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SimCity Beta Impressions

The closed beta for EA and Maxis’ SimCity ended yesterday. For those lucky enough to obtain a code, you have probably already put in some time. Others who might still be on the fence and unable to play the beta might wonder just what this upcoming city-management sim has to offer. We at Vivid Gamer managed to get our hands dirty with the weekend beta. Below are what we gathered, good and bad, from the newest entry in the popular SimCity series. A note to all: Due to the terms of the beta, there will be no mention of any bugs that may or may not have been encountered during play.

If you have been keeping up with all the SimCity titles released, you will likely be able to see any and all changes between the previous entries and this one. I have to admit that it had been some time since I played SimCity 4 and I actually have more hours on SimCity 2000. Due to this, I really didn’t see much difference between what I recall of SimCity 4 and SimCity. The ones that I did noticed are mentioned below such as the graphics and how things are tied into being connected to the roads you lay down.

When you first load up the beta, you are taken to Summer Shoals, which is where the tutorial portion of the game takes place. The tutorial doesn’t count as part of your hour slice within the beta so you can take your time in getting familiar with the controls. If you played a previous entry in the series, you will recognize some of the basic controls. At the bottom of the screen is where you will find the buttons to build roads, lay out the residential/commercial/industrial zones, place important buildings such as the police and fire stations, and the necessary power and water plants.

The tutorial takes you through a step-by-step process that has you taking over the reins of the city after the protesting citizens had the previous mayor kicked to the curb. In hopes of gaining their approval, you build a small section of road to connect the city to the highway. It should be noted that the highway is considered the lifeline of each and every city. Your city will never prosper unless you have that connection to the outside. Once the road has been built, it’s time to hook up the power and water. Not to mention to make sure that the need for an active police force and the fire station are filled. You even get to take a trip to the neighboring city, which appears to be a gambler’s heaven, to discuss working together with collecting the garbage.

Once you get a feel for the basics, it is time to delve into the meat of the beta, and likely the main reason people have been hankering to get a beta key: building a city from the ground up. If you’ve played any of the other SimCity titles, you will recognize some changes that Maxis has given this latest installment. One such change is that you can’t freely zone areas or place buildings in any old spot. Instead, the areas you zone or the building you want to place must be connected by a road. This can prove to be a pain at times. However, it’s not so bad once you get used to it. You can still place roads and important buildings (town hall/police station/the like) in areas that have been zoned.

When you start out, it is best to lay down the main road that all your other roads will connect to and then start planning the best areas to zone and get power set up. I loved how there is some strategy involved in the placement of things. Hospitals and other valuable services show off a bright green radius that highlights the area that will have an impact from its placement there. If you don’t place enough to cover all your citizens, the outcome can be disastrous. When the time comes to supply the city with water, you will have to take into account the water saturation level in the area you want to place the water tower. The higher the saturation, the more water your citizens will have at their disposal. Even if you get the water set up, you cannot forget to hook up the power to the city so make sure you take care of that.

As you build up your population, you get to unlock more and more buildings to use. Most things are unavailable for use in the beta though you still get plenty to work with. I was disappointed when I was informed that the citizens approved I could build my mayor’s house only to learn that it’s not available during the beta. There are achievements to unlock and goals to aim for. You might not get any during the hour of gameplay, but you will come close on some.

To take the focus off of the gameplay for a bit, I want to talk about how I could listen to the music in SimCity even when I’m not playing the beta. Also let me tell you how nice those graphics are. Though I had to put them on the lowest setting due to my laptop’s video card, they still looked sharp. Slightly blocky, but I imagine this wouldn’t be the case for those with good video cards. SimCity also gives you the option to change the color filter, which is helpful for those who might be colorblind or want to experience the game in a black-and-white view. One nifty thing about the different businesses and factories is how varied and quirky the names are. I had factories that specialized in llama meat production and a bridal shop that wanted brides to say yes already. It’s the small things like this that give SimCity some personality.

Speaking of small, some might find the area you can build your city in to be a bit cramped. However, the ability and need to expand to other cities within your region make up for this. Each city needs to work with one another in order to thrive. If you don’t work together, each city will dwindle in population and you could lose your job as mayor.

Getting the chance to experience the closed beta, I can’t help but want SimCity to come out sooner than the March 5 release date. It’s a fun title that will likely suck up many countless hours for fans of the SimCity series. Some might be concerned with the always-online DRM that EA has opted to use with this title, as players will not be able to even access their cities if the servers are down, but hopefully this won’t prove to be too large of an issue in the final product.

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