SimCity screens and preview

It has been a long time since SimCity last made an appearance on PC. For most it is a game that has been sitting on the shelf collecting dust, or hidden away behind other newer and shinier games.

SimCity comes from a time when graphics didn’t matter and PCs didn’t have enough computing power to drive a small starship. It was and always will remain a classic. We haven’t forgotten how it felt to destroy a city with a UFO, or smash buildings up with earthquakes. So when we were told the series was returning but with a new and improved formula, we were naturally excited.

Scheduled for launch in 2013, SimCity takes everything that was great about the original title and rebuilds it for the ground up for the modern gamer. Don’t confuse this just for a cheap series reboot however, it is much more than that. Maxis have fairly ambitious plans for the game and have incorporated a unique online gameplay style that we are yet to see from a strategy game.

SimCity is always online, players worlds back on to each other and are able to interact in all sorts of ways. Say a building is on fire - a player next to you can send fire engines from his world to yours. In other instances, you might be able to help those struggling with power by diverting juice from your massive thermonuclear reactor. It is all about co-operation.

The demo we were shown was of what we presume was a very early build, despite this it looked great. The game uses a sort of semi cell-shaded graphical style that is not unlike the Sims, yet feels true to the look of the originals. The amount of detail visible is also staggering, as each and every single sim within the city can go about his business. They drive around, go to work, move house, put out fires, each sim can be unique. Little details like workers arriving to build up new areas, or even suspicious-looking vehicles driving about dodgy neighbourhoods all add to the experience. For a game that you will be playing mostly from a bird's-eye view, it is very impressive.

Using what is called the Glassbox simulation engine, the 3D graphics you see are more just a way of visually representing all the clever goings on behind the scenes within the game. The economies, power, people and everything is all run by Glassbox. This means that, in theory, you can build a city however you want. You don’t need to strive just for the likes of New York - as long as it sustains itself, you could build a mega slum or some sort of crazed high-tech wonderland.

So how do you build a city? Well we weren’t shown much, but everything appears to be driven by roads and zoning. Like the old games you lay out roads for your sims to get around. You then drag zones along them, a bit like a fence, these will then be populated by sims. Say you pop up a residential zone, then as long as it’s accessible, sims will populate it. 

Once you have the right area built up, you are going to need power, water and all the other utilities a city needs to exist. Visual clues as well as a detailed overlay, which you can switch on or off, will show any problems an area is having. Particularly cool is what happens when there is too much crime, as houses will get decorated with graffiti and police cars chase felons.

Unique buildings like city hall or police stations and power plants can have upgrades added to them. These will improve things like response time and effectiveness as well as change the way they look.

At the moment, SimCity is still in the very early stages. There is a lot we want to see added, like the ability to build collaboratively with friends, as well as to destroy their creations. Who knows what Maxis has in store. It is a long wait until 2013, but for now, we are very excited indeed.

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