Take it to the Maxis!

Sim City 4
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Maxis and EA Games have released Sim City 4, the updated version of its hugely successful Sim City series. I will now go over the basics of Sim City game play just in case you’ve been in a cave the last decade or so. In Sim City 4 you are the mayor/city planner.

The goal is to take a plot of land and build it up from a one-horse farming town to a bustling mega-city. To do this you have to zone the land for residential, commercial, and industrial applications. You have to supply the zones with water and electricity. Your job also consists of keeping the locals safe by properly placing police stations, fire stations, and hospitals throughout your community. You also have to educate the residents by building schools and enacting city ordinances. Now, do all that without putting the budget into the red and your city will be a grand metropolis in no time flat.

The look and feel of Sim City 4 is a little bit different from its predecessors. First would be the control interface. The controls are set up a lot like The Sims, and everything is well marked and well placed. The interface has everything that veterans of the Sim City series have come to expect, the budget info, charts, graphs, advice, etcetera.

Something new to the interface is the quick city opinion polls screen, which shows how you are doing with the basics (environmental, health, safety, traffic, education, land value) with easy to read red-to-green meters ala The Sims. Sometimes the controls interface can take up a lot of the screen, but, that is the trade off I suppose, if you want to be able to find and read everything.

There is a God mode where you can change the terrain more to your liking, be that flattening the hills, making islands, or even adding wildlife such as deer or wild horses. For as much good that you can do playing God, there is also much evil as well. In God mode you can also create disasters on your city when you feel that they have had it too good, or have become too decadent. The disasters menu has some old favorites, (tornado, fire), and some new ways to terrorize the populace (volcano, robot attack).

Unlike its predecessors, Sim City 4 is not set up as a single player-controlled city surrounded by four rival cities. The map boards are set up as regions with ten or more squares for you to build a city on. There are several different regions, New York, San Francisco, Berlin, for example, plus you can make your own region.

If you build cities on two adjacent squares, you can make deals to import/export water, garbage, or electricity. In the last Sim City, you could do this only if a computer controlled city brought the offer up to you first. Now you control the deal from both ends and towns become interconnected. By doing this you can think more regionally and build a more commercial-heavy town next to a town full of homes and the people will commute from one to the other for work. So, in a sense your cities become municipalities inside a bigger city.

While there are some preexisting cities to play with, there are no more of those goal-oriented missions where you had to complete certain objectives or save the city from impending doom in a specific amount of time, however, in Sim City 4 these are not missed.

Sim City 4 has a lot of new things to build as well but, it’s going to cost you. In the previous version, Sim City 3000, if you wanted a zoo you simply saved up enough scratch and bought it. In Sim City 4 there are some objectives you must meet before you can take the kiddies to see the chimps. To acquire the zoo, for example, you will need: City population: 80,000; Mayor rating: 68; Number of other parks: 25; Plus, the initial purchase price of $37,000 and $260 a month maintenance fee.

What is this monthly maintenance fee, you may ask? Something new to Sim City 4 is a monthly fee to upkeep each of your parks and some of your reward buildings. This is where Sim City 4 becomes challenging, because you can’t just build a little park anytime you feel like filling a square, even the smallest parks have a five dollar monthly upkeep fee.

While we’re on the topic of parks and reward buildings, there are plenty of new ones here to help you create that little piece o’ heaven on earth. There are community gardens, skateboard parks, beaches, and even a soccer field here to bring that sense of well-being back to your residents. Even though you have to work a little harder to get them, there is a lot nifty, new rewards, such as the radio station and movie studio.

One nice thing that is here, is the ability to build big and small police, fire, and medical facilities. Previously you had the small stations, and you had to keep finding spaces in your city to place yet another little municipal facility somewhere as your city grew in size. In Sim City 4, you can buy a larger version of the same facility that blankets a larger area of the city. This is a big help, in the sense that you can simply tear down the old, small police station and drop a bigger one pretty much in its place.

Sim City 4 also has two new things involving zoning.

The first is a specific agriculture zone type. I know, Sim City 3000 had one as well, you are thinking. That is true, but, it was also a light industrial zone, so when you would try to build farms you would end up with a smog factory instead. The agriculture zone is for farming only in Sim City 4.

The second new addition to zoning is a built-in road tool. When you are making a larger zoning area the game automatically places roads where it feels they are best needed. Quite frankly, this road tool is a pain in the butt. More often than not, the road tool meets the roads together all helter skelter, and tends to leave you with a lot of dead end streets.

If you are a fan of The Sims you can download your sims into Sim City 4, or you can pick a pre-made sim to move into your town. Right now it is not very interactive, it’s more like another adviser, but on the little day to day things, like their commute to work, if they feel safe in their house, if they like their job, things like that. I understand the idea Maxis has here, being able to deal with the city on a grand scale and then be able to zoom in and have control of any one individual in the city. This is great in theory, someday they will figure it out, maybe for Sim City 5 or 6, but they don’t have it yet.

Like other recent Maxis titles, the audio is superb. Every object, whether it is the sounds of each different doorbell, buzzing flies at the landfill, or fingers tapping on an electric cash register in a retail boutique, sounds crystal clear. And bravo to Maxis for the background music. The soundtrack features everything from grooving jazz to indie-label rock to stuff that reminds me of Roger Waters-era Pink Floyd. Each piece of music is excellent and placed in the audio mix perfectly so as not to overpower the rest of the game.

Sim City 4 is a big step up in graphics from the last version. It looks much more like a real city than the last version of SimCity. There is great attention paid to detail here and a ton of new things to see. The traffic stops at the red lights and proceeds on green, kids playing at recess at the school, the skaters on the half-pipe at the skate park, I even have a resident who built a Zen rock garden. In the God mode you now have control over day and night. If you set the city to go through a day/night cycle everything lights up at night and as the night wears on the lights in the houses go out as your population goes to sleep. Even the traffic gets heavier for the morning and evening commutes.

In a nutshell, Sim City 4 is awesome. The graphics and audio are phenomenal. The placement and simplicity of the controls makes it even easier to navigate around the game whether you are a veteran or a novice player. Being that it is a little more challenging than its predecessors, it is going to take you a little longer to build that megalopolis. However, with all the new additions and so much to see and do you won’t get tired of Sim City 4 any time soon.

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