SimCity Review

SimCity was the first of its kind, a city simulator that allowed you to rule your city as mayor and inundated you with tasks related to its macro-management. It established a genre that spawned a plethora of city simulation games, such as The Settlers, Anno, Caesar, StarTopia, and Cities XL. It also brought several other Sims franchises to life, the most popular being The Sims, a game that zooms in on the micromanagement of a sim’s day-to-day life.

Here we are in 2013, ten years after the last SimCity release with an all new entry into the series. The latest SimCity aims to return to its roots and focus on the fun and entertaining aspects of playing mayor. Previous simulation games focused on appealing to the long-term fans of the franchise, the same group that enjoy 4x games such as Civilization and Master of Orion, where small choices here and there lead into bigger consequences (both good and bad) down the line.

Does SimCity have what it takes to survive in this modern market or has Maxis failed to deliver? Let’s find out.


SimCity is rated E 10+ for mild violence (comical hijinks), so reserve this title for children 10 and older. It also requires an Internet connection, even if you want to play alone in single-player mode.

Gameplay - 97 / 100

SimCity is an addictive revamp of a
franchise that was in dire need of a reboot. It provides an endless
supply of instant gratification. SimCity, (not
SimCity 5, even though it's the 5th release in the series), is the
perfect moniker, because the newly revamped version has returned to the
franchise's kinder, gentler roots.

To get what I’m saying you have to hop into a time machine
back to the year 1989, when PCs were labeled by their processor
designation (286, 386, and 486), the best computers had turbo buttons,
monitors took up the entire desk, and the CD-ROM was an emerging
technology. SimCity was released on various home
computing systems (Amiga, Commodore 64, DOS, Macintosh, etc.) and was
You could plop down residential, commercial, or industrial
(RCI) plots that would grow based on happiness and wealth. Both were
managed with roads, police, fire, power, and parks. It was addictive,
but simplistic, and you could play forever and not even realize you
were at the computer.



Future titles were drastically different from the original,
but held the core concept that you were a mayor, you zoned RCI, and you
managed a city infrastructure. SimCity 2000,
released in 1994, added an excess of new features including hospitals,
schools, prisons, airports, mass transportation, and much more. SimCity
and SimCity 4 continued the
trend, expanding the game’s depth, but greatly increasing both the time
commitment required and the learning curve. The SimCity titles were
suddenly more than games, they were full-on simulators.


Eventually the series painted itself into a corner--the
complexity of the simulation was too much for the mass-market,
appealing only to existing fans of the franchise. SimCity became a
niche simulator for heavy thinkers who would dedicate hours and hours
to getting a city off the ground without reverting to cheating
(although SimCity caters to weaknesspays fans
with a Sandbox mode that allows you to add money in single player mode
to your heart's content). Is that a terrible thing? No, I admit that
I’ve logged hundreds and hundreds of hours into SimCity 4
and its predecessors, meticulously managing each city as if it were a
bonsai tree. SimCity was the best at what it did, and succeeded at
being a perfect time-waster, even when it wasn't exactly an
entertainment application.

SimCity's 2013 iteration sheds itself of
the city management bloat and returns to the formula that made the
franchise fun in the first place. SimCity is
still a die-hard city simulator, but it gracefully sweeps a lot of the
RCI computation and city modeling under the rug and presents a user
interface that is simple to use, but powerful, with each decision, each
choice, having a drastic impact on the city.

Playing through my first city, I immediately noticed a key
difference – there are no highways, no subways, no water pipes, or
power lines. Utilities and most mass transit are connected directly to
the road, so you don’t have to ruin your perfect grid layout trying to
place bus stops. These are major quality of life changes that remove a
lot of the more annoying aspects of the game and let you focus on what
everyone really wants to do – build giant successful cities.


In my first city, I noticed that the game, while simpler,
isn’t forgiving and doesn’t lock you into training wheels. It will let
you fail and fail hard. There are many different routes to recovery,
but if you expand too quickly and develop high-tech industry before
your residents are educated enough, then you’ll have an industrial
collapse. Build a nuclear power plant without skilled residents to run
it and you’ll be staring a fun lesson in hazmat waste.

At the same time, the game is graceful in everything it does.
Failing, winning, advancing, or decaying all happens smoothly. The
transitions are logical, and the GlassBox engine makes sure that you
have enough data on everything
to truly grip what the issue is. No more “zots” blinking helplessly
letting you know that something is wrong, you can easily get the
general idea. In my first city, disease ran rampant, buildings began to
abandon, and it quickly became unprofitable fast due to my neglect of a
strong hospital system. After some demolition and a few steps back, I
was able to recover and make my city even stronger than before (and
more profitable).

The game pushes back against you often, either in the form of
gotchas (too much discretionary spending, lack of education, crime
waves, fires, homelessness) or disasters, creating a constant need for
city management and always giving you something to do while
building your empire. This is where the real fun is, since
everything makes sense, has reasonable solutions, and never truly backs
you into a corner unless you sit within your mansion laughing manically
as you constantly send lizard monsters at your residents.

