SimCity 5 – What it could have (and should) have been
I enjoy building miniature model cities on a computer and I especially enjoy the detail and charm of SimCity 5 (also known as Simcity 2013). (For the remainder of this post I will refer to the game as Simcity 5)
For me and many other SimCity fans, Simcity 5 had a lot going for it. Great looking graphics, cool animations, offline mode, and an overall attention to detail. However, Simcity 5 lacked (and still lacks) one major thing: A larger playing area (map) to build that sprawling city! Of course one could introduce a mod (bugs and all) into the game which sort-of allows for a larger map size to build on but that’s not quite the same as having a native game that already includes large maps.
Game Creators Say No To Fans
So why did Maxis refuse to create large map sizes in order to build large cities in its game? As far as I can tell they skirted around the issue a bit and didn’t specifically address map size but simply claimed larger cities would be difficult to play with on an older computer.
“We’ve put months of investigation into making larger city sizes, reworking the terrain maps, changing the routing algorithms of our agent-based system and altering the way that GlassBox processes the data in a larger space,” general manager Patrick Buechner explained.
“After months of testing, I confirm that we will not be providing bigger city sizes. The system performance challenges we encountered would mean that the vast majority of our players wouldn’t be able to load, much less play with bigger cities. We’ve tried a number of different approaches to bring performance into an acceptable range, but we just couldn’t achieve it within the confines of the engine….”
Really? So that’s it? What about including options? How hard would it have been to create at least two different map sizes, some large and some small, or even customizable maps (even DLC) that the user could choose from? The reasoning behind Maxis’s decision to not allow larger cities doesn’t work for me. What is clear is that they didn’t really care it’s us, the consumer and user of the game. Now it’s 2017 where technology has grown so much that SimCity 5 with larger cities would run great on any gaming computer. Where’s the vision Maxis or EA? Anyone?
Sadly, we may never see another American based city builder game as charming as SimCity 5 but one that allows players to build larger cities. And yet, it needn’t be this way, when SimCity 5 was close, so very close to being that game already.
Although the mass of dust of displeasure over the forced multiplayer online only use in order to play SimCity 5 has mostly settled, Electronic Arts finally added single-player mode (offline mode) a year later. And now that it’s been nearly three years since the initial release of SimCity 5, there has been a significant price drop on the complete edition of SimCity, so I have decided to jump in to see how the latest SimCity stacks up with Cities Skylines. Cities Skylines it should be noted has received rave reviews by many and even has been proclaimed by some the city builder SimCity should have been (Read my experience here).
Keep in mind that at the time I reviewed/experienced Cities Skylines, I did not own SimCity 5 so my comments related only to my experience with CS. Now that I own a copy of SimCity 5 let me cut to the chase and tell you what I do like about SimCity and what I don’t like so much. Along the way I also hope to note a few similarities and differences as it relates to Cities Skylines.
First it is important to note that I have been playing the complete edition of SimCity with included expansion pack Cities of Tomorrow along with some others (see the complete list here). With the complete edition of SimCity in single player or offline mode, I have found the game pleasantly fun to play, slightly challenging (especially as one gets use to the various specializations available) but the game does not involve too much micro management to still have fun and for me the graphics and sounds have been a treat for the eyes and ears alike.
Graphics and Sound
I think graphically speaking, SimCity looks better as a whole and the models are rendered cleaner than they are in Cities Skylines. Out of the box the colors are certainly rich, vibrant and more appealing in SimCity and the buildings and city models are fun to watch and hear. To me it’s as if the player is watching a quality Disney/Pixar movie animation unfold that you get to be a part of! The sounds in SimCity are also well done. They are light and fun as if I was a kid playing in a toy store with bells, whistles and thematic music to top it off. And for me the game is not filled with over-the-top repetitive or annoying sounds at least that I have discovered yet. And with the expansion packs, a player is allowed to direct and form the kind of city he/she would like to build, whether it be amusement oriented, a gambling touristic mecca, trading hub, futuristic style, etc it’s up to him or her. These are all reasons I love what I see so far in SimCity 5.
My Lower End Machine Experience
Another thing I like about SimCity is how well it seems to run on my lower end machine with a not-so-great graphics card (gts 250). Even with lower in-game graphics settings the game still renders a fantastic looking game. In Cities Skylines with mods, it takes a toll on my lower end computer and gpu. In CS on my computer the edges of buildings for example cannot be rendered smooth as in SimCity even with a mod to do it.
A final reason I like playing SimCity is….get ready for it…….drum roll please……….well, it’s American based! I didn’t think this would be such a big deal but after playing Cities Skylines for many days and hours I noticed I was beginning to feel a little culture shock. Weird? yeah I think so too. With SimCity being American made, it shows. For me, it just looks, feels and plays like a Pixar movie complete with a fantasy style rendering of a classic American city. And out of the box without the use of mods, default American style buildings, vehicles and train tracks makes SimCity feel like something I might find in my backyard. Cities Skylines even with mods, still feels European with an old-style glaze to it (I’m gonna take a wild guess here and say this is probably due to the fact Cities Skylines was made over seas and not in America).
There are at least a few things I have discovered about SimCity that I do not like. For starters, SimCity comes with small map sizes available to build on. This can be frustrating when one just wishes to build a larger sprawling city rather than a small city that can only go up. The map size department is where Cities Skylines got it right. These types of large expandable maps are what SimCity needs to make it even better than it already is. However, I will note that SimCity allows for the creation of multiple cities that connect to each other within a region. This is a neat feature of the game because you can simply move around a region to create different cities each with its own style and specialization or you can simply create various (although small land wise) cities to try out new features. Cities Skylines on the other hand allows the creation of one mega city in a region which can get overwhelming with the micro-management necessary to keep the city healthy. This one reason as it sits right now, that if you want the best of both worlds you have to play both games.
Although SimCity now has a Single-player/offline mode which definitely should have been part of the game from the start, I do wonder why EA decided keep us linked so closely to an Origin account. In fact in order to play the game you must log in to an Origin account (where the game was purchased) and keep the same Origin ID as your mayor name for every city you build. This seems silly especially if you wanted to build multiple cities in a region under a different mayor name as was the case in past SimCity games.
One other thing that SimCity lacks is great modification abilities by users (such as is the case with CS) for mods in-game such as regions, expanded maps or more roads and buildings. I also wish the game speed was a bit slower or at least a mod was available to slow it down as is in Cities Skylines. The mod complaints I have are only minor because if SimCity was built with larger maps or with the included option to create larger maps in the first place the game would be nearly perfect without mods.
(UPDATE: I implied that mods were not much a part of SimCity 5 but after getting more involved with SimCity have since discovered I am wrong about that. There ARE actually quite a few decent game changing mods that make SimCity 5 even better than the vanilla game. Some notable mods I have found are Larger Map Sizes aka Project Orion (although a bit glitchy it still works), RCI plop mod (project Avalon) which allows all buildings available and ploppable, project Akar (more roads and new user interface), and many other game enhancements. If you are interested about modding SimCity 5, a great modding location is Simtropolis or SkyeStorme’s site.)
So how does SimCity 5 compare to Cities Skylines? I think it probably depends mostly on you, the game player. Since each person is different, we like and dislike different (or similar) things about a game. But as it stands right now, I think it’s great to be able to play and enjoy both games. Therefore the simple fact remains, both SimCity (2013) and Cities Skylines are very different games (aside from being city builders) and are far from being the same!