SimCity Social Review – We Built This City…

Whenever a new chunk of The Sims is churned out, there’s usually a big chunk of people who get immensely into it and then fall by the wayside. There’s probably several reasons for this, but gaming monolith EA’s newest attempt to combat it comes in the form of SimCity Social, a brand new Facebook game looking to do right what the others did wrong. Does it succeed? Well, read on…

You’re introduced to the world of SimCity by a chirpy female character who teaches the basics of road, house and economy building, before setting you some tasks to do with upgrading and expanding your town. It’s a nice way of getting the player into the game without overwhelming them, and one you’ll probably appreciate if you’ve never played a SimCity game before. The tasks just after the tutorial are more of an advanced tutorial for those who want to learn a little more, but they do showcase the range of building options available.

…But first you’ll have to make sure you have enough diamonds. See, SimCity Social, like so many other Facebook titles, relies on its own virtual currency which is slow to gain and easy to spend if you want any worthwhile buildings in your city. To obtain the amount of diamonds you’ll need (read: a lot) you’ll need to engage with your Facebook friends, something which might put you off if, like me, you’re a socially crippled loner who plays video games to fill a gaping void in their life that really needs addressing – wait, where was I? Ah yes. Essentially the problem is that without badgering your friends for interaction, you’re unlikely to be able to play for long each day.

This is a shame, because the amount of content on offer is really quite impressive for a browser-based game. Right from the off, you’re given access to a wide range of accommodation, business, attraction and manufacturing buildings with which to construct your town. Most buildings can be purchased using Simoleons that are generated periodically by businesses you set up as tax revenue. They can normally then be upgraded with a combination of Simoleons and Materials, which are generated by your factories. During the fairly simple introduction to the game, you’re introduced to a number of ways to make money as well as how to house and grow your population. Essentially, most amenities, like parks, flowers or shops have a certain radius around them, within which any houses will see their population grow. There are a few niggles in the execution – I don’t think any shops pay tax by flinging money into the streets that has to be moused over, when it could just be automatically collected, and the fact that buildings take three clicks to construct escapes me in terms of usefulness, but ultimately it still holds together pretty well.

Unlike the newest SimCity ‘proper’, you don’t see much of your citizens. It’s perfectly understandable why, what with the technical restrictions and such, but it’s a little disappointing that your town really does look quite dead. Still, this is all helped by the fact that the rest of the game is quite attractive – the animations are certainly very smooth, and a lot of care has been put into the building design and landscapes. It’s refreshing to see a Flash game that looks as though it could be an actual PC release (albeit a small-budget one from an indie developer, but still!) and it’ll very much keep your eyes occupied as you miss the actual sunlight streaming in through your windows.

The sound is nice and light, similar to what you’ll be used to in the main games, though it may get a little grating if you play for long periods. Fortunately, the amount of Simlish in this instalment is quite low, so you won’t have to bust out the dictionary that some of the more hardcore fans have no doubt compiled.

The game doesn’t simply give you a playground with the instruction to go nuts (though you certainly can if you want) but hands you a list of challenges that when completed unlock access to a few new buildings and attractions. These generally revolve around some form of event, like a UFO crashing on the outskirts of your city or meeting some delegates from Mercedes Benz. Ah, here we go. See, because SimCity Social is a free-to-play game, it has to support itself through two methods. The first is your typical freemium scam, where all the content is technically free, but takes forever to obtain and the only real solution is to pay to unlock it, and the second is by selling advertising space to companies who want you to buy their products. We’re not entirely sure that the target audience for Mercedes precisely crosses over with that of The Sims, but in fairness they’ve got enough money that if they want to throw it into a hole they’re perfectly able to. It’s a little sad at first to see your game world, which you use for escapism, crammed with adverts you probably play games to avoid, but that probably depends on how much of a capitalist you consider yourself.

In short, SimCity Social is a promising concept which falls short in a few areas. As content continues to be released, expect to see things improved immensely. It’s certainly better than anything Zynga has to offer at the moment and if you must insist on playing sissy Facebook games instead of having console fun times, this is the way to go. 7/10.

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Robin Wilde

Co-Editor of Cubed Gamers, meaning I send out, take in, edit and upload content. I'm also in charge of doing much of the graphics and design stuff for the site.

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