The words you are about to read might read like one of our Verdicts, but it isn’t. I don’t think I would be comfortable granting SimCity my Verdict just yet, and I might not ever grant it one. Thanks in part to EA and Maxis’ decision to make it an always-online game it has been one of the most controversial releases in recent years. Server issues, high price and in-game bugs have all contrived to damage the reputation of the franchise.
I pre-ordered the game through Green Man Gaming – thanks to a good deal I was able to get it for £36, still steep for a PC game in the world of Steam sales and Green Man Gaming. Despite all the problems, EA’s own Origin service is still charging £44.99 for it. For EA to still be offering the game at that price is something of a joke, and for a PC game to cost that much when you can pick up something like BioShock Infinite for less than £30 leaves me shaking my head.
After the disastrous first week or so of launch with connection issues being widespread, those who had tried to play the game during the worst of the issues were offered a free game from a small selection of EA’s back catalogue. Strangely, Sim City 4 was amongst that crowd – make of that what you will. It just shows how much of a disaster the launch was that such measures were employed to try and rescue some good will from a riotous public. Fortunately I didn’t have any major connection problems, I guess I was lucky enough to play at quiet times.
Yet the problems didn’t stop when the servers were brought up to scratch. People found out that the game could be played offline, and many others picked holes in the traffic system with a fix only being released last week when in reality it should have been picked up much earlier. Perhaps if there had been a proper Beta test period rather than two very short Beta weekends things might have turned out different at launch. If EA and Maxis really were committed to pushing SimCity into the always-online scene, then maybe they should have taken a leaf out of the book of any major MMO and held a lengthy Beta period where server issues and the numerous bugs could be resolved and squashed.
While discussing the launch with Nick I was reminded of APB. Beta testers were largely ignored during testing of that game which was clearly not ready for launch when it was released in 2010. While SimCity might not be at that level of disappointment, there are echoes of letting players down.
If they decide to keep the game always online and take this route with other titles in the future, I sincerely hope that lessons are learnt. Why they have persevered with the online requirements I don’t know, I have played in my own private region and entirely fail to see why there wasn’t an option to allow people to play like that offline. As Nick mentioned earlier this week, there is a petition going around to remove the online requirements. Though with the game selling over one million copies in the first two weeks, I can’t see EA pulling the online plug any time soon.
On the bright side though, I have been thoroughly enjoying my time with the game, and so has my girlfriend. She isn’t much of a gamer, let alone the kind of person who would sit at a PC playing games all day, but after watching me play for five minutes she was dying to have a go. I loaded her into a new, blank city and let her get on with playing the game only needing to help her out once or twice at the beginning. She loved it and had created a city which far eclipsed my own in only a couple of hours. If a game can make something like that happen, then it is certainly doing something right.
I’ve been having great fun changing my city recently. It is going from a friendly little place with wind farms and public transport everywhere to balance out the evils of my industrial zones, to a city thriving on coal and iron ore exports. I love watching various buildings suddenly sprout construction teams and undergo a transformation from a tiny structure to a humongous monster of a thing. There is a satisfying plop when planting buildings, and to see smiley faces appear over residential areas when I plop down my mayor’s mansion is heart-warming. Only to then see their faces turn angry when I slam a horrible polluting coal power plant on the other side of the road.
Sharing resources with other cities in your region is certainly a novel idea. I am sure that many people out there are having great fun making colossal joint-projects with their regional buddies, but it isn’t for me at the end of the day. I would rather have an area the size of a small region for my whole city, not the pathetic patch of land you have to build within. The small area you have to work in certainly makes you stop and think more about your city structure, but I want my freedom. When you find a city with a large expanse of water and maybe a large mountain, space becomes a very valuable commodity.
I find my opinions torn with this game, I’ve been having a lot of fun with it, but there are so many issues which have marred my impressions of it. In truth I worry for its future with the online requirements and have a paralysing fear that it is going to turn into some sort of micro-transaction based game. If the bugs can be ironed out and maybe see city sizes expanded, it will really become something special. For now, it is in limbo.
Who knows, I might come back again in a few months and decide to delivery my Verdict, but for now, I really really can’t.