Another way the game pushes back is that infrastructure isn’t
that expensive to place, but very expensive to maintain, and you can’t
cut funding arbitrarily, it’s either an all or nothing expense (you can
turn individual buildings off, but you can’t allocate funding building
by building, which keeps from allowing you to cause strikes, but makes
the budgeting cut and dry). You need to build up before you build out,
so that you have the income to support expansion of city infrastructure.

Of course, one of the features I absolutely love is the
creative things you can do with industry. While a lot of the other
management features are gone (ordinances, strikes, power lines, water
pipes, etc.), there are now industries that work on a global market.
For instance, to make money you can educate your entire
population and get them recycling, then turn their recycled goods into
plastics or alloys, then either use those materials in your industry or
sell them at a profit. There are many neat ways to go about things like


Power isn't an
on/off thing, the power grid will compensate for failures and ration
power to avoid critical failures.

The game isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, but I will argue
that’s at least 49% sunshine, 49% rainbows, and 2% burnt marshmallows.
Traffic modeling is still a bit buggy, but I’m not really sure if we’re
talking SimCity 4 traffic modeling (which
resulted in a Rush Hour expansion to add
additional mass transit, followed by NAM (Network Addon Mod), a player
created solution to SC4’s traffic woes) or if we’re talking bad
mayoring. If your city expands too fast and you reach 100,000 sims,
then you’ll notice traffic jams everywhere. But if you take your time
and invest in all forms of transportation, including trains, then
traffic isn’t that big of a deal.

A random side note, sims construct FLUSH
with the road, making diagonal and circular roads viable. This is a
major improvement over previous titles where diagonal roads were like
salt in coffee.

Some other key burn marshmallow issues are the map sizes. They
all fit around “medium” in previous games, so you can’t really make
giant cities. I’m sure this will be rectified in later map releases,
but it’s an issue nonetheless. A lack of a map editor is also
kind of annoying. I’d like to make my own regions to keep things
interesting, but the ones provided  seem satisfying enough and
I believe it’s a design choice for multiplayer. There's no building
editor, either, or any way to mod the game, although Maxis has said the
functionality is built but won’t be enabled until later.

The multiplayer aspect really helps make the game shine. In
the past, when starting a city you would often find yourself having to
make a choice at your first fire or crime wave--do you plunge your
newly founded city into debt, or do you put on your budget-miser hat
and watch your residents suffer? Now, when faced with such a
dilemma, friends can allocate some of their infrastructure to
race to your city to help deal with crime, fire, and medical
emergencies. I’ll discuss region play a bit more later on but, needless
to say, I love it.

In summary, the gameplay is phenomenal. Sure, it’s
not nearly as in-depth as previous iterations of the game, but that’s a
good thing. Not having to suffer saving money up for water pipes,
juggling ordinances and their costs, and dealing with a simtrillion
issues doesn’t mean that the game is bad; it just means it’s a good way.

Graphics - 87 / 100

I’m not sure how to describe the graphics, honestly. They’re good, really, and they look fine. They do go in an entirely different direction from the previous games' ultra-realistic approach to city rendering, however. The graphics are similar to World of Warcraft’s cartoon-style graphics--everything looks smooth and it’s all pleasing to the eye. I’m not really sure that the technology is there yet to carry on advanced simulation while also have jaw dropping graphics, so it's difficult to gauge where our expectations should sit.

Modeling of other cities in the region is a bit sketchy, which is one of the reasons I’m to understand that cities are far away from each other in a region, instead of side-by-side. If you look closely they don’t look very appealing, but work well for sitting in the backdrop.

Some things are really cool, graphics wise. At night lights flicker on and in the day they flicker off. You can zoom in rather far and everything on the street level is detailed rather well, although even with anti-aliasing on I found lots of artifacts. Your mileage may vary.

The attention to detail is where the game really shines, though. In SC4, cars would fade in and out, only representing a rough estimate of what traffic was like on that road, not actually modeling real traffic. SC4 is a bit different--each car is a real car on the road, and it can leave your region and come back. The GlassBox engine simulates each sim’s day to day life, as previously mentioned, rolling all of the complicated factors of the game together and hiding them behind a simple interface. So there are living, breathing, sims roaming your streets, actual cars and school buses zooming through town, and more.

The interface is also superb, it’s simple, easy to use, and provides a wealth of information on every subject. From the data layers showing the violent throws of sewage through your city to the description of each ploppable, the game is brilliant. Zots (those blinking symbols above distressed buildings) are somewhat back, but solving their issues is made easier by the various data layers.

Sound - 90 / 100

The music is actually really enjoyable. I was surprised, since the previous games usually featured a soundtrack inspired by elevator music (which isn’t necessarily a terrible thing, mind you). However, where the game really shines is in the sound effects. Every click on the map will answer back with a brain-pleasing response tone. Everything you do is rewarded with something audible, from checking into your massive skyscrapers to seeing the efficiency of your recycling plant.

