services and businesses. If these classes move in near each other for some reason, conflict can occur, which has the potential to end in a drastic manner, with opposing cultures setting fire to each other's houses. Whilst this sounds like it may be difficult to manage on paper, when you actually start to play you find out that it's fairly easy to manage different neighborhoods, as long as you make sure to keep them separate.
Moving on from this obvious difference, there are some less-prominent divergences from the formula. Sim City sees you utilizing zoning to control the city, giving a more realistic experience, whilst City Life offers a far more hands-on approach, with you explicitly choosing what buildings to create, thus allowing you to better manage finances (by virtue of being able to see the maximum tax return to the city). This somewhat adds to the experience, since you feel a lot more in control of your finances and environmental issues, but could potentially be seen as giving too much fine-grained control.
City Life has two different gameplay modes; free play and scenario. These are both pretty much what you'd expect, with free play just being an endless game, and scenario mode having goals to work towards. In free play mode, City Life can start to drag on once you've got elites (the top social class) in your city, but scenario mode provides specific objectives at multiple difficulty levels that gives a sense of challenge, and your achievements in one scenario can unlock others, keeping the game fresh.
Perhaps my only real criticism of City Life is that it can be somewhat simple once you get into it. My first city plunged me deeply into debt, having taken out too many loans, but I soon figured out the trick to rectifying this - destroying the most unprofitable/unneeded businesses and services - and was quickly back into the black. In some ways this is actually a bonus; being unable to recover from debt always put me off Sim City, but more hardcore players may find themselves seeking a greater challenge. Aside from this, the only issues I found were minor text-related slips; a few bits of untranslated text, a typo or two, none of which affect gameplay.
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