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PC Review - 'The SimCity Box'

by Tim McCullough on Aug. 12, 2008 @ 1:54 a.m. PDT

The SimCity Box, a bundled pack of five games from the SimCity franchise, including SimCity Societies, SimCity Societies Destinations, SimCity 4, SimCity 4 Rush Hour and The Sims Carnival SnapCity.

Genre: Simulation/Strategy
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Electronic Arts
Release Date: June 30, 2008

The SimCity Box is an attractive compilation of some of the most recent SimCity strategy games. Although the package is marketed as five games in one, it's actually only three unique games plus two expansions. The SimCity Box includes SimCity 4 Deluxe with the Rush Hour expansion, SimCity Societies with the Destinations expansion, and the arcade-styled SnapCity from the Sims Carnival series. As a bonus, a preview of the Creature Creator from Will Wright's highly anticipated Spore game is included. Each of the three SimCity titles includes in-game tutorials, which provide paperless introductions to all necessary gameplay basics. The games are provided on a total of four CDs.

There will be very few gamers who are not familiar with the SimCity franchise. Although most of the improvements over its 19 years have been cosmetic in nature, the game's four incarnations have continued to challenge gamers both creatively and intellectually. The game allows you to either work on improving the quality of existing cities or regions, or to create new ones from scratch. As you take on the role of mayor, you must carefully assess the ongoing needs of your growing city while carefully managing the city's budget.

A great deal of micromanagement is required in SimCity. As mayor, you have to designate zoning for your city (commercial, industrial or residential), as well as work out details such as power and water distribution, as well as other required civic services. Thankfully, you are provided with a team of valuable advisers to help keep you on track. Now in its fourth iteration, the game has matured to the point of including a large array of design tools to allow you to create your own landforms, buildings, cities and regions and share them with other SimCity 4 enthusiasts. The 3-D graphics in SimCity 4 have a detailed but softened look to them. With improvements in hardware, details and animations have been significantly improved, and the interface has been optimized. Likewise, the dynamic sound effects and music system have been updated to take advantage of the latest sound card technologies.

The SimCity Box includes the Rush Hour expansion, which primarily focuses on enhancements to the transportation portion of the game. The expansion provides a new traffic query tool to help identify traffic loads on your city streets so you can add more efficient transportation systems, including ferries, monorails and subways. Another addition allows players to add names to streets and place signs throughout cities. The Rush Hour expansion integrates into the original SimCity 4 seamlessly, so once it's installed, you're left with the single "deluxe" SimCity 4 game.

SimCity Societies can best be described as a simplified version of SimCity with a greater focus on the quality of life in a society instead of the quality of its physical infrastructure. Whereas in SimCity you're tasked with balancing your city budget while building a successful infrastructure, in SimCity Societies, your job is to nurture and satisfy the values of the society you created. In Societies, placing buildings will either add or subtract from six different social values (authority, creativity, knowledge, productivity, prosperity and spirituality). Players must fulfill the needs of the society's Sims by seeking a balance of values. Some buildings will generate income in the form of Simoleons, the monetary unit in Sims games, which are required to purchase buildings and make other community improvements. You're still required to build roads and supply power for your towns, but routing power lines and water pipes are pleasantly absent.

I found SimCity Societies to be much easier to play and master than SimCity, and I'd recommend it as a good introduction for newcomers to simulation titles. In SimCity Societies, you can keep your Sims reasonably happy by just making sure that they're employed. All other needs can be met at a more casual pace by making careful building selections, and locating certain buildings in close proximity of each other can often garner additional bonuses. The title also features a reward system that acknowledges completion of in-game milestones. The 3-D graphics in SimCity Societies are highly detailed, with complex animations that are quite fun to watch. Unfortunately, the extra detail has the undesirable side effect of substantially slowing down the game to a crawl (even on high-end systems), especially as your society increases in size.

When playing with the Destinations add-on installed, your focus shifts to managing tourism rather than communities. The expansion adds travelers to the game, who have different needs and objectives than the permanent citizens. In the expansion, you must balance a new set of values (accommodations, adventure, dining, entertainment, gaming, leisure and worship). New building elements in the expansion include advertising, landmarks, resorts and travel. As in the regular SimCity games, if things get a bit too serious, you can switch over to "disaster mode" and wreak havoc in your Sims community.

SnapCity can best be described as a cross between the original SimCity games and the popular arcade game Tetris. Your task is to carefully rotate and place falling colored blocks on the ground to facilitate the growth of commercial, industrial and residential areas. You can stop the zoning blocks from falling mid-flight to add required roads between zones and destroy existing blocks, if necessary. As you are successful in generating new construction, a meter begins to fill. If the meter reaches the top, you are awarded a special building of your choice, which may generate additional Simoleons that can be used to build roads, deconstruction, plant trees, etc.

The story mode in SnapCity takes you through several simplistic challenges, such as creating specific buildings or dealing with certain problems. The combination of the two game types in SnapCity is clever, but it quickly becomes a bit too repetitive and will probably fail to hold the interest of most gamers beyond the first couple of levels. SnapCity offers a creative mode that is the equivalent of a sandbox mode, but this too fails to extend the game's limited entertainment value. The graphics are drawn in a 3-D perspective, although they are presented in a hand-drawn cartoon style, which is a noticeable departure for other SimCity titles. I found the sound effects and computer-generated music to be fairly unremarkable, and for me, they tended to quickly blend into the background. In keeping with its arcade nature, there are no multiplayer or online content capabilities in SnapCity.

Overall, The SimCity Box sports a lot of time-proven gaming goodness in a single value-priced package, and it's especially true if you do not already have some of the titles in the collection. Personally, I would have dropped the SnapCity game and added earlier versions of SimCity to add a bit of historical quality and reference to the release. Regardless, The SimCity Box still provides an exceptional gaming experience at an attractive price.

Score: 7.9/10

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