Another neat thing is that the “jukebox” (the music player, as it has been called in previous games) is intelligent and changes the music based on population, current events, and zoom level. It enhances the immersion into the city. During disasters, like a zombie attack, the music fades into something appropriately creepy.

I’m satisfied with the music and sound in SimCity and really have no negative points to make. For a simulation game, it’s top tier.

Multiplayer - 77 / 100

Lots of reviewers are being overly harsh on SimCity
right now
because of the online only play and the current service issues. I’m a
bit more realistic when approaching the subject. Although
I respect the community's opinion on the
subject, I have my
opinion. I don’t feel like I should drag the game through the
dirt because the launch wasn’t perfectly smooth, or that the game
should be villified for taking the Diablo 3
aproach and requiring online play.

If you don’t get what I’m talking about, Diablo 3
is a single player game that requires you to be online in order to
play, the same as the latest SimCity. SimCity
requires an internet connection, and your
cities are saved within Maxis’s servers rather than locally. Many say
this tactic was employed
for DRM concerns only, but GlassBox has been designed to allow Maxis’s
cloud computing system to share the burden of the heavy simulation, so
that the game runs smoothly for most computers and lets their massive
network help with the heavy lifting. Your computer is no longer the
number crunching facility when it comes to figuring out each sim’s
day-to-day life, Maxis is sharing some of that burden.

Still, I can understand the grief that the online play requirement has caused some.
Being unable to play solo without being online isn’t a satisfying
experience, especially right now when the game servers are overloaded from
the launch frenzy.

You do, however, lose
a lot
the fun in the game whenever you lock yourself into a private region.
SimCity isn’t like previous titles where you goal
is to fill a giant
blank region with various cities then stand up, grab a coffee, and pat
yourself on the back. This is a cooperative online game where your city
lives and breathes with multiple other cities captained by various
other mayors. This is a game where you want to work together with other
players, show off your city to your friends online, and reap the
enormous benefits of being able to buy and sell power to other actual


Your neighbors work together to unlock various tech, build the
great works that benefit everyone’s towns, and supply resources,
assistance, and utility trades amongst everyone. There is just so much
good mojo involved in playing online multiplayer that I’ve yet to have
a single urge to play by myself.

While I understand that the growing trend of requiring online
play for games that work as single-player is frustrating, and my multiplayer score reflects
that, I personally enjoy the multiplayer aspects of the game. I would like to note that a lot
of the queue issues have decreased since additional servers went live, and
Maxis has shown good faith in working on the problems.

Value - 82 / 100

The price tag is steep, coming in at $59.99 for the regular edition and $79.99 for the deluxe edition. There have been various promotions from both EA ($20 off a future purchase), Amazon $20 gift card, or various other retailers specials, but let’s just focus on the $59.99. It’s worth it, for sure, and there is a ton of replayability. So whenever it discounts, it should hold its value well. The game has been barely out for 24 hours and I’ve played a full 18 of that and intend to continue on. For me, I’m definitely going to be getting my money’s worth.

Lasting Appeal - 95 / 100

On a scale of rock star to Howard Hughes, I’d put this game in the “tissue boxes are fashionable footwear in my honest opinion” category. The addictive nature of the game had me play from 1 AM until 11 PM, almost missing an important meeting, followed by a few hours of sleep before jamming my mayoral top hat back on my head and managing my city.

This game lures you into a false sense of security with simplistic gameplay and instant gratification, then entraps you with its surprising depth and sheer entertainment value. It’s hard to contain my excitement for the gameplay as I write this, desperately wanting to log back in and play it instead of writing right now.

Instead of a perfect 100, from my rambling fanboy enthusiasm, I will critique one thing – the lack of a map editor can cut into the game time, and I hope editable regions come to SimCity at some point. That’s negative 10 DKP. Maxis, if you're reading this, please let us edit regions or design our own regions at some point. Even if the city locations remain static, let us terraform the land ourselves, I beg you.

Pros and Cons


  • Wonderfully addictive gameplay.
  • Simplistic UI hides the complicated management systems and presents data in a delightfully easy to understand way.
  • Online multiplayer takes the series to an entirely new level.
  • Diagonal roads are viable.
  • Sandbox mode takes the effort out of cheating, allowing the player to just enjoy the city building aspects, ala RollerCoaster Tycoon 3.


  • Requires an Internet connection to play, even in single-player.
  • No map editor or custom regions.
  • Queues to play at launch.
  • Map sizes are "medium", no extra large maps currently available.


Moving away from the fact that the Internet is required for single-player mode, this game is outright delightful. The gameplay is addictive, fun, easy to learn, and takes the series back to its roots--that honest innocent fun of placing. Even if you’re not a fan of the series, SimCity offers enough to draw you in by shedding the complicated simulation aspects of its predecessors and focusing on pure city building fun.

Overall 93/100 - Outstanding


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