It has been almost a decade since Maxis touched a proper SimCity game. Since 2003, the duty of developing new SimCity games has been outsourced with mixed results while the original developers were busy with Spore. With that project now complete, it looks like they want to come back to the series that made them famous. Despite adopting the simple SimCity moniker without a number or subtitle, the game isn't simply a reboot. Instead, it represents an evolution of the series with some pretty big changes.
The hands-off demo at E3 showed off lots of new things that series fans will love. Before that, we were informed of the new intelligence engine powering the game. From cars to people, each has its own AI instead of predetermined paths. For the pre-alpha build, it was evident that cars and people were crossing over each other and through buildings, but it shows that there's more work being done under the hood.
From a general gameplay perspective, there are a few things that have been added to help indicate where problems were happening. There are a number of color-coded filters than can be used to ferret out which parts of your town are affected by the problem. In one example, we were shown a color-coded power grid that displayed which parts of the city were getting power and which ones didn't have any. Another filter showed off areas that were safe from crime and areas that were riddled with it, complete with color intensity. The tools were helpful in displaying information at a glance, and it'll no doubt be something you'll use often.
Building, construction and customization are also new. An example from the demo showed the player placing a metal factory in their city. From there, they added smelting capabilities to expand the factory output. The add-on system is similar to the one used in Spore, as the various components can be added in just about any spot to customize buildings.
Other miscellaneous things have been added to make the game a tad livelier. Curved roads arrive in SimCity, so you can build your city without being restricted to grids. While city activities are still seen on your ticker, you can see the effects firsthand in your city. One example was the arrival of more electricity to your town at night. Once the power started coming in, the streetlights began to flicker on while buildings lit up and people started to venture out of their houses to mingle in the street. In another example, a car rolled by a bank and a robbery took place. There was gunfire, and they sped off while the cops stopped at a donut shop. None of the scenes were interactive, but they made things seem livelier compared to on-screen stat blips.
The big feature for the game is multiplayer, and it opens up lots of new things for the series. The asynchronous multiplayer had several user cities connected via highways, enabling them to share populations since each city had a specialty. Resources can be shared among cities, but so can hardships. The arrival of electricity from a previous example was made possible because a neighboring city had enough power to spare. The criminals from the other example came around because a neighboring city hadn't dealt with a crime problem. It makes the experience more engaging, and it helps other players "police" others in their group and encourage them to take care of issues.
The multiplayer extends beyond simple resource and problem sharing. In the demo, they showed off a big project that needed resources from everyone. In this case, it was the construction of an airport. As expected, getting more people involved in a project would help get it done faster and, in the end, help everyone reap the benefits. There were several of these group projects being planned for the final game, so the possibilities seem broad for now.
SimCity is shaping up to be an excellent experience for fans of the series and those just getting interested in it. The additional filters will make things more accessible to newcomers, but it'll be the multiplayer that makes this version more exciting and addictive. We can't wait to see what else the game has in store.
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