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Game preview: SimCity

 One hour is nowhere near long enough to get your fill of the new SimCity.I've played SimCity for a long time. I remember when one of my classmates in intermediate school sneakily installed SimCity 2000  on a school PC, and we would all fight over who got to play at lunchtime. Whoever won the honours would sit there surrounded by their friends as they played God, building up a city and lording over it. Some people were benevolent and would take their time, keep taxes low, and invest in clean energy. Others would hike taxes, ignore citizens, and ultimately unleash a giant killer robot on the world (although not without saving first).The new SimCity, which went into closed beta in late January, is a much cleaner, more streamlined experience than the game I played as a kid, and my first impression was that it's also quite a bit easier. At the bottom of your screen, a bar shows you what kind of property zones are in demand, so you know whether to zone residential, industrial or commercial at any given point. Rather than just zoning the kind of density you want - low density, medium density, and so on - you have to try and attract wealthier Sims through strategic placement of buildings and parks. You also have to make sure to put your industrial area downwind of your residential area, and somehow separate it from your residents. It appears there's a lot of strategic depth - I barely scratched the surface - but if you pay attention, you'll be earning thousands of dollars an hour in no time at all and spending much less. Unlike previous SimCity games, it's not difficult at all to keep your city in the black.There are also extra missions that you can complete - they're optional - to guide you through the basics of city creation. A mission might ask you to increase your population, for example, or build a Town Hall. Then there are your citizens, who will helpfully inform you why they're happy or unhappy, so you can learn from them.

Developer Maxis has also done away with terraforming. You get a space to build your city on, and you build - you can't raise or flatten land. The jury's out on whether this is good or bad. It simplifies things, but many - myself included - enjoyed the added complexity of being able to adjust your environment.

 However, in exchange for losing the ability to terraform, players get a couple of new things. It may not sound remarkable, but being able to lay down curved roads is actually pretty cool. Granted, laying your city out in a grid is still a much more efficient use of space, but it's definitely nice to have different parts of your city look, well, different. It also helps you to get around natural barriers such as beaches. 

Unfortunately I wasn't able to experience much of the multiplayer in the beta, except for a couple of little interactions in the tutorial segment. Happily, though, you can become the mayor of neighbouring towns and rule over multiple towns at once, and you can sell and buy resources to other towns whether you run them or not. In the tutorial, I bought water from a neighbouring town, as I didn't have any water towers of my own.Your city can specialise in a number of things - again, I didn't get to experiment with this, as many buildings and functions were off-limits in the closed beta. You could specialise in tourism, or manufacturing, or education, but your city can also be as diverse as you like. Much has already been said and written about SimCity being always-online. Yes, it sucks that you have to have an internet connection to even play the game. However, my router rebooted itself once while I was playing, and I wasn't kicked out of my game - in fact, I was able to just keep playing exactly as I had been until the internet was connected again. Others have complained about being booted when their connections dropped, so I'm not sure why that is.Whatever imperfections SimCity might currently have, each time my hour ran out and I had to abandon my city, I was thoroughly disappointed. An hour just flies by when you're city-building;SimCity is definitely a time-sink. Each time I played I knew what I was doing a little bit better, and got a little bit further before being forced to stop. "Oh well," I thought when warned I had ten minutes left with my fourth city. "Might as well cause a natural disaster."I sat back and watched with maniacal glee.

 


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